Wednesday, May 22, 2013

American Style Consumerism

By Jack Miller, Chapter Vice Chair

One of the greatest threats to our planet is American style consumerism. While the resources of the planet are limited, our appetite for more, newer, and bigger stuff has no limits. This consumer virus is spreading throughout the world. To meet our appetite for stuff we will need several more planet earths.

The corporations and their propagandist advertisers spend billions of dollars each year to keep us spending in search of that "new smell". They have so indoctrinated us that we equate life satisfaction with the acquiring of new stuff. It matters little if we have no need for these items or they replace perfectly good items. Through artificial devices like "style" the corporations create massive waste. Perfectly usable items now must be discarded. We seem to be unable to distinguish between real needs and the artificial "needs" that advertisers create. It seems that shopping is our greatest form of recreation. 

The basic economic measure of health used in this country is the Gross Domestic Product. It purports to measure the total of goods and services in a given time period. It is not a measure of our growth as a society. It gives equal measure to dollars spent on items that will shortly end up in the trash as to dollars spent on preventive immunizations. It gives equal value to money spent on insulation as it does for money spent for wasted heat and energy. It is a measure that the corporations love because it like them only cares about money spent and their profits.

American's desire for more stuff is nothing new. It was a major criticism of Henry Thoreau more than 150 years ago. He could not understand why the Christian Churches did not preach against their congregations' desire to accumulate stuff, when Jesus preached against the laying up of treasure's on earth where moth and rust corrupt. We hear virtually nothing from religious leaders today on American consumerism and its destructive results. Our blind consumerism is as emotionally destructive as it is environmentally destructive.

Before you go to purchase something, consider what all is involved. Probably the item was made from some natural resource that had to be destructively ripped from the earth. Then the factory had to use energy and cause pollution it its production. Then it was shipped to the retailer where the item is bought. Within 6 months 99% of all that went through this stream of production, sale, and use will end up in a landfill or incinerator. Pretty sober to consider before we buy. We can't forget the presence of so many toxic chemicals in the production and waste of these products.

We Americans seem to think that we are entitled to the resources of the world; none more than oil. One of the reasons we have over 700 military bases around the world is to have access to so many raw materials. We remain blind to the social and environmental damage we cause to so many people around the world including people in the sacrifice zones of this country. Most of these people are poor people who we exploit for our comfort.

We can never find real satisfaction by becoming part of the consumer society. After the new smell wears off we are forced to buy again. There will always be a new, bigger, fancier, and exciting gadget to be had and we won't be happy until we have one. Styles will change with each season so the only way to be in style is to buy again. It is a never ending treadmill that our friendly corporations have created.

We all must be consumers. There are real needs to be meet. There are also those "tools" that we use to bring ourselves some joy. If you love to play tennis you certainly need a tennis racket, but you don't need a new one every time a manufacturer comes out with a new model. The person holding the racket will determine the outcome of the match, not the racket! Being an environmentally sensitive consumer requires a lot of thoughtful action and often inaction.

The economic crash 2008 was primarily caused by the greedy, selfish, and criminal actors of Wall Street. I don't want to shift the blame from them, but many families suffered more than necessary because of their living the life of the American consumer. Beginning in the 1970's wages for middle class employees flattened. Even as productivity of each worker increased their wages did not increase as prices rose. The increased profits of corporations went to the already wealthy. To keep up with their past consumer habits, too many people borrowed more on their homes and when the economic crash came they found themselves "under water" with their mortgages.

It is time for the old time values of thrift and the purchase of quality products that are functional, meet real needs, and are durable. We should consider where the product is produced. What types of materials of which is it produced. Is it made of recycled materials? Can it be recycled or passed on to another user like an out grown child's toy? We can no longer be blind consumers brainwashed by corporate propaganda. Are we willing to give up something so that there is enough for others now and in the future? We must find real joy in living life. Joy can't be found by filling our attics, garages, and rental storage units with more stuff.

No comments:

Post a Comment