It wasn’t until I returned from life in a remote camp that I realized the stranglehold capitalism has on the human condition.
My month and a half tree planting in Northern British Columbia temporarily disengaged me from the phantasmagoric spectacle of consumer culture, allowing me to reflect on the immaterial aspects of life. It took living in a tent and spending 10 hours a day in nature to realize the extent to which capitalism has permeated my mind.
It has come to a point where human beings find existential meaning in consumption, rather than through introspection. By living in the woods, I was able to locate myself in a greater context, exploring the spiritual energy that one may elicit from nature—free of charge. I was able to reflect on every breakup, every bad decision and every disappointing grade I ever had. It didn’t matter in that space and time. When it was time to return home, I found it immensely difficult to reintegrate back into urban life.
I became anxious, had trouble making small decisions and finally became depressed. Every problem I was able to combat while away had returned with a vengeance. The very presence of my personal belongings reminded me who I was, consequently determining who I am. The happiness I was able to accomplish in solitude began to erode, leaving me helpless to the consumer principles that the economic system publicizes as happiness. The mirror of society was back in place, forcing me to acquire my identity through consumption, rather than by showcasing and strengthening the content of my character.
Capitalism systematically replaces long term happiness with superficial meaning. Since that episode, I have become lulled back into the comfort of the system and can feel its presence like quicksand beneath me, the struggle making matters worse. For the logic of capitalism, the sense of lack that everyone feels … is an opportunity. As long as advertisements have the power to make us feel ugly, we will buy what makes us feel beautiful.