Written and Photographed by Federico Mata
“One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?”
– Søren Kierkegaard
Mortality is an ever-present reality. Even when there is no danger, the psychological presence of an imminent threat can be more dangerous than any physical blow to the head. The looming dangers within the mind are a reality man must face on a daily basis, and if left unchecked, can be the most destructive force man can partake upon himself. It is no secret that the maturation of the minds relationship with imminent mortality comes with time – time itself is the abstract idea of the passing of the sun where we measure our existence with numbers, attempting to encapsulate the very idea of mortality and quantify its implications.
Death is certainly a fact of life, and yet the ever looming notion of an end of life has often been met with negativity, as if there is nothing positive to the passing of our biological bodies into what is still unknown. However, there are many teachings which give us a better grasp into what it means to Be (or not to Be), and what it means to live, and it all this wisdom comes with aging.
Mainstream modern culture is all too keen in seeking the most youthful aspirations of itself. From beauty products, fashions, celebrities, television, movies, music, the promise of youth lasting forever is deeply entrenched to the psyche. Nowhere is this most noticeable than in mass media. The proliferation of beauty magazines found in newsstands and now heavily in social media have been increasing in number, and all the skin smoothing filters for selfies have added fuel to the fire. The symbolic archetypes are found everywhere, and western culture, with its ever widening expansion to the rest of the world, makes youth, along with the promise of wealth, the ideal factor to a better life. Even catch phrases are not immune, it is not uncommon to hear something such as “She may be old, but she remains young,” or “He is 55 years young.” All this of course, is said in the affirmative to better alleviate the burden of aging. However, while a balance of youthful inclinations are most definitely necessary, they make up but a small fraction to what the zest of life can really mean when all aspects of life are taken into account.
But first, let us take a look into youthfulness in the negative, as to examine what it is doing to the psyche in the modern context.
The Cult of Youth
One does not need to tread far to see the billboards, commercials, and other media to notice the proliferated obsession with youth. The manicured pictures and videos, the highly retouched ads in prints and even video form, are the pervading standards of a culture set in its own infantilism, a whimsical society where all pain, suffering, and negativity is gone, or covered over. The effects of aging are negative, not to be seen nor spoken of. Grey hair, a natural process of aging, is recolored to a more youthful appearance. The multi-billion dollar cosmetic plastic surgery industry, with some estimates worth at $14 billion annually, makes sure that wrinkles, stretch marks, and other “undesirable” marks on the body are given a makeover to a more youthful tone. Countless magazines are obsessed with image, and “tips” on how to look your youngest. The cosmetics industry has lotions with exotic names to diminish the effects of aging. This cult of self, now armed with forward facing cameras with skin filters, and a conglomerate of corporate run social media outlets, marks the embodiment of the new paradigm of the obsession with youth. From the work out videos to the banality of Hallmark wisdom that comes with the emergence of social media, the nihilistic romanticism masquerading as positive reinforcement to the infantile notions of a “Forever Young” lifestyle has taken the culture to a tailspin of cheap thrills, often ignorant of its own destruction. The question remains, how did we get like this? How did this one-dimensional way of being come into fruition?
In his book “Manufacturing Consent,” Noam Chomsky says the following:
“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Taking a page from Edward Bernays and his use of effective propaganda, it is the usage of crowd think on a massive scale that has brought an operational passivity to the way the public thinks about itself. The indoctrination of the masses through the use of marketing to obtain an agreeable stance on how life should be lived in the consumer society ascertains the power that marketing has in the deciding factors of modern life. The decisions we need to make ourselves on an internal level, such as true reflection of life and its meaning, has been trivialized to shopping, wages, the 40-hour work week, consuming on an endless scale, sports and amusements of every kind, we buy ourselves into feelings of adequate youth.
What this does to the individual on the existential level is that it closes the gap on what it means to be a self, or as Karl Jaspers called it, the Imperial Self. The constant influx of youth through the social factions of man has given another reason to make him unaware of his true abilities towards becoming a Self. The media has taken over our thought process and now thinks for us, making for humans that resemble more automatons than actual people. The aging process has taken a negative turn towards the unspeakable; the natural life cycles must not be present or spoken about. As Charles Tart pointed out, consensus trance, as the automated response to daily life, has become the norm.
Within this, the phenomena of the Marketing Orientation is born, as Erich Fromm put in his book, Man for Himself:
“Like the handbag, one has to be in fashion on the personality market, and in order to be in fashion one has to know what kind of personality is most in demand. This knowledge is transmitted in a general way throughout the whole process of education, from kindergarten to college, and implemented by the family. The knowledge acquired at this early stage is not sufficient, however; it emphasizes only certain general qualities like adaptability, ambition, and sensitivity to the changing expectations of other people. The more specific pictures of the models of success one gets elsewhere. The pictorial magazines, newspapers, and news reels show the pictures and life stories of the successful in many variations. Pictorial advertising has a similar function. The successful executive who is pictured in a tailor’s advertisement is the image of how one should look and be, if one is to draw down the “big money” on the contemporary personality market.”
The Marketing Orientation, is an enculturated individual, set on the quest to market himself to be in a constant state of an appeasing temperance to the given culture, most noticeable in the western traditions. However, this new phenomenon, that born out the industrial revolution and the prevailing consumer economy, and also based on the youthful tone of fun and plunder, has made this an all too common occurrence. Man remains an infant in the world of ever increasing infantilism, we are not allowed to grow up.
What does it mean to “grow up”? Are we not mature enough to make our own, sovereign decisions without some authoritative power leading us every inch of our journey? What is the role of man, but to lead himself towards his greater destiny? With the aforementioned role that marketing has on ourselves, how is man to cope with his own creation? It is the quest of the individual to ultimately find out, but philosophy has a few helpful guidelines on how to better cope on becoming a true Self, and all have to with the aging and maturation of the individual. With youth comes the first wave of teaching towards becoming the individual one will become, from the external influences, to the parental authority figures, to the friends and extended family one meets, this is the process of learning the basic tools for man to unleash his creative powers. Depending on how the child is raised, and to what influence his parents are accustomed to, the most influential characteristic is love. Not to be applied to the common sense meaning of the word, but love as to experience wholeheartedly the inner and outer nature of ourselves to the fullest extent possible, to authentically experience the world as sovereign individuals. In this creation of Self, the external world which molds the inner world play the crucial molding phase of the individual.
Children are most susceptible to the external influences, one only needs to see a child stuck to the television screen or video game to notice the hypnotizing effects the media has on the child. When children are shown nature not for what the world has told them, but actually experience it as a true observer of it, when the child is shown the dynamics of the world not as a child, but as an actual person, when the child experiences his sexual nature not as taboo, but as the biological response of his creation, and when a child is shown limits and the potentials to the power within those limits, then that child is on track to become the mature individual in charge of his own destiny.
Yet the roles are put on us early in life. We are constantly told, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And the media and external forces are all too eager in telling us exactly on how to live our lives. Boys are meant to play with soldiers, girls with dolls. You are to grow up and makes a lot of money, get educated, and the world is your oyster. But the dynamics of human experience, the teaching of what it means to be, is left to the religious institutions and at best, the parental figures. Is it of no consequence that we seek an authority figure because that is all we are taught? The role of authority, the often oppressive instance of life that is taught at an early age, leaves consciousness at the door for conformity, masqueraded as a form of acceptance. Then, authority seeks to use this power to make the individual feel small, perhaps for the rest of our lives. This infantilism is what makes man the creature he is today, lost, with little guidance on who he is. Yet, perhaps dualistically, man needs his own inner authority. It is from this authority of Self that man finds out what he truly is, to have that inner light shine onto your being.
But what makes the full man so rare, as Nietzsche warned in his writings, is that he lacks the goal of becoming a great man, a man of true wisdom and vigor, for the tribe has him indoctrinated to their ideals, and few break out from the lies of his culture. It is easier to submit than to fight the oppressor, and often times, there is no one to blame for your ailments than oneself. As Nietzsche writes in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
“But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeks to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark, the deep – into evil.”
The metaphor here is to have the deep rooted ties to Self, while seeking the light, and be always cautious of evil, which is ever present, especially deeply rooted in oneself. Man’s moral compass is more and more thrown out of balance, with the machinations of modern life growing more complex by the day, it is easy to get distracted into becoming who we are.
Into Wisdom: The Inner Child
The wisdom of life, the juice that makes man’s existential drive for excellence come alive, is an inward and introspective journey that has to do with the meditation of existence, it is a search for meaning. As Jung said, man cannot stand a meaningless life. The moment man loses this meaning, the path of destruction will not be far off. When the distractions come to a close, when simplicity reigns, when true love of life comes into play, when the courage of the responsibility of life, along with zest and purpose to it, and the will to live our potential powers, the maturity will then welcome the child of learning. The experience of deep rooted learning is always an infantile approach, as one is ignorant to a new teaching. It is not the adult learning, but the inner child who wants to play with this learning, to experience the new teaching as play. To play is to learn, a metaphor for the true teachings of life. Just as a theater play is a small snippet of real life, so is the teaching, a small snippet to your daily life. If this is captivated and molded, respected for not what the teacher has to say, but to follow the teaching, is to come full circle into the wisdom of life. Karl Jaspers adds to the Socratic Method:
“The Socratic teacher turns his students away from himself and back onto themselves; he hides in paradoxes, makes himself inaccessible. The intimate relationship between student and teacher here is not one of submission, but of a contest for truth.”
With maturity in hand, and the inner child not left behind, the student of wisdom and introspection takes the ties of Self to make them deep rooted in his very being, that of an authentic essence to his existence. The wisdom of aging, that of the culminated experience through maturation and understanding of the journey of life, which transcends the need for youth in the external sense, and goes into the playful tone of true learning of the inner child, reaches the start of a true Imperial Self.
Wisdom is to be attained with the maturation of the essence of being, the “Being-There” that is the Dasein of Heidegger’s Being and Time, as to experience the world in temporality, in the now. The aging process is wisdom, to be manifested in the maturation process of life. Regardless of what the media may say, or what the leader of the world claim life to be, or what celebrity culture leads us to believe, the world needs to age, for an aged world makes the coming generation in its youth, reap the benefits of the old, to add, remove and grow as need be. For as Jean-Jacques Rousseau said:
“Quit thy childhood, my friend, and wake up.”
Model and Child: Argelia Vanessa-O’neal @argeliavaenssa and London Kaleo Johnson
Makeup: Carilone Abdel-Nour @makeupbycarolinea
Stylist: Sandi Martini @sandimartini