Two Buddhist monks and three American consumerists

I just returned from my daily pilgrimage to Starbucks (yes, I could do better, but it’s the closest thing to the house), where three fat Americans (but I speak redundantly) were sitting around talking about the Neo-Roman circus known as the Super Bowl, which apparently took place yesterday.

Moments later, two Buddhist monks came walking down the street, right in front of the large windows of the coffee shop.

“Must be nice to live like that,” said Baboon #1.  “All they have to do is beg for money and chant.  Hummmmmmm, hummmmmmmm.”  Baboons #2 and #3 yawped in agreement.

I am not a Buddhist, and I do not know much about Buddhism, but it seems pretty safe to point out a crucial distinction which the booboisie at Starbucks did not get.  Yes, the consumer class works long hours, but in many cases it’s to pay for their various distractions—big screen TVs, cars that are three times the size that they need to be, etc.  The monks, on the other hand, live a simple life, stripped of those things which they do not consider to be essential.  Indeed, in Buddhism the material world is considered to be evil, and they have forsaken it.  So when they beg for money (if in fact they do beg for money), they are doing so in order to live a simple life.[1]  The truth is that, for all the big screen TVs that the consumers own, the Buddhist monks are probably happier people.

Some will observe this and begin a well-intentioned but dreadfully mistaken tract against capitalism, and even against material goods.  This misses the point. The real evil to be dealt with in our society is neither capitalism (would that we actually had a free market rather than mercantilism!) nor even material goods, but rather the consumerist mentality which dominates the contemporary mindset.  Capitalism, while it is a function of the metaphysical right to liberty, ultimately has a wax nose, to plagiarize what St. Thomas Aquinas said about reason.  It can be used for good or for ill, just like material goods.

The lesson here, then, is that in order for a more virtuous society to exist, men must change.  Don’t think for a minute, however, that I think it’s a good idea to try to change other people.  Working on oneself is quite enough.

Now, with all this mind, I have decided, years behind the curve, that it’s probably time to get an iPod.  Dear reader, tell me:  Which one should I buy?  How do I know how much memory I need?

[1]  As a side note, one might point out that even the process of begging and giving is a free exchange, perfectly compatible with the ideals of the free market, even if it’s not smiled upon by those who don’t know how much work is enough and how much is too much.

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5 Responses

  1. I won’t address the rest of the content of your post, but I can speak a little to the iPod issue.

    I have an 8GB iPod Touch. This does not come close to holding all of my music, video, and photos, but I don’t need the iPod for backing things up as I have an external hard drive for that, nor do I feel the need to carry my entire library around in my pocket all the time (easily 3/4 of my music library is stuff for my music classes, and I don’t listen to it for fun). In addition to playing music and occasionally video, I use my iPod as a PDA–I have a calendar, write notes to myself, check my email in wireless hotspots, and get Google maps that I can take with me without printing.

    If you want to use it primarily for playing music and watching movies, how big is your music library and how much of that library do you want to carry around with you? If you have lots of music and want to use your iPod to back all of it up, get a large iPod Classic. If you’re just keeping a relatively small playlist for your daily workout, get a Shuffle. I’m not quite sure what the point of the Nano is. I kind of think it’s for kids; anyone else with a small library would either have a Shuffle that only plays one playlist, or an iPod Touch that does other stuff.

  2. Great editorial, Mike. Very Menckenian–particularly “booboisie.”

    “The real evil to be dealt with in our society is neither capitalism (would that we actually had a free market rather than mercantilism!) nor even material goods, but rather the consumerist mentality which dominates the contemporary mindset.” Well put!

    As far as iPods go, I generally think of them as inferior plastic devices which send forth inferior, compressed sound files through inferior “earbuds.” iPods are best suited for toddlers–or, at least, people with toddler aural sensitivity… I have a low-memory Shuffle which I use for walks in the park or the elliptical machine. Don’t get a touch sensor one! Many of my students have this type and the sensor works 50% of the time. It’s also virtually impossible to fast-forward or rewind with any kind of control. With the Shuffle you can’t see the track list, but that’s part of the fun. Mine only holds three hours, but you can easily re-load it by snapping it into your hard drive and visiting your iTunes library. And best… nobody’s going to steal it from you as you stroll the streets.

  3. Never being one to separate politics from culture from economics from religion (since I know now from experience that they are inseparable)… I point out the value of reading (as I think you may already have), the various religious works which deal with economics and man. The ones I remember are freely available on Vatican.va… but I would imagine that other large religions have thoughts on this too. I was surprised as a young man many years ago to find for example, that the Church rejects materialist Capitalism as being just as pernicious as other forms of economic or political systems that deny the principle of subsidiarity.

    One of the things that drew me back to the Church of Rome as a young man was the fact that I could find no flaws in the Church’s defined social doctrine (though I did try to find holes).

  4. Pascendi,

    “Never being one to separate politics from culture from economics from religion (since I know now from experience that they are inseparable)…”

    Unfortunately I can’t say that I agree. Economics is a human science; it is not a moral science. Tom Woods talks about this a lot. Now this does not mean that I think that people should approach economics, or any other subject, by leaving their firmly-held moral beliefs on a shelf and not taking heed of them. I’m only drawing a very fine but important distinction here that must always be remembered for reasons that will become apparent later in this comment.

    As far as politics goes, since it, being the art of legalized theft and violence, is always immoral, the best thing religious leaders could to for civilization is to condemn it completely and unequivocally.

    “I was surprised as a young man many years ago to find for example, that the Church rejects materialist Capitalism as being just as pernicious as other forms of economic or political systems that deny the principle of subsidiarity.”

    On this, a question and a comment:

    1. How does materialist Capitalism thwart subsidiarity?

    2. Just about Capitalism in general, your thoughts have jogged in my mind memories of a certain level of irritation I had with the late Dr. Wojtyla, who, when he was pope, used to say incredibly ridiculous things such as that no economic system was compatible with Catholicism. He always seemed to be calling for some kind of unworkable hybrid system, which always inevitably turns out to be watered-down socialism.

    I will grant no system is perfect, because we are not perfect. And I will also concede that capitalism can be mis-used almost as well as any other system. But here’s the point that Wojtyla and many others miss: Capitalism preserves the freedom that is the *metaphysical right* of each and every human being. In a truly free market, many people will make the wrong decisions, but *everyone* will have the ability to make the right decision. It seems to me, then, that capitalism is *the* system most compatible with Catholicism, and the Medieval Catholics who developed free market principles would likely be in agreement with that statement.

  5. They work long hours , because they want to purchase biggest cars. Monks beg to shed their ego and to just feed them self. Thats it.

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