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The Idful Society

We place a great deal of emphasis today on wants and urges.

In our most socially significant roles as consumer-spectators, nobody markets to the rational evaluative parts of our brains anymore:  everything is directed to the realm of primitive drives and greeds and lusts that Freud called the id.  Without a conscious realization on our part to the contrary, what's associated with our most important role can easily come to seem to represent what's most significant about us.

We’re pandered to in ways that can be absurd.  If you were to buy an ice cream cone and hold it sideways, letting the scoop of ice cream splat to the floor, you’d probably get it replaced for free.  Justified or unjustified, nobody wants a consumer to bawl and throw a tantrum.

Another odd but telling piece of retailing behavior:  when Christmas season comes around and people are ostensibly out buying presents for their families, stores now routinely tout indulgences that shoppers can lavish on themselves.

When people are fortunate enough to really “become somebody” (i.e., become celebrities), far more extravagantly idful behavior is not just tolerated, but expected.  Getting away with throwing tantrums is considered a mark of social status for everyone from sports stars to movie directors.  The chemical and sexual excesses of our musicians and actors are legendary.  Preposterously opulent personal perks have become the hallmark of the corporate elite.  The message is clear:  being important means being unrestrainedly idful.

At the same time, a popular form of over-indulgent parenting has left large numbers of children and young adults devoid of healthy discipline--and as a result, not only without acceptable manners and other social skills, but also lacking the inner fortitude to accomplish much of anything on their own.

Another way to see today’s heightened me-centrism is to just drive down any highway.  Truckers, once the “knights of the road,” have for the most part become merely the biggest hogs.  They tie up the left lanes whenever they feel there is the slightest chance they might be able to eventually inch by somebody else, completely unconcerned with the stacks of traffic backing up behind them.  This behavior is admiringly copied by many drivers of lesser vehicles.  At the same time, and often in response to the proliferation of me-centric sloths, impulsive hyperbrats routinely jeopardize lives with their fighter-pilot-in-a-dogfight maneuvers, like trying to cut people off from behind and on the right.  As the roads polarize between these two idful extremes, common sense and awareness of other drivers are coming to be in dangerously short supply.

For a different type of indication of how far we’ve come in our idfulness, consider that in some parts of the country, the number one out-of-town Thanksgiving travel destination these days is Las Vegas.

Las Vegas?  Clearly, Vegas is not a place where people go to feel grateful for what they have.  It’s where they throw it all away in the course of indulging greedy fantasies of having more.

It is also not exactly what most people would consider a spiritual place.

In fact, today even its decadence is decadent.

In the days of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and the rest of the “rat pack,” Las Vegas at least had a certain glitz and style that could be sexy.  You’d see couples at the gaming tables dressed in evening clothes, looking like James Bond and his latest femme fatale.  So what if in actuality they were a dentist from Dubuque and his missus?  They were living out the fantasy, and the electricity was palpable.

You don’t often see either evening clothes or Beautiful People in Las Vegas these days.  Today’s Vegas is more a place where guys with enormous beer guts go around in shorts, sneakers, T shirts, and baseball caps, accompanied by sweatsuit-clad gals with behinds as wide as boxcars.  Id City isn’t even remotely sexy anymore:  the people who flock there to let themselves go have, sadly, already let themselves go far too much for that.

But as a people, that’s how we’ve become.  Sturdy self-reliance is largely a thing of the past.  Fewer and fewer people mow their own lawns today, or wash their own cars, or clean their own homes, or cook real meals in them.  Increasingly, people have all these things done for them.  And as they become ever more idful in their habits, their outward appearance tends to show it.

Being physically large may also help establish a "presence" that counters a deeper sense of smallness or insignificance, in our increasingly mega-scaled world.  (But of course, it ultimately fails, leaving people with an additional sense of inferiority, which tends to make them feel like they matter even less.)