Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Point of Being Human; Part Four

Consumerism

Somewhere near the end of the 17th Century, people started buying more than they needed to survive and also started to be judged and to judge others based on their possessions.  "Things" became a sign of success and status that were attainable by people who were not exclusively wealthy .  Then the age of consumerism was born.  

Today, the lure of "stuff" is a political, societal and cultural construct that has literally taken over how how we interact with other people in the world.  First of all, it's not all bad and  it is necessary.  Some items need to move to give people everywhere variety, as well as, other essential goods like; food, clothing, and medical equipment.  The problem is not with people having things that they need, it's with wanting so much "stuff" that we literally live in a culture of debt.  

Find a working person making a good wage who doesn't owe "something" on at least one credit card.  It's very challenging to do!  So, what do we do about it?

If we leave things the way that they are we are going to run out of oil or run out of ways to get it out of the ground.  It sounds like I'm making a ridiculous statement, since the world literally runs on fossil fuels, but taking into consideration that most of the "easy to access" oil has already been found, and also considering innovations that enable us to get oil 5 500 meters below the Gulf of Mexico; at what point will it be just beyond our reach?  The world-wide rate of consumption of oil, at 85 million barrels a day and growing, is obviously not a permanently sustainable quantity.   

Do I think we will ever be rid of consumerism; no, of course not.  This concept is too ingrained into the psyche of the populace everywhere to ever be abandoned, but what can we do to mitigate its negative effects?  Wait a minute; what negative effects? 

The easiest negative effect due directly to consumption is found in the transportation of goods sought far from their places of origin.  How much pollution is involved in every single gram of transported product?  Whether you believe that pollution contributes to climate change or not, hopefully we can all agree that pollution does not make it easier to breathe or help the sky stay clear of smog.  All of that chemical matter in the atmosphere doesn't just "disappear".  On top of that, since buying "stuff" will not end, we need to find increasingly "green" methods of transporting it here from its country of production in a highly cost effective manner.  

A second undesirable effect of consumerism is waste material.  Disposable "this" and throw-away "that" is ending up in land fills and water ways.  I am no grand crusader for the environment, but I would like my children to know what clean fresh water looks like.  It's so simple that it should be obvious, but I will say it anyhow.  If we used less "stuff", we would produce less waste.  It's not rocket science.  What do you actually need in order to survive and keep your family safe, healthy, fed and warm?  I am not suggesting that you dump every nice thing that you have worked for, but perhaps if we acquire a little less stuff, our children and our children's children will be left a world that is not inundated with garbage.

The most abstract reason against consumerism is globalization, or the proliferation of anything on a world scale.  But, why is that bad?  To answer that question, first answer this one; what is a luxurious item?  60 years ago that would have been a television; something that millions of people now think of as a necessity.  It is a peculiar world where things that people never needed are such a part of the fabric of our society that  if you look at people and tell them, for instance, that you don't have cable (like me), people's reactions range from mild confusion up to complete disbelief.  It's as though people cannot imagine living in a home without television.  That's just the thing though; a lot of people simply can't. 

The global spread of products that brings us such wonderful variety, also brings items to people that are unhelpful to them; processed foods, unnecessary electronics, over-priced fashion items.  I do not need a $2000 purse, since a $50 purse, on sale for $20, will do exactly the same thing as the $2000 bag.  So, I net a savings of $1800 for skipping some "brand name" on my things; truly, what is in a name? 

So, what do we all do about it at this point?  Time for a new world order.  Someone out there has got to be clever enough to come up with a purpose for us all to live that will generate income, that allows all people the option to buy what they need, but not in an excessive fashion.  Our entire society is set up for people to overindulge and be excessive.  The world financial crisis is based on people using credit to the extreme. Banks profit when people owe more than they can afford to pay back every month.  A select few are making hundreds of millions of dollars on the purchases of people who make less than one percent of that amount!  

I guess what I seek is a return to a more rural way of life.  It's antiquated as a philosophy, I know, but as a parent, the idea of my kids growing up with less smog in their lungs and where fresh air and running with a ball is a greater lure than anything on TV, is extremely appealing.  In the mean time, I will take my kids along a nearby walking trail and play tag with them as my small way of combating consumption.  What I want to do costs me nothing, yet is so intrinsically rewarding.  I think that's the ticket, finding ways to do what you need to do that cost little to nothing.  If everybody did that, maybe corporations would focus on the family a whole lot more, and though we would never be rid of consumerism, "stuff" and the pursuit of the almighty dollar, would take a back seat to "genus homosapien".