Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
One of the most depressing things about the Web is the phenomenon of Internet petitions. While at one time the act of starting a petition was a feat of will imbued with political significance—requiring research, legal counsel, hundreds of man-hours spent canvassing on street corners, and often deep wells of funding—now it’s something you can do before getting out of bed in the morning. And while petitions were once possessed of political import (“We DEMAND the release of Nelson Mandela!”), now they’re mainly defined by consumerist navel-gazing (“We DEMAND the release of a second season of Firefly!”). I guess the price we pay for having little boxes that cater to our every whim is the delusional belief that our whims deserve to be catered to.
The fact is, as sinful human beings, we’re all chained to our desires, outside of divine intervention.I recently ran afoul of just such a petition, entitled “Whole Foods! We want the REAL thing and not some budget 365!!!!”—complete with four exclamation points to make sure I knew they meant business. Apparently, the trendy L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake had had a Whole Foods Market promised to them, only to have it snatched away and replaced with a gross budget concept store—and the petitions-from-bed crowd was not taking this lying down. I mean, technically, they were, but you know what I mean.
If you’re unfamiliar, Whole Foods is an organic-and-otherwise fancypants grocery chain known mainly for its sky-high prices and habit of just making stuff up to overcharge you for. This was a business model that served them well throughout the ’80s and ’90s, when there was a steady stream of yuppies eager to believe the latest nutritional pseudoscience and even more eager to pay 30 bucks for a loaf of artisanal plywood-infused bread; it’s faltered, though, as my generation, for whom jobs and money are only a distant memory, has come of age. This in turn has prompted Whole Foods to introduce a new “store concept” called “365 by Whole Foods,” which I assume is so-called because it’s closed during leap years, and which sells equally-organic-but-presumably-somehow-worse food for cheaper. Also, I won’t repeat the already-tired joke that they should have called it “Half Foods,” because you as my reader deserve better than that.
But anyway, now there’s a petition on Care2, the petition website for people who care twice as much, demanding the for-real-deal. Maybe I should be encouraged that it only got 205 signatures (compared to its embarrassingly optimistic goal of 10,000), and even many of those are clearly jokes (“I’m about to throw a white man’s tantrum over this! You can’t ignore white people’s needs for luxury supermarkets the way you can ignore stuff like police murdering black people!”—I mean, I hope that one’s a joke). Still, many are depressingly, deadly serious and are doing little to dispel every stereotype of vapid Californians in my Midwestern imagination.
The rest of this article pretty much writes itself—I condemn the greed and gluttony, and I say some stuff about how they have no business complaining about having to buy budget organics when half the country either has no money for food or has no options beyond the HoHos and Cheetos at the corner 7-Eleven. And while all that would be fair to do, it’s not what I want to do, because it would be way too easy. Nah, I’d rather give you some reasons to actually empathize with these poor yuppies.
Have you heard of the “hedonic treadmill”? It’s a psychological theory that states that your emotions tend to hang around a state of “meh, this is okay, I guess,” regardless of how relatively good or bad your life is. If you get that big job promotion or win the lottery, you’ll feel pretty good for a week, or a month, but then you’ll get used to how things are and your feelings will go back to a low hum, and you’ll start yearning for something else. The upshot is that, yes, while in the grand scheme of things a lack of a real Whole Foods might not be a real problem, from the inside of the mind of someone in that situation, it probably feels like one.
The fact is, as sinful human beings, we’re all chained to our desires, outside of divine intervention. As Anglican priest Robert Burton once wrote, “Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.” I’m absolutely not saying we shouldn’t seek to maintain perspective when it comes to our problems; what I am saying, though, is that when we try to do so, we’re fighting basic human nature every step of the way. Some days we have the energy to push that stone up the hill; some days we don’t.
And now you’re probably saying, “Well, fine, Interwebz Guy, maybe it’s hard in its own way to be spoiled rich Angelenos, but that doesn’t change the fact that these particular ones are clueless toolbags.” And I would respond, (1) I have a name, y’know, and (2) but aren’t we all spoiled, rich toolbags in someone’s eyes? I mean, when’s the last time you started whining because traffic wasn’t moving, oblivious to the fact that you’re wealthy enough to have a little armored box that magically transports you wherever you need to go? Or the last time you got cheesed off because the wait at Olive Garden was too long, unaware of your unbelievable luck in being born at a point in history where you could go to a pre-fab big-box restaurant and eat bland pasta-flavored mush served with a smile by people who wait on you hand and foot for less than minimum wage?
All I’m really saying is, when Jesus says “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” we all imagine He’s talking about someone other than us, even though the vast majority of the world is looking at us right now and thinking, “Look at those self-satisfied toolbags who can afford a weekly box of wholegrain breakfast cereal from 365 by Whole Foods, and often even some organic, grass-fed milk to pour over it as well. Gosh, they lack perspective.”
But instead of taking that to heart, we make fun of Californians who are slightly richer than we are, because…why? So we can feel slightly better about our own excesses? Holy crud, we’re lame.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some gluten-free, free-range pasta calling my name.
Image by Mike Mozart via Flickr.