What comes to mind when we think of essentials? It starts with the basic needs for survival, and these are food, water and air. Based on this, food businesses are essential. Fancy restaurants though are an embellishment (compared to carinderias and groceries), so food really is about the plant and livestock farms where food is grown, then delivered to our urban centers through markets and groceries for consumption. Water is provided by private companies, so after the recent brouhaha over water services, we all hope water will continue to flow from our faucets. It makes me wonder though if having an artesian well in the backyard like in the old days would help.
As for air, we’ve seen how greatly reduced fossil fuel-powered activity has led to cleaner air. Motorized vehicles though continue to be the main delivery vehicles, since animal-drawn vehicles and other modes of transport cannot transport as much supplies with the same speed (also, animal-drawn vehicles leave poop, much more unpleasant to smell than smoke, but you can make it into compost). It also shows how dependent we’ve become on fossil fuels.
Construction is also an essential business, since we need shelter. I’ve also thought of paper-pushing, or desk jobs, which at first seems non-essential, since the people at desks aren’t really working in the field. But there are offices managing farms and food and water deliveries, and the money for these, so paper-pushing for essential products is essential. Even information and communications technology has become essential for coordinating the handling of essential goods, and even between families and friends for support throughout this crisis.
Let’s not forget one modern essential, the medical field. How we deal with the Covid-19 virus depends heavily on the efforts of these people, so we should respect their efforts today.
What are the non-essentials then? Anything unrelated to our basic needs, things that are mainly novelties, things that are just for emotional and physical uplifting. Before you say I’m heartless, let me say I do believe there are mental and emotional essentials. But what exactly constitutes these kinds of essentials, what is really emotionally and physically uplifting, has been muddled.
The humanities was not really meant to be part of business. It’s more of a hobby. Reading, music and other such pursuits were not businesses in the “essential” days. The arts were developed in times when there was relative prosperity, when they had already ironed out the essentials. Examples are Greek times, Roman times, and the Renaissance. In the latter, you could even find artists who are hired and supported by royalty. After World War 2, came another major period of prosperity where we have comic book artists, movie stars, novelists and even chefs, who get paid handsomely to show up on TV and sometimes not to cook.
This is probably what marks the 20th century onwards. Things that used to be just hobbies and are not “essential,” relating to our physical health, could be me made into businesses. Anything related to entertainment, such as fiction-writing, television shows, music performances, and such, could be made money of. It drove some people on a wild goose chase for jobs that they thought were easy and fun. But they are not easy and fun, fame is not assured, and aren’t that essential to begin with.
One could argue that when going down to bare essentials, even some forms of education may cease to become essential, since most schools just make children do exercises that adults think up. Many things learned in school are not applicable in all of real life. All that are really essential in life, such as growing food and livestock, are more learned outside. Vocational rather than academic skills are still more relevant.
Advertising is other non-essential industry. If people need things, they’d buy it anyway. Advertising is done to try and convince people to buy things they don’t need. Note the products that don’t get advertised, such as sugar, rice and vegetables. Advertising as developed by Edward Bernays, according to the documentary Century of the Self, came about to try and move an oversupply of goods, among other reasons.
There are also many things that people think they need, but don’t really need. For example, validation. As I wrote before, many young people believe that they need to have themselves validated by others, with praises, adulation and such. Ego pleasing is unessential, and we can live fulfilling lives without it.
Director Erik Matti committed the undignified act of complaining about how better his “competition” is, instead of stepping up to the plate. The classic Pinoy Crab there. What he probably couldn’t say is that he could not go against the executives who want the stupid formulaic stories to be repeated, else his pay gets cut. He could grow a pair and ditch the executives who wouldn’t let good stories be made.
Travel is another non-essential. Yes, while some economies depend on it, let’s face it: it really is non-essential. Only travel supplying goods, such as delivery of manufacturing and food supplies, is the real essential. Travel just to see sights and tourist attractions are a “living in a bubble” type of activity. There are people who travel who get document and information from other countries, and tell us about other cultures. But not everybody needs to travel. Travel has become one of those bloated industries that tries to cash in on the unessential. I believe that things like, “a person who doesn’t travel is missing half his life/closed-minded/add in your fake value” are the product of business shilling in order to get people to travel.
Speaking of shilling… bloggers or “social media influencers” such as Elle Darby, who ranted when her desired free stay at a hotel was denied, got the final nail in their coffin from Covid-19 (not literally, though). They thought they could maintain an easy “job” of giving reviews in exchange for being able to freeload. Covid-19 shut down their apparent non-essentialness.
The beauty and vanity industry, also related to the entertainment industry, is unessential. It only caters to egos. And it reveals a self-contradiction in life. They do that try to beautify themselves to feel better about themselves and try to beat others in being beautiful… but if they lose, they feel depressed, so aren’t they better off not doing it in the first place? That’s the self-contradiction in vanity: one is trying to overcome or prevent depression by participating in the rat race that itself is a cause of depression… quite messed up there.
Back to basic needs, there might even be food products that are to be non-essential. I’d go with liquor for one. While some couldn’t seem to go without even a little liquor, I believe humans can actually go without it. There are many other ways to brighten one’s spirits. Or if some insist, there should be external limits to its consumption. Even staples such as sugar and rice, fellow bloggers Paul Farol and Ilda have recommended at least reducing, for health benefits.
Rise of the Non-essentials
It was the 1950s-onwards that gave us more of the culture of the non-essential. For example, it was in this decade that “women are for the home” was pushed. Before World War 2, women had been regular employees in many industries. The fifties’ pushing of stay-at-home moms was not only an image thought opposite to Soviet communist ideology (it really wasn’t, since later on, in the 70s and 80s, women found their way back to the workforce), but was more of a method to make women more susceptible to advertising. They would stay at home, watch TV and seek to buy what was advertised. They watched Disney movies with princesses and desired to be princesses (Or in our country, Filipinas desired becoming hacienderas). They did not work, they gossiped with fellow housewives, and had become more idle than women used to be. Yes, that was the generation of the baby boomers, so maligned today.
Soon it became more than moms, as the children who had not experienced frugal lifestyles and war brutalities got spoiled by prosperity as well. One could say it was a snowball that started with the Beat Generation and hippies, the original wokes, then the next generation, and next, until we got to today’s wokes. The latter are the likes of Elle Darby and other social media “influencers” who want to make money on “non-essentials.” But compared to them, what visual artists and good musicians and such do are more essential.
Then some of these “non-essential workers” decided to hitch on the human rights movement and other stuff that came alongside the hippies. I am for human rights, but some of the “non-essentials” thought they could bank on portraying themselves as “good guys,” but aren’t really doing anything helpful. They troll “evil” people to try and look busy, so they aren’t pressured to find real jobs. The problem though, is that they mix up human rights with entitlements, another factor giving rise to the bloggers and validation seekers mentioned above. And of course, among them are the real trolls who muck about the Internet accusing people with honest opinions of being… trolls.
After Covid, what then?
Covid-19 has presented a springboard to rethink our lifestyles. Webmaster Benign0 described how the social media “influencers” were mostly shot down by the pandemic. Unless they owned farms, purified water services or other such things, they were probably crying in their rooms wondering how they could make a buck. Unless they try to bust a leg finding some real work, they’re probably waiting for the hand-outs and other goodies just like the urban poor and other poor around the country. This cannot be maintained for long and people will need to find ways to support themselves. Entitlement has to go out the window.
When Covid-19 ends (if it does at all), we may need to put greater focus on separating the essentials from non-essentials in life. It needs a close harder look at reality, and a mentality that accepts disasters such as Covid-19 can happen again. It reminds us of our mortality and humbles us, while giving us pause to think.
It is my belief that needs such as food, water and air are easier to decide on. But handling the mental and emotional aspects is a much grayer area. This is because determining what mental and emotional needs are essential has been much fuzzier. There will be people who will claim validation and vanity are needs, after I’ve said they are not. Well, in the end, Covid-19 doesn’t care about vanity. I would say the most vain are the most susceptible to the virus, since they tend to be avid travelers and meeters of people. In this event, the introverts, frugal and less vain have greater chances of survival. Perhaps this will be the trend in the antiseptic society that is to come.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.