Friday, February 15, 2008

Very Serious.

One of the things that strikes me, viewing American culture as an "Italian", is how obsessed with self-improvement is this culture, and how self-improvement is always equated with denying pleasure.

Pleasure is un-virtuous. We are serious catz. Srsly.

Now, I know I am far from the first to make this observation about America, but it becomes more striking when, as an "erstwhile" American, an expat living right in the Lower 48, one excuses herself from the mindset. You begin seeing the madness everywhere.

I drink tea because I like it. I really like it. I would be very unhappy cat if you took my tea away.

Did you know that tea is good for you? It's really good that you drink tea. I should drink tea, too.

For a while, I tried out green teas, because they were better for me and all that nonsense. I didn't like them as much, though, so after a brief dalliance, I returned to yummy black tea: Prince Vladimir, chai from the local bakery that does chai really well (NO Dunkinbucks chai! You hear me?), English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Russian breakfast, anon. Sometimes I drink a green tea for pleasure/variety, but I relinquished my obligation to antioxidizing some time ago.

And then what happened? Oh look, black tea has health benefits, too! But that's beside the point.

Here is my question, Italia to America: What if tea (wine, greens, exercise) only benefits you if you enjoy it? Interesting premise, isn't it? Keep tweaking what you do until you find the joy.

PS And maybe if one can be less rigid about, Not Doing/Consuming X, one can find a way to do/consume X in moderation.


Narya said...

And, accompanying this faux virtuousness, is a strain of anti-intellectualism. We eat or drink this thing because it's "supposed to" be good for us, but who knows how to actually read a scientific paper? There's a disdain for mastery, even as mastery is one of the more satisfying (and joyful, for that matter) feelings humans can experience. But it takes time, and effort, and there isn't always an obvious way to make money from it, and it's hard to find a corporate sponsor.

Hmmm . . . I didn't THINK I was cranky today!

kStyle said...

That's an interesting point, Narya. Where have you seen this disdain for mastery? Is it partly that, the choices seem to be McDonald's (unvirtuous, but acceptable) or raw veggies and green tea (virtuous!), but Abraham Lincoln forbid you enjoy pasta in a delicate cream sauce with a side of broccoli rabe fricassee and half a glass of wine?

Narya said...

I think there's a long tradition of American anti-intellectualism, for one thing; mastery gets lumped in with that, even though not all mastery is "intellectual" in the book-learning sense. And i think mastery--personal mastery--means you're less dependent on the capitalist commodification of Everylastdamnedthing. I think capitalism is at the heart of it, really, but I've been on a Marxist bent lately.

Incidentally, I was forced to delete a paragraph from a text I've been editing because it purported to explain poverty with a four-sentence summary of Marx. Which, really, just isn't enough.

kStyle said...

We are doers, not thinkers. I mean, you all are. I'm Italian. I feel.

In America, food itself is often seen as either anti-intellectual or foppishly intellectual. I've heard scholarly types say that the obsession with food culture is insidiously anti-intellectual and frivolous (smart people wasting all their time obsessing over perfect veal! Gah!); I've also heard that the food renaissance is intellectual as well as pleasurable and is happening despite anti-intellectualism.

Does Marx wax and wane for you?

Narya said...

Nah; it's pretty much always there. I suppress it a lot, not least because (a) so few people have actually read Marx/Engels and (b) many people immediately conflate a marxist analysis with support for, say, Stalin.

I have to think more about food. Though, being Italian myself, I'd rather cook it and eat it than think about it.