Standing Stones

“If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,” said Li Xiangyang, vice director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, part of a government research institute. “Right now they are living in rural areas where they do not consume.”

...BEIJING — China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years —  [From this mornings NY TIMES]…

You really have to wonder about two things when it comes to the Chinese.  [1].. How, in spite of so many obstacles, they managed to come so far so fast?  [2].. If all it ends up accomplishing is entitling the Chinese people to the same level of existential displeasure hyper-consumerism and conformist consumption have produced in America…. What the fuck was the point?

Mrs. N. is scratching her head raw over this business.  She is asking herself how they can be so incredibly good at so many things, have such a rich philosophical history, and STILL entirely miss the punch line of the joke that modern consumer culture has turned out to be?  Miss the levels of depression, meaninglessness and unhappiness that stalk the dark corners of what life in America’s consumer utopia has turned out to be for so many.  Yes, there is something profoundly disappointing going on with my species.  Our treasured social and economic systems are, for the most part, deeply pathological.  In spite of this… our absurd model remains the template for more of the same.

Maybe you are wondering why Mrs. N. is going on and on about the Chinese when the title of this little exercise is “Standing Stones”?  The reason is this…  After reading the article about the Chinese in the TIMES this morning I took a walk out back around the gardens.  The standing stone (Mrs. N. has ALWAYS been about the business of standing up stones) that you see in the picture reminded me of the lovely summer day I spent, 42 years ago, climbing around the standing stones in Wiltshire, England known as Stonehenge.  They were open to the public then and climbing around them like a monkey was perfectly acceptable.  People are much ruder today and they are fenced off, but, I digress.

Books on the subject of Stonehenge will tell you that nobody really knows “why” it was built.  There are many different theories.  Some historians claim that it was a temple, or, an observatory, or, a place to cremate the dead.  They all agree that it was constructed over 5000 years ago in many phases over many lifetimes.

Having stood on the sight admiring Stonehenge, and having spent many days and much effort standing up stones of all sizes myself, in gardens here and there, Mrs. N. can tell you with certainty what it was all about.  It was about the feeling deep in the bones a human gets from observing the glorious results of their physical labor.  It was about the bonds that form between humans dedicated to completing an apparently impossible physical task.  Building places like Stonehenge, terracing mountainsides into magnificent rice paddies and building beautiful stone walls out of the stones farmers remove, one by one from the fields they plant, are all examples of what it really means to be human.  It was about satisfaction.  It was about REAL accomplishment.  It was not about the bullshit work, the acquisition of more and more shiny pieces consumer crap, that took the place of REAL accomplishment and REAL satisfaction.  Building hard, even impossible things,  worked and promoted human sanity as surely as our culture now produces human dissatisfaction and insanity.  It was as natural to stand up huge stones for the shear existential joy of it as it is unnatural to spend one’s afternoons in gyms, lifting weights and riding bicycles going nowhere in an effort to look like you just came off 5 years on a Georgia chain gang…. in spite of the fact that you pay a man to cut your lawn and a woman to clean your house.

This is America’s idea of Stonehenge.  A tourist attraction made out of Styrofoam.  It’s not far from my house as the crow flies.  Many fat Americans go there to have their picture taken.  5000 years from now it will not be there.  At least that is something to be thankful for.  Now, all we need is something to be thankful to.

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.





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6 responses to “Standing Stones

  1. From my three recent trips to China I can say that the country will become far more capitalist than the USA Just pay attention to the destruction of elephants and rhinos as China’s need for ivory shows no bounds of constraint or moderation (much like we destroyed the buffalo herds and Native American Culture).

    As I would walk the streets of Beijing with my camera I noticed — during days and evenings (but always felt safe) — that people worked all the time and that they loved their families. But the govt. one child policy is wrecking the Chinese family structure — one child shared among two sets of grandparents is not enough — and all of family energy now pours into commercial activities. This new generation of children fully embraces our Western commercialism. Beijing has over 500 MacDonald’s and another 500 KFC’s which the kids flock to. We are rapidly exporting our fat overseas (India I suspect will suffer the same fate) since we have it in such high abundance here in the USA. I guess its time to share it with the world.

    I fear the loss of the Chinese family structure — which will only be accelerated now with this new government policy of pushing people into the cities — will destroy what once was a great culture and unleash rampant commercialism further along than we or the British ever thought possible.

  2. I don’t quite get it Neal. How do you study America and all things American as the Chinese have for so long and miss the punch line? I don’t think you can. I am forced to conclude that it is I who am missing something.

    We can see the insanity of consumer culture where more and more is never enough. But, we can’t stop it. We can understand the inevitable planetary destruction our rapacious greed is producing. But, we won’t stop it. We know how all this must end and the horror that means. But, it’s not enough to cause us to change a damn thing.

    That’s scary and depressing enough, but, it says something about humans as a species I think… that the Chinese, a culture so historically different from our own, CAN SO EASILY, even after due diligence and lengthy examination, STILL be swept up in the same whirlpool that is sucking the life out of us.

    Incredibly clever and astoundingly stupid

    Yin and Yang

    What it means to be human…

    Wonderful to hear from you Neal
    Be Well Always
    Mrs. N.

    • Not a dogmatic approach but certainly a religious one (in the sense that the great early religions considered the importance of experience not belief
      ) is my understanding that the most powerful force in humanity is the unconscious. But of course, the problem with the unconscious is that it is unconscious, at least to the masses of people who watch TV everyday, attend church each Sunday (and ignore it the rest of the week) and go to godless jobs each week

      I think CG Jung said it best, certainly better than me.

      “Society, by automatically stressing all the collective qualities in its individual representatives, puts a premium on mediocrity, and everything settles down to vegetate in an easy, irresponsible way. Individuality will inevitably be driven to the wall. This process begins in school, continues at the University, and rules all departments in which the state has a hand. In a small social body, the individuality of its members is better safeguarded; and the greater is their relative freedom and the possibility of conscious responsibility…. The man of today, who resembles more or less the collective ideal, has made his heart into a den of murderers … the greatest infamy on the part of his group will not disturb him, so long as the majority of his fellows steadfastly believe in the exalted morality of their social organization…..”

      C.G. Jung, “The Assimilation Of The Unconscious,” in “The Relations Between The Ego And The Unconscious,”

      • It is my understanding that Carl Jung was one of the first psychologists to observe the rising frequency of meaninglessness in his patients… a persistent inability to find truth or value in the things that one does or anticipates doing. Advertising conditions people to solve such feelings of boredom and senselessness by consumption. Inevitably, unbounded consumption on a planetary scale makes yeast, stuck in a closed vat full of sugar water, of us all. The end will be unpleasant.

        Think of the monkey with his fist forever stuck in a candy jar because he refuses to open his hand and drop the candy.

        John Schumaker asks “at what level of illusion, self deception and reality distortion is man best suited to thrive”…? Surely not the ones currently leading us all to extinction.

  3. Nice read. China is an interesting case because it tries to adopt US Capitalism while simultaneously holding on to its superstitious cultural traditions. This is potentially a more dangerous combination, as we can see with the over-consumption of at-risk animal species (e.g. shark fins, rhino horns). It is unfortunate that China did not try to pave a different path… it is one of few countries that might have been able to do so. The smaller nations are always undermined by the US before they even have a chance to set up something different from Capitalism.

    • China is certainly a mess Brad and making a greater mess of the world simply do to its size and ability to do so. As far as “superstitious cultural traditions”… America has no room to talk. I just wonder if all this, the capitalism, the ignoring of outdated and absurd superstitions and the foolishness of moving hundreds of millions of people to cities is all nothing more than separate symptoms of the one endemic disease. The thirst for money and the power it buys.

      I have often said that capitalism is the game of Monopoly writ large and I think this is what it looks like when you start with billions of players and, after hundreds of years, get it down to thousands. If something or someone doesn’t tip the board over soon it all has to get much worse.

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