There was a time when it seemed right to want. It was at least human and almost noble. After all, there was a time when all we wanted was shelter, cultivated food, roadways, medicine, and peace. These seemed, at least at the time, to be the basic necessities for survival.
We created an image of what we wanted to gain: freedom from our mortality and our disease. Although we are not completely free from either of these today, we have made considerable advances. We are easily the most comfortable, well cared-for culture on the planet. However, the device that allowed us to make these advances—desire—is now obsolete. In fact, it is fast growing into the mechanism of our demise.
I cannot deny that we have a better world now in terms of providence of health and other necessities than probably ever before in history. However, it is now time to rethink our goals. Our noble reasoning has led us past our own necessities into a world in which getting what we want is the ultimate goal, regardless of what that desire comprises. It is no longer relevant whether what we want is good for us, nor is it relevant whether what we want is necessary to us to the exclusion of others' needs. Desire and ambition are no longer virtues.
There were days when we sought and understood the very extension of our being as a fulfillment of desire. Apart from the ascetics—the pious monks, nuns, pilgrims and others who denied themselves the fulfillment of their own wishes—we agreed as a culture that desire was the coin of our ambition. As years have passed, we have slowly fulfilled our every need and pressed forward into new needs to take the place of the older. Now it is clear that we have surpassed our own satisfaction and created a world where creating desire is as important as fulfilling it.
This is the porthole through which the demon of instant gratification sticks its head. Our system is now comprised of mechanisms which provide immediate satisfaction on a short-term basis, and by that mechanism, produce no long-term beneficial effects. In fact, long-term satisfaction is hardly any longer pursued at all. The modern person's only concern is with the next satisfaction, whether it be food, sex, drugs, music or a consumer purchase. These desires are a combination of the advertising industry's interference and the summit of our true necessity.
A modern person who is sheltered, fed, clothed and educated is left with no struggle to continue on toward. When the modern media are consulted, it becomes clear that the next rung on the ladder of continuing ambition for any human is wealth and power. Every media center, be it print or audio or video is creating and perpetuating this myth constantly. A modern person is bored without the fulfillment of some greater need for power and wealth or by some exercise of these same "new virtues".
Wealth and power are both relative commodities. If I have $1000 but I am the only person in the world to have this much, it quickly becomes clear that I hold financial leverage over most other (if not all) citizens. If, however, we take today's economy into account (where $1000 is not nearly the pinnacle of accumulated wealth), we realize that wealth in this monetary sense is only relative to those around us. Because wealth and power have become a benchmark for every citizen, it is therefore impossible for us all to attain it. The result is that we come by a system where some citizens must necessarily fail, or "lose" the game in order for the world to function properly. The same could be said of power, which in many senses is simply wealth in a potential form.
Therefore, instead of creating a world where satiable and closed-ended needs such as education (which is limited by aptitude and time), food (which is limited by our capacity to eat), and shelter (which is limited by our physical needs) are paramount, we have surpassed these goals and come into a world where insatiable and open-ended needs such as wealth and power have taken precedence. At a time in the distant past, it may have been feasible for us to compete over food and similar necessities because of limited production, distribution and overall availability. Now, however, it seems clear that we possess the resources as a culture to feed each of our brothers, but because of our commitment to power and wealth as ultimate goals, we are unable to do so. As a culture, we quest ceaselessly after an infinite goal while those around us suffer.
One of the great shames in this is the realization that since our goal is infinite, taking wealth from our own pocket to assist another member of our culture does not decrease our ability to reach our goal in any real way, since the goal is in all respects unattainable. The only detriment to charity in the modern world for those who are provided for is the loss of face in our boastful quest after the infinite power.
For centuries, we have scolded those who quest after world domination, but in this modern world we see almost all of those around us on the path toward the same thing: ultimate wealth and ultimate power. There is no charity coming from these blocks because it is well known that wealth is not accumulated through spending, but rather saving of money. As a result, we have become the megalomaniacs of our mythologies, each one of us, as we continue to try to keep up with the continuous race for dominance in a culture that has far surpassed its ability to maintain itself in any practical way.
Take as an example the mating rituals of the young adult generation today. The tragedy of modern love—according to either statistic or opinion—is the absence of commitment and long-term satisfaction—things that used to be hallmarks of romance. Today, a pair can scarcely be satisfied to remain together because they are constantly confronted with advertisements and news items telling them they can "do better"—if not through their present virtues, then through the purchase of some appropriately expensive consumer product, be it an expensive car, a tummy toner or a litany of self-help literature. By way of selling them a product or service, they are convinced that they are handsomer, more intelligent or somehow else fitter than their mates and should therefore purchase the appropriate product to take full advantage of this and increase sexual desirability. This all happens regardless of the catechism we are taught as children, that "nobody is perfect."
For women, this curse has taken shape in an unrealistic and often unattainable body image. It seems that today's woman is more concerned with her appearance now than ever, most especially with respect to sexual desirability. It would seem from the so-called "women's magazines" in the public press that a woman's sole value to the culture is her sexual desirability. The rise in cosmetic surgeries (especially for the young) and the stability of the cosmetic and "beauty" industries, even during times of recession, are undeniable evidence of this.
Conversely, any woman who needs to succeed in a world of men and be taken seriously must, therefore, take on the role of an ersatz man, marginalizing her femininity and the traits that make her sex so appealing in a philosophical and ethical sense (the supposed feminine traits of nurturing, emotional sensitivity, and peacefulness) and taking on the traits of the men in the "man's world": thirst for dominance, aggression and cruelty. Generally speaking, these "masculine virtues" are, if they are to be taken seriously, all to be taken advantage of to beat out the next guy—to succeed not only for the sake of the success' benefit itself, but to the exclusion of any and all competition. Women have, as a result of these cultural features, grown more predatory—both in business and in dating behavior—determined to take no prisoners.
A man's viability is also linked to his sexual viability. Now, not only in the traditional sense of providence, strength and reason, but in a newer more body-evident sense as a sex symbol. A man is not only expected to create a lot of wealth and power, but also to maintain a fitting image as a being of perfected beauty. A man or woman is no longer deemed a good "catch" if he is kind, stable and able to provide a healthy way of life for children or a family, but rather, based on how perfect a facade he can put up and for how long.
Paradoxically, this need for perfection both in one's self and in one's mate gives rise to an ever-ascending culture of self-consciousness, shame and self-hatred. Today, the most likely feature of true love—or at least, successful relationships—in our culture is therefore derived from either a lack of self-worth necessary for one party to believe he could "do better" or from some desire to "settle for less", which is often part and parcel of the former sentiment anyway. We mate because time is running out and the person we have found is "good enough", not because we are satisfied. Procreation takes place, and then we divorce and move on to find a more perfect mate.
The result is a culture that can barely tolerate a one-night stand, and which is, in many respects, satisfied with predatory dating and competitive relationship dynamics that leave no room for collaborative decision making, let alone emotional exchange on a higher order.
Beyond the need for any one person for survival and to find a mate, there is the exercise of power. We can conceive of little as a culture that goes beyond the respect, adulation and privilege of a powerful person. The desire for power and for its trappings far surpasses virtue as a goal in today's world. In many sense, virtue is immediately attainable and boring. Power—especially the ultimate kind—is far more compelling. We can see this in our pastimes as clearly as we can see it in our daily life. Virtue itself—charity, purity, kindness, good-heartedness—is held as a means to our just reward and no longer, as it was in ancient days, held as a good in itself: the correct exercise of the human mind.
We are disappointed when a character in a movie or play acts justly and is not rewarded. We are unsatisfied that virtue is enough for its own sake. Truly, this the heart of the conflict we use to fuel our drama, as fate and deserts are paramount in almost every story. Tragedy is built on the concept that each man who violates the way of things will get what is coming to him. We are steeped in these power plays and led to believe that the only viable reason to act justly is to prevent reaction: vengeance, anger, and consequence.
Who among us remembers being painstakingly taught by our parents or teachers why we must be good? Did our instructors even understand it enough to preach? Likely not. Our modern society has settled on the idea of power as viability and viability as the highest good. Beyond that, nothing is clear. Therefore, in the name of power, wars are fought, cities burned, innocents murdered, forests leveled, mountains razed, the poor imprisoned, women raped. We push our influence as far as it can go—first consuming the natural world, then consuming the world of our brothers. Winner take all.
Surely our only deliverance from this cycle is deviation from it: a return to a unified world where every entity works both for the sake of itself and its companions. A world that is free from needless competition, free from ruthlessness and the shameful obliteration of that which we know to be good only to make a small amount of progress over our brothers. A world where people can be free to act in their own best interest without fear of being deemed weak or incapable and without fear of being edged out for another notch on a gun butt or another hash mark on a scoreboard. Most importantly, a world where we are free to pursue higher virtues: love, knowledge and a true perfection of the will into harmony.