Saturday, February 10, 2007

Are we not people?

Are we not people? Or are we merely units of consumption? Something that makes me sad from time to time is that many people I know simply have forgotten what a joy it is to live. They appear to be completely absorbed by how much and what they are able to consume.

Our success is judged by our consumption choices. Do we drive a nice car, live in a nice house/neighborhood, wear nice clothes, eat the best food? Now I admit that I enjoy the things I am able to afford, but I try very hard not to use consumption is a measure of my success. It is not easy. Society pressures us to constantly think of consuming, to the economy it is our reason for being, therefore for the machine to continue to grind on we must consume. If we consume beyond our means so much the better, then we become customers of our financial markets.

But what is success if it is not consumption? To me, the world would be a better place if we all used happiness as a measure for success. Both personal and collective happiness. If we merely strove to be happy and took joy in the happiness of others, then the happier we were, and the more happiness we brought to others the more successful we would be.

I know that sounds really corny and naive. But, look where our current model is taking us. We constantly strive for more, never really having enough to consider ourselves successful or make ourselves happy. Meanwhile our need to fulfill our greedy desires requires that hundreds of millions of people around the world to live in abject poverty. Just how much poverty are you willing to inflict so that you can live better than your neighbor?

Political operatives and economist talk about globalization bringing people around the globe up to western standards of living. Even if that is their goal, something I doubt, I don't see how the world can supply enough resources or the environment absorb enough pollutants to supply the whole world with the amount of plastic widgets and computer games that Americans consume. Now I am all for providing everybody in the world with the food, clothing and housing that we need to live a good life. However, our economy is not driven by providing just food, clothing and housing. If we devoted all of our resources and energy to producing and distributing just those necessities for everyone, many more of us would not need to have jobs, and those with jobs would not need to work 50 to 60 hours a week.

That is, as I see it, the dilemma. If only those with jobs are considered a success and the others are made to feel worthless by society, how is an economy that emphasises only producing the necessities function? It simply cannot function and maintain our current system of values.

That is why I think that we all need to evaluate our own values, and determine what makes us happy that does not involve consumption. There are many things in the world that could bring us joy. The sun reflecting of the dew laden grass in the morning, the smile in a friends eye, or the laugh of a child. These are things that cannot be bought or sold but they are the things that make life worth living. If we each spent more effort looking for those joyful things in life instead of going to the mall looking for satisfaction we would all be much better off.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

I totally agree with you.

The word "consumer" has taken on a proud and valiant meaning in the modern world.

Actually, "consume" means to use something up. A house is "consumed" by fire.

And the planet? It is being consumed by selfishness and greed.