Consumerism: A Life Threatening Disease
LUKE 12:15: Then
Jesus said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against greed;
a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his
THEODORE ROSZAK: If the resistance of the counter-culture fails, I think there will be nothing left in store for us but what anti-utopians like Huxley and Orwell have forecast.
We have built the greatest monuments of all time. They tower over the world placing everything under their shadow. Unfortunately, we have chosen to build these huge towers on the most unreliable of foundations - our human nature, or more accurately our view of human nature. We have seen a number of these monuments collapse over the centuries as their foundation gave way; the last one being communism. But the biggest monuments are built on worst foundation of them all: capitalism.
At the heart of capitalism is the belief that people are just a means to the end of making a profit. In other words, it is a belief that people are expendable in the pursuit of money. When you are seeking the largest profits, everything is a liability: human rights, sensible wages, the health of employees and the environment. And that is why we have pollution, suffering and wars. This is also why our society is collapsing around our ears.
SHORT-SIGHTED ECONOMICS AND THE CONTINUATION OF LIFE
Throughout recorded history, humankind's activities have been based on thoughtlessly consuming the earth's limited resources. An early example of this kind of activity is "slash and burn":
- you cut down and burn a section of woodland;
- use the soil to grow food until it is exhausted, turns to dust and blows away;
- and then move on to a new section and repeat the process.
And that is why
we are pleading with Brazil and other countries who still have
forests not to destroy them by this same method as we destroyed ours
The reason we got into this stupid rut is because until recently the earth has always been so bountiful. The idea that the life of the early caveman was short, brutal and full of hardship could not be further from the truth. At the time, the earth was like a giant salad bowl with fruits, vegetables and nuts within arm's reach. And when you got tired of a vegetarian diet and desired some meat, huge, nearby herds of animals meant that killing a single beast was simplicity itself - it would be almost impossible not to hit a target with a stick or a stone. In such an easy climate, it would have been unthinkable that the abundance should ever end. So, no one set down principles for caring for the earth (including renewing its resources) and the mind-cancer had taken hold.
The problem all of us in the Twentieth Century face is that our whole economy is based on the same kind of mindless destruction. Before the Twentieth Century, the destruction was sufficiently small and localised that the earth was big enough to be able to handle it. And when it could not handle it and systems broke down, the earth was big enough for us to move on to newer areas. But now we have a huge population (which means that there are more of us to cause pollution) and we have had the industrial revolution (which means that some of us pollute much more than we would otherwise have been able). So, now we have a global economy that consumes resources and pumps out pollution on a world-scale and the world is no longer big enough to handle our mismanagement.
This is very short-sighted. By destroying limited resources, we reduce the ability of life to continue. If this process is left unchecked, the end result will be the total destruction of all life.
This is stupid.
If we destroy life, our economy cannot survive. This makes our economy self-destructive. In addition, this is a problem of our making which we are passing on to our children and their children. How loving!
The effect that this attitude has had and is having on our lives is devastating.
THE STUPIDITY OF GREED
The human race is an endangered species. The worship of money has cost us our humanity, our health and our happiness. If we continue to worship money, it will cost us our lives. This is because our greed will consume us.
Consumerism is based on greed. Its economics are the economics of greed. This explains why the words "profit" and "growth" are used so much in economic conversations. But greed has its limits. In the past, these limits were the believed size of the Earth. And these were compensated for by the discovery of the New World - America - and the Third World - the South. But now, the limits of greed are the real, physical limits of the world and its treasures. The Earth has only got so many resources. There is no more.
Yet greed cannot be satisfied. Some way was required to increase growth limitlessly. It was here that the banks came to the rescue. Banks can create extra money by giving credit - I.O.Us. By the simple means of banks providing guarantees (in the same way that paper money is only good because it is guaranteed by governments), the wealth of the world could be increased. But there is a cost. This new wealth is non-existent - like the Emperor's new clothes. And whenever enough people realize this, it causes a panic which produces a catastrophic collapse: a depression.
The only way that expansion and increase may be achieved using credit is to have regular depressions where all credit and debts can be written off and people can start again. So far, this has happened three times in the last 200 years and it is ready to happen again .
Both North and South are victims of Money because they are both sides to the same global economic coin. The solution to one is the solution to the other. You cannot consider solving the problems of one without considering a solution for the problems of the other as well. We all live on one earth and are all subject to one global system of economics.
Underprivilege kills. This is the reason for the problems of the South: we steal their food and resources (offering a very small amount back to them as charity) and they die through the lack of them.
Overprivilege kills too. When you die, it will probably be as the result of a cardiac arrest, cancer or a technologically-based accident. And you will not be alone since these are the greatest killers in G7 and all are to do with overprivilege which has led to overconsumption. The car, the ultimate symbol of privilege, which we use to make our lives easier is killing us in a number of ways. The food that we eat is destroying our bodies. Overconsumption has not made us happy. Greater amounts of food together with the inactive life of modern society has led to cardiac illnesses accounting for more than 50% of deaths in the majority of industrialised countries. Ulcers and heart ailments caused by stress and lung cancer resulting from a need for nicotine are some other symptoms of our unhappiness. In Great Britian the number of mental illneses has increased at an incredible rate. In the United States - which is probably the country where the problem of growth are most apparent - there were already more people in the hospitals for nervous ailments than for physical illnesses by 1956. Another symptom of our unhappiness is 1 1/2 million, or more than 5% of all 12-18 year-olds in the USA, have used heroin and, to a large extent, are on their way to becoming drug addicts, according to the USA's drugs commission. The increase in crime tells even more about mental maladjustment. In The USA one young person in every six comes in contact with the police before he is 18 years old, and one inhabitant in 37 is robbed each year. According to the FBI, criminality is now increasing 6 times faster than the population. From 1957 to 1967 the crime rate in the US doubled. This, of course, is connected with a number of things such as the increasing numbers who move to the inhuman big-city environment. But this appears to be a part of the very development towards greater effeciency and a higher standard of living. A recent American survey has documented the fact that criminality is just about proportional to the size of the city. In proportion to the population, crimes of violence occur 6 times as often in cities of one million inhabitants than in towns of 10,000. Criminality in American cities of more than 250,000 inhabitants is 2 1/2 times higher than in the suburbs, where in turn, it is twice as high as in the country (from "The Ecologist"). Swedish surveys reveal how little pleasure young people derive from the material improvement provided by today's economy: two-thirds of young people in big cities wished to get away from the large, densely populated areas, and more than 90% of the young people who lived in the country, and in small communities, did not wish to move to the big cities.
Child abuse is the fifth most frequent cause of death among American children. In 1972, there were 60,000 reported incidents. In 1976, the number passed the half-million mark. Reported cases probably represent half the actual number of cases. In addition, Incest is an epidemic in America. It is believed that 40,000 of the 1,000,000 victims of sexual abuse are victims of incest. Some reckon that incest is the most frequent unreported crime in America and much more common than general child abuse or child neglect.
The capitalistic USA (and the Western industrialised countries) made capitalism, economic liberalism, free competition and economic growth induspitable aims - and developed a society in which the human being is reduced to a consumer machine who must take tranquilisers in order to keep his soul intact.
The human race is an endangered species. The worship of Money is costing us our humanity. Almost everyone admits that there is a problem. Those that do not are burying their heads in the sand - they are hoping that if they ignore it, it will go away. Or they just do not care about it while it is someone else's problem.
Almost everyone knows that there is a problem. Every newspaper and every TV news programme tells us. Every day, thousands are dying by abortion. Tens of thousands are dying from starvation. Millions are living with suffering. Aids, cancer, heart failure, hijacking, terrorism, violence in families. The list is endless. The world that we have inherited from those who came before us is not a nice place to live.
People are afraid to walk the streets alone at night: men may get mugged; women may get raped and mugged. Old people are scared to open the door to strangers and live in fear in their own homes. People hide behind their curtains and tactfully ignore the screams for help and the noise of vandals in the street outside. In America, kids of nine to thirteen years old act as lookouts for drug gangs and drug addicts commit crimes to pay for their fix. In Britain, a twelve year old boy tortured and killed a two year old girl for the fun of it. In India, a man had a heart attack in a bus queue and no one helped him for fear of losing their place. All around us, violence is increasing. So is uncertainty and fear. The world economy veers from one disaster to another. Third World debt is unmanageable and the World's Stock Markets crash. Ecology has gone mad. The air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And every so often another Nuclear power station vomits a larger radioactive cloud than last time over the countryside.
And people continue dying while those that are left become less person and more zombie everyday. We try to hide the fact behind our latest possessions - the video, the hi-fi, the Compact Disc, the home computer, the executive toys. As our humanity shrinks, we try to fill the gap with more and more nonsense. It all seems like a science fiction nightmare except that we can't wake up.
And it isn't going to get any better. The streetgangs, the drug kings, the muggers, the terrorists and the arms dealers are not going to allow it to change for the better. And don't think that increased law and order will help. Arm the police, turn police cars into tanks, introduce curfews and before you know where you are, you'll be breaking the law by breathing out of place or thinking the wrong thoughts. Then who is going to stop them from arresting you?
Doctors are gaining more freedom from the law. More and more doctors are practising euthenasia and are quite open about it in the media. They feel that their professional training gives them the right to decide who lives and who dies. Normally the victim (patient) is not consulted as they are not qualified! Even if they were to be consulted, they would be unable to speak up for themselves as most are newly born children and mentally disabled people. Yet, where attempts have been made to make doctors more socially accountable, the law courts have consistently decided in their favour. Laws to protect people from medical exploitation are virtually non-existent.
But the clearest example of the loss of humanity and the best demonstration of the barbarism of our society is abortion. Our society treats the animals that we slaughter for food more humanely than our unwanted children. In a typical year, there are 150,000 abortions in Great Britain and ten times that number in America. Death by abortion is not pleasant and it is not painless.
Abortion is legal up to 28 weeks after conception and most occur between 10 and 28 weeks. Yet this is quite an advanced stage of nerve cell development:
BEFORE WEEK 10: From the fifth week after conception, the unborn child starts developing reflex actions. By the sixth week, the nervous system has formed and the unborn child is able to see, hear, experience, taste and even learn while she is still inside her mother. By the eighth week, she can move her head, arms and body and can fashion these movements into a primitive body language - expressing her likes and dislikes with well-placed jerks and kicks. Brain waves normally start in the eighth or ninth week although they have been detected as early as five weeks. This means that for weeks that most abortions are carried out in, the child feels pain as much as you and I.
FROM WEEK 10 TO WEEK 28: By the twelfth week, she can frown, squint and grimace. Four to eight weeks after, she can discriminate tastes. From the sixteenth week, she is very sensitive to light and can be disturbed by shining a light directly onto the mother's stomach. By the end of the twenty-fourth week, the unborn child can discern different types of noises and different types of music.
Four weeks later, regardless of how far the nervous system has already developed before then, the child suddenly becomes a person protected by law. When I once told all of this to a friend, he was horrified and said, "And I thought that we were civilised"! How true!
The choice is either life or death. You have to be on one side or the other. You can't opt out.
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