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The Cost of Living

by on May 7, 2013

The Cost of Living

by Marco M. Pardi

This phrase never sat well with me. It implies the second half of an equation I did not initiate. To me, cost is something I measure in considering a choice. Also, cost is something I incur through making that choice. I confess to a soft spot for a Bentley Brooklands Coupe. Cost is a factor. Being clocked at 185mph will also incur a cost I should probably factor. Each stipulation finds me a priori as a potential actor. I am able to abort at any time.

Living? As organized religions, particularly the Western Triumvirate ossified into externalized and objectified dogmas to be known more than to be felt and rituals more to be observed with only token participation, people began to yearn for personal (“spiritual”) validation. The recent rise of charismatic and non-denominational evangelism is one outcome. The concurrent rise in
“New Age” pseudo-Eastern groups, complete with Westernized concepts of karma, and reincarnation is another.

A common theme in the mish-mash of the latter is the idea, predicated on a Western interpretation of linear reincarnation, that if we live “after” we must have lived “before”. And, there is an interim during which, as in Dancing With the Stars, we self-critique our most recent performance while awaiting the scores from the Judges.

Leaving aside some of the physics based problems of such a concept since I have addressed them elsewhere, it is interesting to examine a subsidiary theme which has arisen: We, in our interim state, chose the life we are currently living, supposedly to rectify past wrongs, eliminate perceived deficiencies, or just pad the resume for that final application in the sky – the position of Released One.
The logistics of such a process are staggering. So I’m floating around in Valhalla, Asgard, or maybe South Central L.A. having decided, or accepted, what future life path I need to experience in order to accomplish any or all of the agenda items cited above. Now I need to identify a male human and a female human with futures that will provide for my path. Obviously, they need to be on collision trajectory, literally.

In the year of my birth the world population stood at approximately 2.3 billion. Some of those were too young to do the Hokey Pokey, to have sex. Some were not interested in the opposite sex. Some preferred non-reproductive sex exclusively. Some were engaged in killing each other. Some were trying to avoid being killed. Some were too old to have reproductive sex. And some just forgot where to put it.

Still, as the Earth turned, a lot of people were having sex. One might wonder if we could accelerate the spin by all screwing in the same direction. There’s a thought for later.

Now, according to the New Agers, a group which increasingly seems more densely composed of Old Agers, I identify this human couple and, at some point in the development of the zygote, swoop into said zygote and hang out until the female excretes me some months later. I then go on through life checking off line items on my to do/to not do list and, if I’ve paid assiduous and focused attention to the task of living I can hope to get through the check-out lane without being held to account for a spill on aisle 6.

What do I see wrong with this picture? Plenty. I feel I have been around enough disabled, disfigured, maimed, raped, improperly imprisoned, chronically ill, dying, and just generally screwed by life people of all ages and circumstances to have developed a certain caution in asking, “Are the circumstances you chose for yourself working out for you?”
The New Age clap-trap, despite its psychedelic roots in “Love” comes down to one fundamental proposition: “I’m here for me. Love is simply the password I use to get into your operating system.”

It must be obvious by now that I am looking at “cost of living” being other than increasing cable bills or a sudden price hike on that 3 speed reversible electric nose picker I’ve been craving. I’m looking at the cost to others of my being here. Connected daily into a variety of ecologically oriented organizations, I am well aware of the concept of my Carbon Footprint, even if it is a daunting task to trace its outlines. My wife has no trouble tracing my Clay Footprint when I return from a dog walk.

“Don’t play with your food, Mister. Think of all the starving kids in Europe”, said Sister Agonia as I hesitated before my boarding school meal. Too bad the best come backs come long after the moment. I could have said, “I was one, and I’ll take my time with my food if I want to”.

But what about those molecules of food I left on my plate? Decades later I did an 18 month study of what was then called an “inner city ghetto school” in the Central U.S. The School Breakfast Program had just started. Every day I watched the Grade 1 – 8 kids line up at the cafeteria, get their loaded trays, and take their seats. Every day I watched the bulk of the food, except for cookies or similar treats, go straight into the multitude of 55 gallon trash bins around the cafeteria. Having been raised to scour designs off plates, I was sickened by the waste.

It was no better at any fast food restaurant, especially those that cater largely to kids. Trash cans filled with hamburgers missing one or two bites, intact buns, sacks of fries, etc. My third eye saw long lines of cattle out back waiting to meet long lines of humans out front, being killed, ground up, and largely thrown in the trash.

All a waste? Only if you presume that the food exists for the sole purpose of feeding humans and it can achieve no other valid use. A trip to the dumpster illuminates a usually unseen world of flies on foodstuffs, bees getting sugar from the soft drink containers, myriad roaches and other critters, and, if you have a microscopy kit, a universe of various bacteria. Pick a quiet spot and watch the birds pick at the buffet.

Would I have preferred the cattle never made it to the dumpster? Of course. I have walked into herds of cattle, scratched their foreheads, ears and backs, and had marvelous conversations with them – or so I thought. But my preference for cattle over bacteria is simply a form of speciesism, a preference based on my personal comfort in relating to big brown eyes and drooling muzzles more so than colorful blotches to which I can relate only with the right magnification.

Years ago Alan Watts, whom I greatly admired, wrote an article which appeared in Playboy magazine. Yes, I also read the articles.
Basically, it was a plea for reverence in the kitchen. He was not advocating militant vegetarianism; he was simply asking that we fully appreciate the context which has provided us with any particular food item and feel wonder and appreciation that this item is here for us at all. Our treatment of this item reflects our understanding of this item, in all its fullness.

I’m no Jainist, sweeping the sidewalk ahead of me lest I step on a tiny living creature. But carelessness is different from realism. After a hard rain a colleague once spotted me using my ID badge to scoop large worms off the sidewalk and return them to the grass. “You must be a Hindu,” he sneered. I started to explain that I had no problem at all with taking certain lives, but needless killing was not my way. Probably to my good fortune, I simply laughed.

During the Viet Nam years, particularly under Nixon, a life form named Jerry Falwell popularized the slogan, “Silent Majority”. During a period when many Americans were too comfortable to inconvenience themselves with thinking, much less speaking, this was a remarkably efficacious ploy. Silence became support – for the administration.

Anti-war groups tried to turn this around with the slogan, “If you’re not saying No, you’re saying Yes.” Effective in principle, but naive in practice. Slogans calling for logic got nowhere.

More recently we saw the environmental slogan, “Think globally, act locally”. Marvelously concise, with the benefit of engaging the hearer into seemingly meaningful participation. But as these new acolytes began to feel they could not see even local results, the movement waned. This decline accelerated as rare and sporadic acts of non-compliance went unremarked. “Just this once I won’t find a recycle bin for my water bottle. After all, everyone else is recycling so what difference does it make?” Venial sins do not add up to mortal sins. Fairly soon the recycling effort became a convenience, not a way of life.

The heart of this issue is one simple fact: Life costs. Mindfulness does not deny this. Mindfulness does not pretend to transform the world into some hand holding Utopia wherein the lions don’t eat the lambs. Mindfulness provides me with a simple lesson. Life costs life.

When I go behind Door Number 4, if there are some be-robed bozos asking to check my passport, my simple answer will be:
“It’s not all about me.”

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6 Comments
  1. Marco,

    What an interesting way to look at waste, particularly that which makes its way into a dumpster. This reminded me of occasions long ago when extended family came to visit, and then would drag me to various restaurant buffets. The flagrant waste I saw at tables around me was always extremely bothersome. I would watch patrons and their half dozen children exit the restaurant, leaving untouched food piled high on plate after plate at their tables. Not only this, there was almost a subconscious feeling that I should eat more than my normal portions to make the “all you can eat” visit worthwhile. Until I read this piece, I never gave any thought to the various and sundry organisms that could possibly benefit from what I perceive as my own species’ ingratitude. It’s at least a little bit heartening.

    I can appreciate Alan Watts’ plea for reverence in the kitchen. I adopted this attitude several years ago after years of being a fanatical vegan. This does not necessarily apply at home where I can eat as I want, but in social situations with others. By choosing to live with greater reverence toward food, I think I have an even deeper gratitude for any animals that may have been “involved” with my meal. Now rather than fretting that the soup offered to me might have been made with chicken broth, I stop to consider just what it may have taken to get to my bowl. There isn’t a prayer of thanks, but I do have a definitive feeling of gratitude.

    As for Jerry Falwell and other so-called “leaders” that are blindly followed, I had my eye on any number of them from the time I was old enough to turn on the television on a Sunday morning (by five or so I realized Bugs Bunny wasn’t going to be there, exchanged instead for Ernest Angley and the likes). From the time I was seven years old, I was around adults who stopped thinking for themselves. I grew up in the era of the “Moral Majority,” and in many ways it robbed me of a large portion of my childhood. Fortunately, I always used these bozos, detrimental as their politics and dogma were to my own family and society in general, as my own compass of what not to do and who not to follow. It didn’t take me long to figure this out as a child; it’s too bad it didn’t work out this way for those in charge of me.

    Continue being that person who scoops up the worms after a rain, transporting them to the grass. They and I thank you.

    Dana

  2. danarseiler permalink

    Marco,

    What an interesting way to look at waste, particularly that which makes its way into a dumpster. This reminded me of occasions long ago when extended family came to visit, and then would drag me to various restaurant buffets. The flagrant waste I saw at tables around me was always extremely bothersome. I would watch patrons and their half dozen children exit the restaurant, leaving untouched food piled high on plate after plate at their tables. Not only this, there was almost a subconscious feeling that I should eat more than my normal portions to make the “all you can eat” visit worthwhile. Until I read this piece, I never gave any thought to the various and sundry organisms that could possibly benefit from what I perceive as my own species’ ingratitude. It’s at least a little bit heartening.

    I can appreciate Alan Watts’ plea for reverence in the kitchen. I adopted this attitude several years ago after years of being a fanatical vegan. This does not necessarily apply at home where I can eat as I want, but in social situations with others. By choosing to live with greater reverence toward food, I think I have an even deeper gratitude for any animals that may have been “involved” with my meal. Now rather than fretting that the soup offered to me might have been made with chicken broth, I stop to consider just what it may have taken to get to my bowl. There isn’t a prayer of thanks, but I do have a definitive feeling of gratitude.

    As for Jerry Falwell and other so-called “leaders” that are blindly followed, I had my eye on any number of them from the time I was old enough to turn on the television on a Sunday morning (by five or so I realized Bugs Bunny wasn’t going to be there, exchanged instead for Ernest Angley and the likes). From the time I was seven years old, I was around adults who stopped thinking for themselves. I grew up in the era of the “Moral Majority,” and in many ways it robbed me of a large portion of my childhood. Fortunately, I always used these bozos, detrimental as their politics and dogma were to my own family and society in general, as my own compass of what not to do and who not to follow. It didn’t take me long to figure this out as a child; it’s too bad it didn’t work out this way for those in charge of me.

    Continue being that person who scoops up the worms after a rain, transporting them to the grass. They and I thank you.

    Dana

  3. Rose Palmer permalink

    This was, in my humble opinion, your most interesting and well written blogs to date, and certainly one closest to my heart. Being a Girl Scout for much of my life, I have since childhood been aware of my carbon footprint: the cost paid by this planet for allowing me to live on it for a few dozen years. Scouting taught us to not only pick up after ourselves, but to leave a place better than we found it. I still pick up other people’s trash, recycle when I can, and try not to use more than my share of natural resources. In addition, I tried to teach my children that good enough really is, and experiences are more valuable than possessions.
    It is vital that we become aware that everything we do, for good or ill, makes a difference. If all of us did all that we could and took only what we needed… but who am I to say what this is? I recently patronized a Chinese buffet where I overheard a server say, “take all you want, but eat all you take”. Holding to this philosophy would make this world a better place.

    • Thank you, Rose. Your commentary is inspirational. I’ll do my best to continue encouraging readers, and your memories go a long way to help. Marco

    • danarseiler permalink

      I tend to agree, Rose, with your opinion that this the most interesting and well-written post to date. Like children, it’s difficult to pick a favorite, though.

      On one of my college campuses there are always students who set down their empty drink containers in the parking lot (notably Chick Fil A garbage, but we won’t go there). Sometimes I wonder why I’m often the sucker who carries in the trash, but I doubt I’ll stop any time soon.

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