Most of us know — or suspect — that we don’t always buy things because we need them, but because we think we’ll feel better/more complete. Advertisements and reviews can hint that you’ll be better looking/cooler/more manly/more well-liked (or whatever) if you just had this watch, or that jacket, or the new car, blender, book (OMG the promise of books…).
Then we buy it, and often experience buyer’s remorse, or just a vague sense that it just wasn’t right. In any case, the promised perfect future isn’t here.
Most people either run out of cash to keep trying again or go deep into debt to keep buying more/ better quality/faster/bigger/more expensive things. Some people with more money actually buy stuff and then give it away soon after to make room so they can buy the latest stuff.
Some recognize the futility and try to find other paths to personal fulfillment, or try things like volunteering instead of purchasing.
These are really hard paths, not least because our whole society is set up to keep us hoping the next gadget or guru will be The One.
Even volunteering to help people can lead to the same disappointment; “oh, look, there are still homeless people, I’ve failed again.” (I’m not trying to discourage volunteering, by the way. 🙂 I just suggest that you meditate a little on why you’re doing it. Being really clear on your motivations will probably keep you focused for longer and prevent burnout. Heck, it might even keep you from being badly used.)
But now imagine that you are so rich that you not only have marketing people manipulating you to think “this is it!”
you also have hangers-on manipulating you to keep spending money because their chance for wealth depends on you thinking that.
If you’re not particularly self-aware, it’s not even likely that you’ll recognize what’s going on.
It’s certainly easy to see this pattern in Trump. If he can just build the best resort, the biggest tower, the fanciest golf course… he’ll get the adulation and satisfaction he craves.
Picture Trump in 2015: his 70th birthday is looming. He may not have many years left. He has his name on towers, golf courses, luxury resorts. It’s all a bit flat.
He sets his sights on a new project; running for president. It’s absurd, over-the-top… it’s classic Trump. Ahh, now the hangers-on are really excited. This next vanity project is one that they can not only make serious money on, but maybe even get serious power, which is the ultimate prize at this level…
It’s easy to see Trump as a buffoon; it’s less easy to remember that nearly all of us have similar base urges; we just have more obvious limits. If you make $30,000 or $100,000 a year, you’re pretty likely to run into your limits fairly soon. If you make $10,000,000 a year, your limits are probably less obvious.
I’m not saying that understanding that we have something in common with this guy means letting him off the hook. We absolutely have to fight him; and even more importantly, we have to fight the manipulators who helped him get to the point of being elected as the President of the United States, but we should at least be aware of our similarities, even if… or maybe particularly if… looking in this mirror makes us uncomfortable. I suspect that it’s hard to fight efficiently and effectively if we are in denial about our own weaknesses.
I’ve been thinking about one of my biases, and how it undoubtedly influences my view of current events.
My entire school career, from about 3rd grade until I left school, I was the designated safe target for bullies.
My experience of trying to get help was that it leads to teachers telling you that you should not to make up stories, because those boys came from good families and would never do such things. It’s of teachers punishing me if I dared to fight back, and never protecting me or punishing my tormentors.
Nine or ten straight years of being called faggot, nerd, loser. Having my homework stolen and destroyed, having food thrown at me as I got off the bus, of being beaten repeatedly, of hiding during recess, of having drinks poured over me, of being told I was entirely worthless.
I’ve had an absolutely great life since I left school. Amazing adventures, the craziest jobs (and finally finding my niche), great friends. I no longer suspect that I’m worthless, and I don’t hang around with people who don’t value me.
But I still twitch in reaction when I hear people shouting mean things; I assume they’re targeting me, I guess, at some deep level.
When I recently learned the word “gaslighting,” I understood it — and its implications — right away. I was told for years that, essentially, the bullying was my fault. Or that I was just imagining it. Or that I was just weak and should let it roll off my back. It has taken me a long time to stop believing that.
I’m not writing this to get sympathy. That whole thing ended 38 years ago. A guy I knew in the Navy talked me down from the last serious bad reaction I had. Done.
I’m writing because when I see stories of bullying, this is why I’m more primed to believe the victim’s stories and disbelieve you when you say “that was staged” or “this is just people being too sensitive.”
So there’s my bias. I freely admit to being on the side of the underdog, not the side of the bully, the big man on campus, the Good Boy from a Good Family.