Just Enough Just Enough

Photograph by Nora Hollstein

 

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers a holistic look at life on Earth, seen from above.

“The consumption-driven mind-set masquerades as ‘quality of life’ but eats us from within. It is as if we’ve been invited to a feast, but the table is laid with food that nourishes only emptiness, the black hole of the stomach that never fills.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Hello there. Happy New Year. How are you? What are your resolutions? Have you set goals for yourself in 2022? Are you giving up anything? Introducing something new into your life? Starting a diet? Working out more? For most of us, this line of inquiry is expected with every new calendar year. But there’s something about all of it that hit me differently this January, namely that this line of thinking is all based around the idea that we need to improve.

 

On a small scale, this time of year represents capitalism at its insidious, ingenious best: preying on our insecurities, but cloaked in the promise of gratification and accomplishment. It is the dangling carrot and the endless carriage wheel of desire all at once. No wonder everyone is exhausted; most of us have been on this ride for as long as we can remember. From an early age, we are ingrained in the belief that we neither have nor are enough. What could go wrong?

 

In a recent conversation for our next issue (coming soon!), author Richard Powers reminded me that when John D. Rockefeller—arguably the most renowned capitalist of all time—was asked in an interview “How much is enough?” he replied “just a little bit more.” This is the mindset at the heart of consumer culture: the idea that our next purchase, our next promotion, even our next partner is going to be the thing that finally makes us feel complete and whole.

 

From fashion and beauty to tech and wellness, entire industries and marketing strategies are built to capitalize on this insecurity. The purpose of advertising is to harness human desire, and convince the target that they need the product. Digital marketing experts estimate that the average American is exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads on any given day. Let the gravity of that sink in. How many are you even conscious of? How many could you remember? How many times a day are we being bombarded with the idea that we are not enough?

 

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of the Windigo, a mythical creature in Anishinaabe lore that walks the Earth tormented by an insatiable hunger—a metaphor for the exact monstrous mindset we are discussing here. As Kimmerer puts it: “We’ve accepted banishment even from ourselves when we spend our beautiful, utterly singular lives on making more money, to buy more things that feed but never satisfy. It is the Windigo way that tricks us into believing that belongings will fill our hunger, when it is belonging that we crave.”

 

None of this is to say that self-improvement, ambition, or even consumption are inherently “bad”—only that it’s important that we always examine the energy behind it. Are we chasing something from a place of lack, the belief that we are empty without it, or from healthy ambition? Is it something we truly desire, or is it something we believe will bring us validation or wholeness? When we understand that objects and objectives can enrich our lives but never complete them, then we can start to understand the difference between growth and accumulation.

 

It is inevitable that infinite ambition within a model of finite resources will lead to collapse. In the context of a system that preys on insecurity and desire, it becomes a radical act to say “I have enough. I am enough.” My hope is not that you walk away from this with a sense of shame for your desires, but to look at the system and the people that profit off of them with fresh eyes. To channel your ambition toward building something new, embodying change on the small scale while advocating for systemic reform. That sounds like a worthwhile resolution to me.

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