Letters to the editor

Vanity’s inanities

If Louis XIV shopped in today’s Wal-Mart, he’d forget Versailles and be mesmerized by the miles of aisles of miraculous products. It’s got everything!

But what’s really amazing: About 50 percent of Americans avoid Wal-Mart whenever possible. Most think it’s too low-class. It’d be shopping heaven for the Sun King, but it’s slumming hell for most upscale consumers. We are such status fanatics, we’d rather go to Neiman Marcus (a.k.a. Needless Markup) or some avant-garde, haute-couture store. We’ll buy essentially the same thing we’d have bought at Wal-Mart — but it’ll be twice the cost. Hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted on this vanity shopping.

Department-store hoity-toity is only the most conspicuous of our crazy consumptions. In almost every imaginable area, Americans fork over hard-earned money for little or no added value. We buy the same gas, cheap or expensive, from the same pump, or a $5 or $40 bottle of wine that gets you the same drunk; purchase $20 sturdy, pretty blue jeans, or $50 Calvin Kleins with the same cloth and the same seams; buy cheap commodes that can sometimes be a little cold, or expensive bidets that warm buns like pie a la mode; camp in a $50 tent that lets nature’s wonders be fully shown, or in a $40,000 RV that screens nature with a copy of urban homes; buy a normal Chevy or Ford that’s safe, efficient and relatively cheap, or an expensive sport-utility vehicle that flips on a dime, guzzles gas all the time, and kills more and more drivers each week.

In fact, our late-1950s rejection of the Edsel was the last major consumer victory, the last time we told Madison Avenue an emphatic no. These days, we’ve completely surrendered the “demand” part of the supply-and-demand equation. Now, it’s just supply and advertise. We anxiously await whatever new gizmo Madison Avenue wants to sell, and therein lies the most successful con game since the Christians invented Hell. Marketers manipulate us to throw, shovel, even bulldoze dollars into a bottomless pit with nothing but the emperor’s clothes in it.

Instead of wasting trillions on vanity’s inanities, we could throw our excess money at U.S. poverty, and there’d be no poor Americans by tomorrow. The next day, we could take a big bite out of the world’s dire poverty, keep Russia from giving all their nukes to that fascist Zhirinovsky, and treasure our rainforests like irreplaceable, holy property.

Louis XIV might have, but we won’t. We’re advertising’s slaves, mesmerized by the latest raves, even as they take our last dollars and make less and less sense.

— Bill Branyon

Healing our sexuality

President Clinton’s public statement on Aug. 16 of willingness to take personal responsibility for his actions indicates to me that the time is ripe for a grand healing to take place, both within the United States and around the world. I believe it is now possible and appropriate to review our sexual mores and re-evaluate them in a global context.

Many, many of us have forgotten or lost touch with the power, the beauty and the creativity that sexual energy provides. Our relationship to sexuality has become obscured by our excessive emotional need for recognition, status, validation and affection — by unrealistic ideas concerning romance and marriage — by overindulgence of the sensual nature — by anger directed at the opposite sex — and, in some people, by an otherwise ungratified need for power.

From my viewpoint, Clinton is only the most visible example in a nation that is crying out for serenity and joy in the areas of sexuality, love and romance, and family life.

At least three areas of personal mental/emotional health would be nurtured and substantiated [by] a reassessment of our sexuality. They are (along with some possible questions for exploration):

• A sense of wholeness. What is my relationship to life? Do I feel complete within myself, or do I need to add something? Do I feel connected and integrated to the process of life and to the community? Do I feel alone, isolated and separate? How do I relate to the opposite gender within myself?

• The question of value. What do I value in life? How much value do I give myself? Do I understand the treasure of sexuality and its link to creativity? Do I value feelings?

• What does it mean to feel powerful? Do I feel like I have enough physical energy to live a satisfying life? Am I able to accomplish my intended goals in life? Do I have enough power to live life as I want? Am I willing and able to demonstrate emotional responsibility? Am I ruling my sexuality or is it ruling me?

I encourage the president to turn his weakness into strength by exploring ideas like these when he begins to wonder, “Why did I risk the presidency for an inappropriate sexual relationship?” If he would begin soon, he would demonstrate leadership in a world that is crying out for someone to have courage and to take the time on a daily basis to go within and get to know the human basics: physical and sexual health; emotional depth and sense of abundance; intimate awareness of self, others and nature; and one’s relationship to the whole. In this way, spiritual depth is developed, and a return to more lasting human values may ensue.

I offer this as a source of nourishment for Clinton, the American people and the world as a whole: Please have the courage to be compassionate with yourself, as well as to claim responsibility for your actions. To have compassion for oneself is to have compassion for a world that is suffering, because one person’s pain affects all the others. May the global healing continue.

— Loraine Spear

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