“Culture is not your friend. Culture is for other people’s convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you. Culture insults you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are treated well by culture...We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow.”
McKenna is saying that if you don't consciously build your own meaningful culture in your life, it will be determined for you by dominant personalities, media, propaganda, peers, advertising, and all kinds of other capricious influences who have no business being in your head and determining your preferences and actions.
Life is short, and progress towards virtue is often time consuming and hard won. You should be very selective about what you devote your precious and limited time to. If you want to be happier, cut out expressions of culture that sabotage your happiness and personal growth, and deliberately create your own personal culture of beauty and meaning based on your values, rather than on other peoples'.
“Culture is a perversion. It fetishizes objects. It creates consumer mania. It preaches endless forms of false happiness, endless forms of false understanding…It invites people to diminish themselves and dehumanize themselves by behaving like machines.”
Take a critical view of the many activities that culture invites you to participate in rather than just following along. It should be your goal to determine what kinds values and virtues (or lack thereof) underlie various cultural activities. You can resist the more damaging aspects of culture by consciously choosing which aspects of it are worth partaking in, and creating your own culture in areas where popular culture is lacking.
The art of creating your own culture is subjective and varies from person to person. The key is to focus on what YOU find meaningful, not on what other people do. You don’t need to be wedded to fashion, sports, celebrities, news, garbage entertainment, products, advertising, social media, rituals, and so forth - none of which exist to make you happy. They represent a biased, one directional flow of information which says nothing about who you truly are or what your life should be like.
Here is how to lessen the impact of mass consumer culture in your life and to create meaningful culture for yourself:
Use Extreme Discretion With Entertainment
Movies and television can have the effect of making you consciously or unconsciously want to buy certain things, achieve a certain standard of living, be a certain way, think a certain way, subscribe to a particular view of life or political outlook and so on, which may not be consistent with your values.
Even if social engineering into conformity with mass consumer culture isn't the main intent of popular entertainment, movies, television and music are often vehicles for conveying the type of mass consumer culture that Terrence McKenna is especially critical of. Readers of this site will also know that I don't follow the news, which helps me maintain equanimity.
Like movies and television, popular music is often filled with lyrics about rampant consumerism, in your face sexuality, and lack of concern about virtue or character. Certainly good art can address these same subjects, but I don't want to waste my time with music that doesn't conform to my philosophical standards. One way that I have found to avoid music with unprincipled messages, is to listen to music without words - classical, jazz, electronic, and so on.
Read Good Books
There is just something wonderful about getting lost in a good book, and some research has shown that deep reading both develops the brain and increases the capacity for empathy in real life:
"Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions."
If you need suggestions for what to read next, check out my recommended reading list.
Surround Yourself With Beauty and Meaning
You might enjoy saving images of beautiful places and interesting things online, or having a piece of art in your house that simply brightens your day every time you see it. I particularly like using Pinterest to look at images of the natural world and to learn about Classical antiquity. The nice thing is that you can do this pretty much anywhere, anytime, and it gets you focused on aspects of human culture that are actually meaningful to you.
I also enjoy watching thought-provoking films with gorgeous cinematography. I particularly like period dramas and historical fiction because these genres allow me to experience the feel of pre-industrial societies, landscapes, and bygone eras in human history that interest me. Watching a well-done historical drama is almost like being there in that time period, which you could never otherwise experience.
Limit Social Media
When you look at your Facebook feed for example, you are basically being subjected to whatever anyone - advertisers, friends, and Facebook's evil algorithm - wants you to see. Without even realizing it, you start getting annoyed about politics, feeling envious of someone's vacation to Bora Bora, and losing your equanimity.
One study from New Zealand's University of Canterbury concluded that using Facebook makes people less happy:
"Spending time on Facebook ranked among the 10 worst activities in terms of unpleasantness and lack of engagement. It was ranked as the least meaningful activity and the one that made people the second-most unhappy, surpassed only by recovering from illness."
Other academic studies from Germany have shown that viewing Facebook tends to make people feel lonely or less happy about their own lives. One third of people felt less happy after viewing Facebook, and the more time a person spent on Facebook without contributing, the more unhappy they were likely to feel.
Go on social media for a limited amount of time and with a purpose in mind - such as contacting a specific friend or responding to a message - rather than just passively consuming whatever anyone wants you to see.
Talk and Associate With People of Character and Intellect
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
Even if your immediate circle isn't interested in all of the exact same things that you are interested in, you can still find people to converse with. The great thing about the Internet is that no matter how obscure a topic that interests you is, you're likely to find at least a few other people who are interested in it too.
It's easier to be happy when you willingly associate with people whose character and intellect you respect. You can't control who you might bump into on a daily basis, but you can to some extent choose who you want in your life, and this is an important aspect of building your own meaningful culture.
You May Also Like:
7 Behaviors That Lead to Lasting Happiness
5 Insightful Ways to Change Your Character Flaws
How to Be a Baddass According to Cicero
This article is Creative Commons and can be republished in full with attribution to Leah Goldrick at Common Sense Ethics and a link back to the original article. Remember to like Common Sense Ethics on Facebook, and follow on Pinterest and Twitter.