Alan Watts explains why our culture is destructive. Offering the possibility that an underlying unconscious thematic pattern within humanity is causing our disconnection with the world and ourselves.
Alan Watts – What is Wrong With Our Culture Transcript
Why is it that we don’t seem to be able to adjust ourselves to the physical environment without destroying it?
Why is it that in a way this culture represents in a unique fashion the law of diminishing returns. That our success is a failure. That we are building up – in other words, an enormous technological civilization which seems to promise the fulfillment of every wish almost at the touch of a button.
And yet as in so many fairy tales when the wish is finally materialized, they are like fairy gold, they are not really material at all. In fact, so many of our products, our cars, our homes, our clothing, our food. It looks as if it were really the instant creation of pure thought; that is to say it’s thoroughly insubstantial, lacking in what the connoisseur of wine calls body.
And in so many other ways, the riches that we produce are ephemeral, and as the result of that we are frustrated, we are terribly frustrated. We feel that the only thing is to go on getting more and more. And as a result of that the whole landscape begins to look like the nursery of a spoiled child – who’s got too many toys and is bored with them and throws them away as fast as he gets them; plays with them for a few minutes.
Also we are dedicated to a tremendous war on the basic material dimensions of time and space. We want to obliterate those limitations. We want to get everything done as fast as possible. We want to convert the rhythms and the skills of work into cash. Which indeed you can buy something with, but you can’t eat it.
And then rush home, to get away from work and begin the real business of life, to enjoy ourselves. You know, for the vast majority of American families, what seems to be the real point of life, what you rush home to get to. Is to watch an electronic reproduction of life, you can’t touch, it doesn’t smell, and it has no taste. You might think that people getting home to the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal banquet or an orgy of love-making or a riot of music and dancing, but nothing of the kind.
It turns out to be this purely passive, contemplation of a twittering screen. You see mile after mile of darkened houses with that little electronic screen flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing, and thus in no real communion with each other at all. And this isolation of people into a private world of their own is really the creation of a mindless crowd.
And so, we don’t get with each other except for public expressions of getting rid of our hostility, like football or prizefighting. And even in the spectacles one sees on this television, it’s perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other, but oh dear no, not people loving each other, except in a rather restrained way. One can only draw the conclusion that the assumption underlying this is that expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred.
And it seems to me that a culture that has that sort of assumption is basically crazy and devoted – unintentionally indeed – but nevertheless in-fact devoted not to survival, but to the actual destruction of life.