I don’t really like the idea of plastic surgery. I realize that people are going to continue to have it, and it has been accepted as a norm. Don’t get me wrong. I look at my face in Zoom meetings and obsess about my sagging jowls as much as the next middle aged woman. But I’m examining the idea of plastic surgery as one example of a narcissism.
I like to look at the bigger picture. We, that is, the United States, happen to be at the top of the pecking order. There is always some civilization that is at the top. It doesn’t last, of course. To review some basic history, there was Rome, the British Empire where “the never set” (although, we are an extension of that empire), the Ottoman Empire, and the Mongol Empire, to name a few. And guess what? They’re no longer empires.
Nobody could ever imagine at the time that they would ever be diminished, or lose power, just as we don’t think the U.S. will ever lose its power and position in the world. That’s what the white Supremacists want to hold onto as long as they can, their illusionary power and position as the dominant race, because, well, everyone knows what it’s like to be at the bottom. But I’ll table that discussion until later. The point is, when you are at the top of the heap, as a society, it is easy to become complacent, and immersed in many of the seven sins, as the religious folk like to point out. And in a way, they are correct.
However, in my world view, nothing is actually a ‘sin’ per se, until it becomes excessive and extreme, and then again, I don’t believe in sin. I believe that there are intentionally evil acts which typically are derived from narcissistic personalities, and there are addictions that can usually be attributed to neurotransmitters in the brain being in overabundance, and that there are excessive behaviors, which are often destructive. Sin implies that a person goes against God. Sin is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Since I believe that laws and rules are created by humans for the sake of order in society, I use the word ‘sin’ as something a person commits for the biological and psychological reasons aforementioned.
Thus, I am looking for a new word instead of ‘sin’. I know that people on the religious right will probably glom onto this last paragraph and declare, “aha! We told you so. All that immorality. It’s destroying us.” But I contend that it is Not a lack of morality that is corrupting society, at least in the way that they see it.
First of all, immorality means different things to different people. Unlike the declared sins and virtues, which have definitions that can be applied to people in general and used in an objective manner, morals are a matter of subjective debate. I do not necessarily adhere to the morals of many religious folk. I don’t believe you need to be married in order to have sex. This idea was purely a sociological construct so that people would stop getting venereal disease or having unwanted pregnancies, just as pork is forbidden from Jews and Muslims – clearly created by the administrative body of the religious institutions so their followers would stop getting sick. It was not a decree from God, actually, but they certainly made it so until they found the problem and the the cure, which was trichinosis. The clergy realized that people would listen to a decree from the invisible hand of God, rather than the bishop or imam of the day.) So no, I do not believe that God hands down most decrees, but this is my own belief system, and possibly not yours. I mean, what would happen if we took everyone’s bacon away? Somehow, society has managed to rationalize the idea (thankfully) about eating pigs, because…bacon. It does not need explanation. Even vegetarians I know will sometimes indulge in this guilty pleasure – it’s so divine. (Joke intended.)
The point I’m making here is that I do not view many of the actions of people as being immoral. I am a pro-choice person, not just about women’s rights. In my opinion, as long as a person’s actions are not harmful to self or others, do what you want. (Yes, we could have an entire debate here about abortion, but I’ll leave that for another time), I contend that it is the EXCESS of actions, without thought of consequence, that is the decaying force of society.
Once again, to quote my grandfather, “everything in moderation”.
Yes, the United States has been / is the most recent world power. Often, many people in an affluent society are overindulgent (gluttony – sin # 2), greedy (sin # 3), slothful (sin # 4 – idleness and wasteful of time – laziness is hated because, “others have to work harder”), and prideful / vanity ( A desire to be important or attractive to others or excessive love of self). Since I am the opposite of a bible thumper, I thought it would be interesting to see how the sins match up with my own values; interestingly, they do, except for lust, because without lust, how would we ever make babies or find a mate? And also, super fun.
Here are some of the virtues: Prudence (the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason), justice (which regulates man in his dealings with others), …wait! These are starting to sound like ideals perpetuated by Democrats. What? And one of my favorites, Temperance (moderates in accordance with reason the desires and pleasures of the sensuous appetite). Oh, and patience and kindness.
You might be thinking, what does this have to do with plastic surgery? since that is where I began these meanderings. Well, some plastic surgery is necessary, to repair damage, or restore the body to its natural imagery, as in the case of breast cancer. Most plastic surgery, however, is purely cosmetic, and speaks to vanity. I have my own personal judgment about plastic surgery. I don’t understand why any human would go under the knife, or laser, to alter their bodies. I realize we do this with make-up, and in all sorts of other ways. But, to cut into your own flesh, or even to get tattoos – it’s all so very permanent. However, that’s my own judgment. And I am pro-choice, which means that you can do as you like to your body, after a certain age. The point is, plastic surgery is just one way that a rich, self-indulgent society pays more attention to its own self-absorption.
Excesses. Please understand. I’m not saying that everyone is like this, or that people are like this all the time, but it seems that in affluent societies, a large portion of the population has so much of everything, that they tend to gorge themselves. Where else are so many people fat because they eat too much? When you have so much, priorities change from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, which are mostly satisfied. There’s time to explore, and time for entertainment. Remember Rome. Orgies. Binging and purging. Self-adornment. Idle time. We are seeing this now. Overeating is a national pastime in America, which is why diets are so popular, and bulimia is rampant. People are worried about every wrinkle, every piece of sagging skin, every blemish. They are not just preoccupied with their looks, they also do everything to excess. They continue to buy enormous gas guzzlers, and they don’t just go to Costco because it’s cheaper, they go because they can buy everything in large quantities. In their idle time, they watch ridiculous reality shows about other people’s lives. The point is that on the average, many humans in a society that is at the top of the pack, become vain and excessive.
This shows up in all of the addictions that we now face. There are many reasons for drug use and addiction. Iran and Russia have some of the highest percentage of drug users in the world, but the United States ranks 7th. That’s pretty high (we are excluding marijuana and alcohol – although alcohol is used in abundance here).
In our current society, instead of service to others, it seems to be more about service to self. Not that there’s anything wrong with pampering oneself, but it’s important, in order to have a functional society, to serve one another. It is in community and working together that compassion is bred. And with compassion, comes empathy. Yes, there are plenty of rich people that contribute to society in positive ways, and many that do nothing more than attempt to get richer, fairly often in immoral or illegal ways. A functional society is a place where its citizens watch out for each other. When the majority of its people spend much of their time concerned with the “7 sins” instead of the “7 virtues”, the scales are tipped.
The United States is a grand experiment. It has never been completely egalitarian, nor has it ever been a utopia, but there has been more equilibrium in the past. A functional society doesn’t spend all its time in excesses, but strives for balance.