Just as obesity is a disease of affluence, so is vapidity. Nature in her wisdom has ordained that, as wealth increases, so too does subcutaneous fat, but, as a countervailing measure, the material between the ears shrinks, in extreme cases to little more than the size of the average acorn.
This observable, but seldom discussed, phenomenon comes to light as result not of psychological inquiry, which has never unearthed anything of the remotest interest, but market research. An industry devoted almost slavishly to satisfying the wants of others, must constantly identify new markets, or rather newly codifiable groups of people with needs that even they do not realise they possess. Once identified, these groups are, for the sake of convenience, labelled. Hence the shunned Stinkies (Singles with tiny incomes) whose needs may be manifold, but what the hell?
The discovery of a new group is the cause of excited celebration, much in the way that a newly spotted asteroid is greeted by the astronomical fraternity. The latest lump of lifeless rock to soar across the marketing firmament is the Tao Generation, first seen by the research group Synergy.
The journalist Lesley Garner describes its characteristics with authority, since, as she confesses, she is part of it. “Tao comes from the Chinese spiritual classic, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the most translated book in the world next to the Bible. Tao is the Way, the Ultimate Reality, the First Cause and someone who follows the Tao seeks to align themselves with the flow of the universe…The Tao Generation couldn’t give a damn about focus groups, fashionable labels, social status, trends or, ironically, anything produced by a social research group.”
Nor, it transpires, do they give a fig for logic, consistency of thought, or even simple reason. There are two reasons for that: first, they are too self-obsessed, secondly, as noted earlier, their wealth has shrivelled their thinking equipment.
“The Tao Generation are all around me,” says Ms Garner. “I’m part of it myself. I know plenty of people who are ‘inner driven’ – hungry for spiritual peace rather than material security…The Tao Generation as I know it consists of people who had a seminal moment when they thought, there must be more to life than this.
“Twenty years ago they would have had to make a big effort to find a new map to steer by – hunt down the right bookshop, track down the yoga teacher, seek out the undiscovered island. But we are all consumers now.”
She goes on the explain that today, when the seminal moment strikes, all they have to do is pick up the latest copy of Vogue or Elle Decoration and “lo, the spiritual path is designed and accessories for them.”
To sum up so far, the Tao Generation do not attach value to material security because they already have it in abundance. (“They are restless, seeking, and have money to spend,” says Garner.) They are hungry for spiritual peace and wish to align themselves with the flow of the universe. As luck would have it, they live in an age when Vogue and the Internet can point to the direction in which the cosmos is trickling and, thank heaven, save them hours of trekking around looking for undiscovered islands.
Next, we learn that “clever cultural icons like Donna Karan, Madonna, and Demi Moore know that it costs a lot of money to be pure and simple…You’ll feel more saintly, more peaceful, more spiritually refined if you’ve invested in the right guru, the purest linen, silk and cashmere, the most refined essential oils, the most ethnic surroundings…the clothes from Issey Miyake or Egg, the minimalist home designed by John Pawson…There’s the must-have self-help books, the Diptyque scented candles, the personal nutritionist…”
These, remember, are people who couldn’t give a damn about fashionable labels, social status, or trends.
Lao Tzu lived in China in the fifth century BC. Designer labels were few. For a mystic, materialism came down to the availability of rice and bamboo, subjects which could be exhausted shortly after sunrise, leaving ample time to contemplate the latest direction in which the First Cause was shifting. Today, cultural icons, such as the brace and a half of airheads cited by Garner, who yearn for spiritual freedom, come, alas, unequipped to contemplate anything other than their own egos. For them, when the seminal moment arrived, it came wrapped in a sockful of wet sand and struck them damagingly behind the ear.
By the way, the undiscovered island is Skyros, where Garner recently mixed with the Tao Generation at the holistic holiday centre. “I shared simple breakfasts under the olive trees with a former BBC senior executive, a tax accountant, a personnel director, a number of computer experts…They’d come to Skyros in search for balance for body and soul…to listen to their hearts and get in touch with their souls.”
And what do they find, poor sods? They find themselves under the olives listening to a tax accountant and sundry nerds and getting out of touch with what perspective they have left. The founder of Christianity, who was not without a sense of humour, would have enjoyed the notion that spiritual freedom is something you can buy.
For Tao Generation read pseuds, poseurs, and self-absorbed air-heads who, like the poor, are always with us.