We live in a time of quantity, which is not the same thing as a time of abundance.
It’s a commonplace occurrence to find commentators sneer at a culture fixated on ‘more, more, more.’ Pointing out rapacity and avarice in others (and never within the self, of course) is easy. And it is fun too. The impulse is correct, all truisms being fundamentally true. But the approach is low resolution.
And besides, when taken from the readers standpoint, such sneering pot-shots are unhelpful.
To simply point or jeer at a given phenomenon is a lowest common denominator way of approaching a subject. It is certainly not the way this publication operates. A much better approach than merely critiquing ‘more, more, more’ is to shift the focus and consider the question of how one goes about achieving ‘better, better, better.’
So that is what we will do.
If rock bottom, as David Milch once said, is when your circumstances deteriorate faster than you can lower your standards, then the obverse must also hold. To improve your circumstances, you must first raise your standards. The operative word, and the answer to why such thinking isn’t more common practice, is that simple single syllable your. So let’s consider it…
Questions of Ethics
In the Quantity Culture, the second person pronoun is simply used to sell you things. Because you’re worth it. Have it your way. This beer’s for you.
The self is pandered to like a child, but like a child its opinion is never truly sought. It is presumed, it is pre-determined. There is certainly no assumption that the individual in question is capable of participating as an equal.
In this culture, then, statements and slogans are the method employed, catchy, cutesy and cajoling, and they are intended to act as a fast-acting solvent of critical thought. They are remarkably effective at this task.
Statements and slogans are the container within which the discourse is held. They mark the limits of the field of play if we consent to their worldview. This is important because the opposite mode of thought — non-leading, non-pandering, non-rhetorical questions — afford you the possibility of steering the discussion, or worse, of not participating in it at all.
Statements are pre-determined answers. Only questions, asked of the self and the world with open eyes and an unflinching spirit, can lead to you generating your own answers and so your own worldview. And it is only from this that standard-raising outcomes can be cultivated.
The satisfactory answer to the question of what does your life lived to its highest standard look like? is one that only you can answer. And it can only be answered based on the gut, the brain and the heart all working in concert. And therein, from the standpoint of the Quantity Culture, lies the problem. Self-generated answers to questions of what the good life looks like do not facilitate the never-ending quarterly growth of the GDP. They are in opposition to the Quantity Culture’s goals.
To accept this is an important step in replacing more with better.
The Meaning Of The Golden Mean
Life is a balancing act. Life, like beauty, is all about proportion and symmetry and harmony. All of the pieces matter.
But the Quantity Culture, as we have said, is not having that. The solution it offers to any and all problems is the maximisation of some metric or other, because you, it is implied, can only deal in what can be seen with the naked eye or plotted on a graph. That is quite an assumption to make about the size of someone’s soul and about their capacity to dream.
In practice, maximisation often looks something like this — the ill-health wrought by detachment from the body is fixed by increasing the volume of detached exercise repetitions. The confusion wrought by lack of self-understanding is fixed by logging how many books of someone else’s understanding of themselves you consume.
The solution to the problem — a problem being a felt manifestation of an imbalance — is to create further and greater imbalances. This is why the routine doesn’t stick, why the weight lost is regained, why industries that sell you pre-packaged solutions are as lucrative as they are. Because balance is, by design, impossible.
See, ‘more’ sells itself by means of the ‘miracle’ of compound interest. But ignorance has a way of compounding too. As does injury. Upping the ante on a bad hand is the fastest way to lose your chips.
The dissatisfaction that drives people to metric-chasing is caused at root by one correctly sensing an imbalance in their life. A correct impulse incorrectly applied. ‘Better’ cannot be measured, it can only be felt. It is, like balance, the sensation of moving closer and closer to the centred stillness of true equilibrium.
The Only True Conclusion
Your life is your life. This is a sentiment that we don’t hear often enough unless it’s as part of a prelude to an upsell. But it’s true without caveats.
Your life is your life. What the good life means is for you to figure out. You are on your own when it comes to figuring it out. Which is frightening. But ultimately freeing. True freedom is frightening because it implies the real possibility of true failure as well as true flourishing. Again, the balance of opposing forces.
You have to figure it out. No one else can do it for you, whether in the form of a magazine article, a product or a lecture. This fact is what makes life interesting. You are a participant in existence.
So I can’t do anything for you in the true sense. But I can tell you this. When you actually put aside imbibed notions of the futile pursuit of mere thoughtless quantity, things do start to get better and better.
Read more at thomasjbevan.substack.com.