Have you noticed it, too?
Have you noticed the rise of what I’ll call “livin’ large culture?” I’ve met a definitely-not-trivial number of wealthy people who seem to deliberately pursue a lifestyle that is sure to have them dead in their fifties. They weigh literally over three-hundred pounds, they golf a lot, they’re rich, and their main interests are whiskey and cigars. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with being rich or golfing a lot, but being morbidly obese while simultaneously binging on cigars and hard liquor is going to kill them. They know, and they don’t care. This is a mystery to me because these are highly intelligent, self-made men. If anyone would know better than to make a habit of ingesting large amounts of carcinogens voluntarily, it would be the group of people known as “well-educated millionaires.” I have no explanation for why these people exist. Does their success make them weary of additional years of life? Is there something about being a millionaire that causes a person to want to cut his life short? I don’t fault them for their tastes in alcohol and tobacco, but in the 21st Century, money can buy so much more than that: exotic vacations, less carcinogenic drugs, romantic liaisons, high-tech gadgets, or literally anything else that won’t waste your liver and lungs and give you seven kinds of cancer.
Have you noticed “more is more culture?” This is perhaps best illustrated by American society’s current preoccupation with bacon. I like bacon. A couple of strips of bacon taste good to me, either crisscrossed on top of a hamburger or alongside a breakfast omelet. But “more is more culture” demands, well, more. Restaurants now serve things with extra bacon to the extreme. Up until a few months ago, at Chili’s, for example, you could get a regular bacon cheeseburger, or you could get this other thing that was decorated with about as much bacon as there was beef. Insane. Looking at their menu just now, I see that that burger has been replaced by something called “The Boss Burger,” which, according to Chili’s own nutritional information, clocks in at 1,660 calories ignoring the side of French fries it comes with. 1,040 of those calories are comprised of fat. That means that a full 2/3 of the burger is made of fat. The burger’s sodium content clocks in at 2,880 mg, or 25% more than a sedentary adult should eat in a single day. Again: this excludes the French fries. It goes without saying that eating such a thing will hurt your body. You will become inflamed and uncomfortable. You will likely experience insulin resistance. You’ll become tired and, if you’re not used to eating such things, you’ll get a headache.
Such menu items merely serve to feed “more is more culture” its food. There are many other ways this culture feeds itself and many different things it eats.
Cadillac Escalades, for example, were once about the biggest SUV you could buy, but today there are sundry Yukons and Suburbans that dwarf them, providing literally four rows of seating for average American households that have declined steadily for the past 60 years. It’s now possible for a middle-class family to purchase an eighty-six inch television for non-commercial use. Eighty-six inches is over seven feet of screen. Game of Thrones is just fine, but do we really need to the shape of the characters’ retinal capillaries? And while the average American adult weighs less than the three-hundred-pound guys who are “livin’ large,” the men now boast of “dad bod” and the women campaign on social media for the normalization of plus-size. That’s “plus-size” as in more than the regular sizes. Seemingly every aspect of the human experience is spreading out.
Everywhere I go, it seems that the principle goal of people is to occupy as much space as humanly possible, whether it be occupied with their plus-sized cars, plus-sized bodies, or plus-sized attitudes. Nearly each time I run or cycle on the road, cars honk angrily and people swear at me for having the nerve to be a non-vehicle on the shoulder of the road. Some even slow down, roll down their windows, and advise me to get off the road, knowing full well that I am both legally entitled to run or bike on the road and that I happen to have the legal right-of-way! You can’t go to any sort of public event like a music festival or an arts demonstration without the many space-occupiers spreading out their picnic blankets, folding chairs, nieces, and nephews out to occupy as much space as possible – before anyone else has a chance to occupy any space of their own! On a recent trip to a movie theater, I watched as a young boy and his sister positioned themselves on the two outermost seats of an entire row, “saving seats” for a whole row of their family members, who came much later and with great noise and fanfare. Meanwhile, urban sprawl consumes every last visible patch of green space imaginable, the bulldozers and backhoes mowing down every tree and filling every pond so that the next plus-sized family can populate that virgin 0.3 acres with a swimming pool too small to swim in, an outdoor grill too large to fully use, a dining room too expansive to have a conversation in, two or even three dining tables, a litter of iPad-surfing narcissists, and a surreptitious infestation of rats.
Look, I’m not merely being a misanthrope here. This is a real problem. It’s a problem when urban sprawl replaces a diverse ecosystem with a foreign one comprised of just five animal species: Humans, and dogs, rats, and house spiders they carry with them everywhere. That problem is made all the worse when the local homeowner’s association prohibits all but a list of 20 yard plant species. It’s a problem when cars are made so large that people feel uneasy driving down streets on which they might encounter a pedestrian. It’s a problem when the aspirational ideal of the human diet is something that will give you both cancer and type two diabetes if prolonged for more than about a decade. And it’s a problem when not even fabulous wealth can elevate you out of this mindset, when it actually embeds it deeper into your psyche such that you will cigar yourself to death.
It’s not consumption that I object to, nor is it over-population. There’s something brazenly wasteful about the way people operate, almost as if acknowledging the needs of other people diminishes the experience. When businesses buy up an acreage, mow down every tree on the land, and then leave it dormant for two years while they wait for the land to increase in value, the economic aspect of it doesn’t bother me. It’s the aesthetic part the kills me. Why mow down every tree? It’s as though the land were a freshly baked pie that someone decided to take five bites out of – from the precise center of the pie – and then leave it on the counter so that anyone else who wants pie is forced to have a badly misshapen piece, partially eaten by a stranger.
When you watch toddlers play, you’ll notice how they carelessly toss aside toys when those toys no longer captivate their attention. They’ll be playing with a ball, notice a train, drop the ball onto the floor, letting it roll wherever it may, and run toward the train. They have no concept of tidiness, and barely any awareness of the fact that someone else in the room may wish to play with the ball, or someone in the future might want to find the ball. They are simply, in that moment, finished with the ball and onto the train. Even if we teach the toddler to clean up the ball when playtime is over, we still haven’t addressed the fundamental issue, which is an awareness in the immediate moment of how our present actions might impact bystanders.
This – well, what is it? an emotion? an attitude? an aesthetic? – has begun to permeate all aspects of life. My interests, here, now, in the present moment trump not only every other person who is and who might be, but even the interests of my own future self! I smoke the cigar. I eat the bacon. I super-size the family cars. I lay my homestead across the middle of everything, uprooting animal, mineral, and vegetable and replacing it with a stone grotto pool and a “kegerator.”
It shouldn’t be illegal. But we as a society should voluntarily for more than this.