Exiting Modernity – 8 – The Uncomfortable Truth of the Present

Why do I state over and over in this series that all I am dealing with here is repetitions? It’s my rather weak way of making it clear to you that you already knew all of this stuff, and the reason there has been no change is because you’ve neglected action in favor of abstraction. I mention repetition once again because I am going to write of material once more, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Yes, we get it, we worship material and things, we should move away from consumption…we get it, jeez!’ That’s certainly part of the problem regarding our reverence towards consumption, but there is actually another factor implicit in the worship of material goods, in the idea that the ‘end is the only purpose of the means’.

We are told this day-in, day-out, that ‘It is a means to an end’, we say this about our jobs, our food, our commutes, our networks and ever some of our personal relationships. Everything gets assimilated into a system of trade and barter, in this manner we think of all things in some term of material worth. Now, I don’t wish to channel Marx here, and I am most definitely not a Marxist, nor am I even left-wing in any sense – if you haven’t worked it out yet, none of this should/does have anything to do with politics. Of course our possessions are worth something in monetary value, our home and even our time is worth something. Once your time is worth something nothing is exempt from this system of trade, because it can of course be measured in the amount of time you put into it – the reason many people state that a multitude of activities are a ‘waste of time’ is because in relation to other activities their prospective return is worse. Why walk for 2 hours in the woods – you’ll get nothing in return – when you could study or work for two hours, which has an ‘end’.

When we state that something ‘Is a means to an end’ then, the ‘end’ in question is money and value. Which means we are correlating, directing and changing our lives in relation to money as opposed to experience, freedom, actual-value, contentment, fulfillment etc. Our lives become a culmination of representational goods showing our worth – a big house, flash car etc. Of course, I’ve written about all this many times before, so I wont dwell on it. However, as stated, in relation to this ‘end’ – or teleology – there is another factor of perception which is being destroyed, if not omitted entirely, the present.

Let’s return to that statement, ‘A means to an end’. Let’s have perform another little deconstruction here. What are we really speaking of when we speak of ‘a means’? The majority of time we are talking of our work, our employment or our vocation. Our job is our means to an end, we sell our time for money which allows us to purchase the means of our (usually another’s) desire. If we are to deconstruct this means a little further then, we can conclude that a means is a length of time, it is in itself a journey. Whether short, long, frustrating, fulfilling or mind-numbing it is a journey in some form. Yet this journey, as something we can analyze and play around with, is cut short when we begin to think of the ‘end’ all the time. There’s no more thorough verbal repetition found within the gallows of contemporary employment that a variation on the following: ‘Can’t wait to get home’, ‘Can’t wait for the end of the day’ or ‘Can’t wait for payday’. Amidst action, amidst work, amidst experience, modern man can only think of some form of end, an end which he has been told is what he truly desires, whether he thought of it himself or not. The destruction of the present is found within the language of those who desire only production and consumption.

Martin Heidegger stated (roughly) that our mode of temporality was one in which we are always pushing our past in front of us, and our future is dragging behind, the present is always wrestling with them both to form a direction of the will. In layman’s terms, we are always thinking about what we did in the past as to control and construct the future we want. I think Heidegger overestimated the capacity of people to actually think. When one spends their entire day thinking only of a (material) end, they omit both thoughts of the past in relation to that end, and also, most importantly, thoughts of the present. They think of the items they are going to acquire in the near future without ever truly experience what they have in the present.

Let’s focus on the first omission there, thinking of the past. See, most people, week-in, week-out, month-in, month-out, do exactly the same routine. This isn’t unusual of course, humans are creatures of habit, we can’t be doing new stuff all the time, otherwise we’d never be able to lay down some roots, with that said, without change, we do not grow…we do not overcome. Why do people not think of the past then? Well, it’s kind of obvious isn’t it, if people thought of the past – especially in relation to where they are now – they would come to a fairly bleak conclusion, they don’t fucking do anything. There is another reason hidden within this though, if they were to think back to their past in relation to the present, this would mean that they would have to critique and question their consumption habits. If they thought back to the past, they would soon realize that the things they subscribe to and habitually purchase actually add nothing to their lives; if you are to think back and assess a few months worth of purchases, you soon come to realize that they have added little to your life and ultimately changed nothing, you are more than likely still the same person, living within the same ideas and feeling the same way about the world, as such, to think backwards, to critique one’s life, is to come to the conclusion that the large majority of our consumption is really a subconscious effort to escape the uncomfortable truth of the present. Which is what exactly?

Before I answer that question, which if you really want the answer to right now, all you have to do is sit in silence with your eyes closed for 2 minutes – got the answer yet? Anyway, back to the former second form of time we regularly omit from our lives, the present. You maybe thinking to yourselves, ‘Hey, that’s not true, I always living in the present, I mean you have to be, idiot!’ Sure, I get it, you have to be somewhat present in your conscious to get by in day-to-day life, but are you really present? Think about the way you often think to the future, the details you go into, the scenarios, the possibilities, the conversations you have in this wondrous, far off future. Think about the way, late at night, when you go over and over embarrassing situations or nostalgic memories in your head, often escaping into the most minute details for hours on end. Do you truly apply this level of conscious awareness to your present, or is your mind wandering off into the labyrinth-of-material-ends, lusting over future acquisitions?

Now, back to that uncomfortable truth I was going to expand upon. Those of you who sat in silence for 2 minutes will already have the answer whether you like it not. The answer is as follows, you are at a complete disconnect from yourself, you are not entirely comfortable simply being, you find it actively difficult to just be. When you sit down for a meal you put a podcast on instead of focusing on the meal, when you watch TV you are also checking your phone and snacking, when you’re driving you’re listening to the radio, when you are simply sat down you are checking your fucking phone. Stop it you incessant child! Can you not deal with yourself, not even for a minute! This is what happens when you focus solely on the end and not the means (the journey). You subconsciously believe that that podcast will be the one which satiates your desire, that 5 minute scrolling session will be your last for the day, that supplementary escape will be the final one, the one that figures it all out for you. Well the truth – as I see it – is this. No amount of supplementary escapes, at least those which aren’t actively testing your assumptions and mental fortitude, are inherently extra layers of bullshit atop your-self which you need to shake off. They are, at best, distractions from your own potential, your own thoughts and feelings. I mean hell, when was the last time you didn’t rely on another’s thought or feeling before forming some thought or opinion about X. Rarely do we actually create for fear of scorn from the populous, we fear we will be cast out of normalcy. But normalcy in itself is a feeble structure made from and for feeble minds, and as such, can change direction in relation to the whim of a random fad or fashion, care not for normality, care only for authenticity and the potential principled-nature of your self.

Many will have found frustrations with the 5th post in this series, which – roughly – states that there are ways to work within the system and still retain your-self. That post is really a post about not being an idiot. It is to say that it would be silly choice to hastily exit the system without any plans, because the system wont care that you’re homeless or without help, you would simply be shooting yourself in the foot based off an abstract principle. Exit is a process, it takes time, so it’s dangerous to use language that makes it seem otherwise. You need to take your time and plan the exit which is correct for you, and make sure you are safe the entire time. This is easy to say in abstract of course, but what about dealing with work, what about dealing with the daily ennui of bureaucratic and modern bullshit? Well this is where living in the present comes into play.

This is not a foolproof method, at least not at first. But the way in which one deals with the daily drudgery of modern life is to actually deal with it. By that I mean be present. I made it clear earlier on that one is largely not-present in their daily life, they’re most likely thinking of the near future and avoiding the present as much as possible. I’m not sure why anyone does this, because the present isn’t all that bad, in fact, it can be sublime in its beauty and enchantment. You are thinking of your dinner, you are thinking of watching that next episode of a Netflix series etc. You are thinking of hedonistic escapes, rarely do you spend a moment in reality. Whether your job is within an office or building yard, you can return to the present and find moments of enchantment that make it all worth it; I must admit, this process is tough to bear at first, many will drag up stuff they don’t exactly like, but that’s how you progress – face the fear and horror head on, snarling.

How does one be present then? Well, that’s a question which is both difficult and extremely easy to answer. Difficult in the sense that what is quite literally under your nose is often the most demanding thing/idea to perceive – “There are none so blind and those who will not see.” And yet the answer is also easy. Whatever you are doing, right now, or at work, or on the way to work…in the present, should become the thing which begs the entirety of your attention and concentration. You may argue that I am only finding a peculiar way for you to avoid the reality of your miserable job, or the reality of your commute. I would argue that for the time being (until you switch to that better job, which you will do, remember) these actions are going to have to happen anyway, so why not practice a way of finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.

Practice: Even if the action is simply shifting papers around, sending emails or commuting to work, try as hard as you can to become mindful of all your actions in the present. Shifting papers around, feel the weight of them, concentrate on how you feel, on the peculiarity of your position here and now. Sending emails, become mindful of the words you write, are they as giving, kind and informative as they could be? You will be surprised at the results of adding just the tiniest amount of extra courtesy to an email. Commuting to work, turn the radio off and open the window a little, become mindful of the sound of the wind, the smell of fresh air, focus on the feeling of driving and how the landscapes pass you by in a seamless wave. If your attention drifts from the present into some digression (It will be about the future, I guarantee it) then simply let the thought be and return to the present.

What’s actually happening here is a practical critique of consumption. Once you’re living in the present you no longer focus on consumption, because consumption is an act that happens throughout time or in the future, it does not happen all at once. Once you stop focusing on consuming things the only other options are to remain silent and neutral (pleasant in itself) or become giving and courteous, the rarity of genuine affection and generosity within modern times is upsetting at best, but when it becomes your only option for a brief period, you soon come to realize there’s far more to life than the future that will never come. Act and plan in the eternal present, it will reward you greatly in time. People say life is short, but it’s actually the longest thing you will ever do. If you feel as if your life is passing you by, and the days are going quicker and quicker, it is not because they objectively are, it is because you are dragging them towards you with your willing of the future into the present. Begin to live in the present and even the most seemingly mundane moments can become fulfilling memories.