By Jerry Kvasnicka
No matter the product, I always opt for generic if it is available. Why should I pay more to have my oatmeal subjected to more processing and put into a fancy container? When I want oatmeal just plain oatmeal will do, thank you, and the box it comes in will end up in the recycling bin no matter how aesthetically appealing it is.
I’m reminded of the time a few years ago when I went into a supermarket and purchased a 32 oz. bottle of catsup for $1.23. Similar bottles of brand-name catsup were priced from $1.50 to $2.48. Generic catsup is good. I think it tastes better and is better for you than the national brands. The latter contain an assortment of additives, preservatives and flavorings, while generic has little more than tomatoes, vinegar salt garlic and onion powder.
It has always amazed me that people are willing to pay more for something that has been glamorized, processed and otherwise tampered with. I once offered a friend of mine some delicious organic carrots from my garden and he turned away saying he didn’t trust anything that didn’t come off a supermarket shelf. I’ll admit to increasingly moving in the opposite direction, distrusting anything that does come out of a supermarket!
A thriving “generic” intentional community
Back in the 1970s the spiritual community of Sunrise Ranch maintained a policy where everyone, no matter what their job or job performance, received only room and board and a small monthly stipend of $40. In other words, you could say it was generic. Did this result in uniformity, mediocrity, lethargy and freeloading? Just the opposite, in fact. I rarely observed anything but excellence and maximum creative output. And relieved of the need to struggle for the dollar or organizational position, people lived harmoniously and happily together. This demonstration project is still going strong, ample proof to me that competition and monetary incentives are not required to ensure high output and quality performance.
Unless held in check by government, competitive capitalism tends to widen the gap between rich and poor and fosters worker and consumer exploitation. The have-nots strive to get what is held by the haves, creating a culture of crime and violence. Lawyers and a massive judicial system are necessary to defend these criminals and settle the inevitable corporate disputes. With several companies trying to sell the same or similar products there is massive duplication of physical plant and equipment as well as marketing and distribution systems. Consumers are subjected to dehumanizing marketing techniques and deceptive sales pitches to get them to buy. And there is little hesitancy to rape the environment to save jobs and preserve corporate profits.
Faced with all of this, I’ll take generic. I don’t need a dozen varieties of catsup to choose from, ranging all over the map in price and packaging but containing essentially the same thing. Yes there can be variety within the product line—some catsup a little more spicy, some with barbecue flavor, etc. But don’t try to convince me that catsup in a squeeze bottle is better than catsup in a glass bottle or that a red and green label ensures higher quality catsup than a red and white label. Or that Hine’s tomatoes have it all over Del Monte’s. I don’t want hype. I want catsup! Just think of the resources having one quality brand of catsup would free up. And it would probably cost half as much.
Relief from the gimmickry and manipulation
The same argument can be made for having one airline, one phone company, one computer maker, one manufacturer of electric mixers, one school system, one car maker. What an enormous savings this would mean in terms of the duplication of plant and equipment, managerial functions and distribution facilities. And all advertising and marketing schemes could be eliminated. What a joy to read a newspaper or an online news site free of ads or watch a network TV program free of insulting sales pitches. Also legal staffs and fast-talking salesmen would gradually become a thing of the past. What a blessed relief to be free of all the gimmickry and manipulation associated with product competition. No longer relentlessly driven by the struggle to compete human beings could begin to recover their sanity.
Does this mean socialism or communism? Is that what is being advocated here? Certainly not! These ideologies, products of conditioned human thought, are totally antagonistic to natural law and the way life actually operates. Ideological systems represent an attempt to artificially induce and control a creative impulse innate to human beings. Using ideological artifice to compel what is already natural is absurd! And destructive!
What is needed is for all such contrivances to get out of the way so that life can operate without interference. Under capitalism competition compels people to produce. Under communism the state compels people to produce. But these coercive and dehumanizing devices and all mixtures thereof can be dispensed with when people honor the incentive to achieve and reveal the excellence inherent in their own nature.
Is someone going to tell me that human beings are incapable of innovation, competence, efficiency and creativity unless stimulated by competition and monetary enticements? This is absolute nonsense. Rewards are really only necessary for those who have yet to grow out of greed or sloth. Isn’t it about time we all abandoned our childish ways and started to behave like the mature men and women we inherently are?
Virtue is its own reward
Virtue, indeed excellence in any form, is its own reward. Yes, I realize we all need to earn enough to make a living. But if the emphasis is on “earning,” sooner or later we die of consumption—consumed by the struggle and the supposed rewards of the struggle. But if emphasis is on the expression of excellence from moment to moment, I’ve found that life unfailingly provides exactly what is necessary for the continuous experience of abundance.
Injecting competition into the public school system through school choice and teacher “pay for performance” programs is being increasingly advanced as a way to improve educational standards nationwide. But, I ask, what are the long-range consequences of having teachers and schools teach for dollars and other material rewards rather than for sheer love of teaching? What effect will this have on our national values?
There has even been talk of abolishing the (generic) public school system altogether in favor of all private schools, which presumably would compete with each other for dollars. Again, I ask, what would happen to equality of educational opportunity, a value our country once honored? Are we more interested in producing an intellectual elite than in raising the educational level of all citizens?
When I was working as a custodian for the local school district my work supervisor came up to me one day and warned me that from that point forward he would be coming by without prior notice to inspect and evaluate my performance, in part to determine my eligibility for a pay increase. As if knowing that he would be coming by would cause me to really “shape up” and work harder.
Excellence: my only level of performance
Well, guess what? It didn’t affect my performance at all! I only have one level of performance whether I’m supervised or not: excellence. I’m delivering excellence now and I’ll deliver it tomorrow and the next day and the next. My performance is generic. It won’t improve one iota if, instead of being given $10 to do a job, I’m given $10,000.
I only know how to do things one way—the best of which I am capable. It’s basic to my nature (and to yours as well). Who needs a monetary crutch? And if we let our performance consistently reflect the excellence of our nature, maybe we could dispense with supervisors!
“Generic” derives from root meanings that denote “original” or “universal.” The original state of creation, the paradisiacal garden state of the earth and human consciousness, was the generic state. This pristine condition was lost when human beings allowed themselves to be enticed by claims of the serpent-mind (representing self-will) that an already perfect state could nevertheless be made better through what amounted to scientific research and development.
So with this in mind Eve consumed what instantly became the “forbidden fruit” and the human race started down the long road from magnificent golden apples free for the picking to the pathetic, pesticide-laden and scandalously priced counterfeits I’ve often seen on supermarket shelves today.
The universe is evidence of a generic system
Notwithstanding this earth aberration, the universe itself is a beautiful generic system. It contains amazing diversity, yet everything moves naturally and easily together in a harmoniously functioning whole. When I look up at Mars and Jupiter on a clear night I have no sense that they are competing with each other for light or orbital space. I sense that they orbit the Sun not out of coercion but out of love, and from their mutual love for the Sun springs a love for each other.
Similarly with suns orbiting their focus points in each galaxy and galaxies orbiting a central Sun of Suns. Love, harmony, order…this is the resplendent theme of the universe. And its generic product is light, an infinity of shades and intensities, but basically just light, light that doesn’t compete with the darkness but simply shines. Surely we would be wise enough to let this be our model rather than some “new and improved” product of human thought!
Authentic spirituality is generic. It is “primal spirituality,” the innate, intuitive knowing of the truth of love that resides at the core of every human being. Primal spirituality recognizes that despite all their surface differences human beings are essentially one. Life is differentiated in an infinity of human and other forms, but they all spring from one generic core of love.
So of what value are the religions of the world? Yes they represent some measure of spiritual differentiation, but I feel this is overridden by the division and conflict they have created in the body of humanity. Surely it is time to return to our generic core of love, the primal bond that links all of us together as a human family. Generic is beautiful!