The Craft and the Karma of Cultural Capitalism

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If you loved the 90’s, The Craft is mandatory viewing material. It’s got it all: chunky heeled shoes, maroon lipstick, and lots of teenage girls rocking the Rachel. Plus Neve Campbell.

If you haven’t seen this vintage gem just yet, here’s your brief synopsis: four teenage girls start a coven. At first, all their dreams seem to be coming true, but one of the witches, Nancy (aka Fairuza Balk), who is a “bad witch,”  gets greedy and tries to take control of the coven. The coven splits into factions and everything goes to hell. Eventually, Sarah, the “good witch,” beats Nancy in a magical showdown and Nancy ends up in an insane asylum.

Duh. That’s what happened to rebellious teenage girls in the 90’s.

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Anyways.

When the girls first started hanging out, everything seemed perfect. All the coven’s rituals were sweet affairs complete with butterflies and ambient lesbianism. But we start to see Nancy’s dark side pretty quickly (and I don’t mean her lacy black underthings).

During a ritual in which all the girls ask for their typical teenage wishes, which involved boy crushes and scar removal, to be granted, Nancy asks for all the power of Menol (their deity). No sidestepping or bushbeating, she straight up asks to have all the powers of a god right off the bat.

I guess this is the downside of teaching kids to think big.

Right away, bad things start to happen. Not like little bad things, either. Big bad things. Like dozens of dead sharks are beached on the shoreline near the ritual. While everyone else is sad and overwhelmed by the death of so many beautiful creatures, Nancy is just stoked that her wish has been granted. She does not see that the balance of the whole world has been thrown off to give her what she wants.

It’s easy to write Nancy off as a selfish, self-absorbed, short-sighted teenager that just takes things too far. It’s easy to condemn her for her greed.

It’s a little too easy.

Because, in reality, we are all a little more like Nancy than we’d care to admit. Cultural capitalism keeps us in a constant state of desire. We never feel like we have enough. There is always more to want.

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In yoga, we talk about aparigraha, which can be translated as “non-grasping,” “non-greed,” or “not taking more than you need.” I find this latter interpretation to be the most revolutionary. It’s easy to think about your everyday desires without labeling them as greed until you ask yourself if you need the things that you want. If you want things that you don’t need, that’s grasping, that’s greed.

Is that too much for y’all, beautiful students of the dharma? To be told that in the yoga sutras it says that you should take only what you need? Part of the problem with using Patanjali as a central text is that these sutras are based on ascetic ideals that we often can’t/aren’t willing to actually live up to.

But let’s say that we are. If we are willing to follow the yamas here, then a beautiful revolution is nigh. Because in reality, our slavery to our desires is wreaking havoc on the world. Our lust for consumption, convenience, and comfort throws off the balance of the whole world.

Let’s take fast food as an example.

(I was raised on fast food, and if I feel sad all I’ll eat is McDonald’s fries and fountain Sprite, so I am not judging you. Unless I feel sad and you bring me Sprite in a can and some knockoff fries. Then I will judge you.)

Say I want a hamburger at 2 am for less than five dollars. I’m in luck, because this is a need that is easily filled. There are at least five fast food joints within three miles of my home that are open well past 2am. No problem.

But is it a problem?

What are the actual costs for me to eat a cheap hamburger at 2am? In human and ecological terms?

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Let’s first think of the people who staff the restaurant I go to. These are people, with lives and families and shit to take care of just like me, and they have to be at work at 2 am, which means that they do not get to stay home with their kids, they do not get to cuddle up with their spouse, they do not get to live aligned with the circadian clock, and to top it all off, they don’t even make a livable wage.

In other words, the human cost of my hamburger is high. Sure you can say, “Hey, at least those people have jobs,” but I will know then that you have never had to work a shitty minimum wage job just to pay your bills. So go read Nickel and Dimed and get back to me.

Let’s talk about the non-human animal cost for cheap hamburgers. The conditions of factory farming are notoriously hellish. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, you probably don’t actually want meat that comes from the kinds of places that supply fast food restaurants. Instead of living their normal life span (about 25 years), beef cows are killed at 1-3 years of age. In their very short lives, they often suffer from numerous health problems. They are kept crammed into tiny pens, which exacerbates the spread of disease, and then they are force-fed antibiotics to keep them alive until they are slaughtered.

Read that last sentence again.

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You don’t have to a member of PETA to think this situation is gross. (But, yeah, I did link to them so you know where I stand.)

Okay, so now let’s talk about the environment. This brings us back to factory farms because fast food producers profit more than anyone else from factory farms. Factory farming is considered among of the top contributors to the world’s environmental problems. They account for 37% of methane emissions and many factory farms test above other national emissions guidelines. Plus, fast food restaurants create an enormous amount of waste that is not recycled.

(As a side note, trash from McDonald’s and Starbucks makes up the bulk of litter in two of the world’s major cities, London and San Francisco.)

You still hungry?

I’ll stop now, but I hope you get my point. There are real, material consequences in the world that stem from the fulfillment of our most mundane desires. You might say that in order for us to have our wishes granted, the entire balance of the world is thrown off.

We are all like Nancy, taking more than we need, oblivious to the repercussions of our actions.

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Until karma comes in.

For the sake of brevity, I am going to define karma simply as the law of cause and effect and leave the nuances aside.

By the end of The Craft, Nancy has killed multiple people, destroyed lives, and scratched up some perfectly wearable granny boots. She messed up everything. But in the end, she pays a crazy price for it all. She ends up writhing and babbling strapped down to a gurney. Ultimately, she pays for her wishes with more than she was probably willing to, her sanity. Let’s call this karma.

So, then, what is the karmic effect of our cheap hamburger? Diabetes? Heart disease? Obesity? Maybe. Karma is a little more complex than that, so it may be one of those things, but it may not be.

The real, immediate price we pay for our constant demand that our desires be fulfilled is chronic dissatisfaction. When we try to take our nourishment from sources tainted with greed and suffering, we are never full. We get fat on empty calories and end up wanting more. In the end, we end up feeling empty and alienated.

Maybe it’s time we thought a little more about what we’re giving than what we’re getting. 

Or else.

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