To realign ourselves with the Graces of Beauty, Mirth, and Blossoming, we are considering how the weeks between Imbolc and Ostara are an ideal time to create space for them to thrive. I would suggest that one way to do this is to be aware of how we are manipulated by advertising and the consumer culture.
Besides the environmental damage from making planned obsolescence and rampant consumerism the “purpose of the American economy,” there are social and spiritual costs as well. Last Friday I offered the first part in an excellent article from the David Suzuki Foundation. Here is the conclusion:
Allen Kanner and Mary Gomes write in The All-Consuming Self: “The purchase of a new product, especially a ‘big ticket’ item such as a car or computer, typically produces an immediate surge of pleasure and achievement and often confers status and recognition upon the owner. Yet as the novelty wears off, the emptiness threatens to return. The standard consumer solution is to focus on the next promising purchase.”
Ultimately, it goes beyond pleasure or status; acquiring stuff becomes an unquenchable demand. Paul Wachtel writes in The Poverty of Affluence: “Having more and newer things each year has become not just something we want but something we need. The idea of more, ever-increasing wealth, has become the center of our identity and our security, and we are caught up by it as the addict is by his drugs.”
Much of what we purchase is not essential for our survival or even basic human comfort but is based on impulse, novelty, a momentary desire. And there is a hidden price that we, nature, and future generations will pay for it too.
When consumption becomes the very reason economies exist, we never ask “how much is enough?”, “why do we need all this stuff?”, and “are we any happier?” Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social, and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles.
Are we any happier? According to several recent studies and even a piece a couple of weeks ago on 60 Minutes, the answer is a resounding NO. Among the free world countries, America is lower on the “happiness scale” that almost all the others.
There are several components as to why this is, according to Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who has studied the subject extensively. But one powerful reason is America’s value system that equates acquisition of goods with pleasure (an assumption that, in the long run, fails us).
Do you remember what happened in the days just after the 9/11 attacks? Every civilian plane in America was grounded (except the one that flew the Bin Laden family home to Saudi Arabia) and the economy tanked. What were we encouraged to do, to fight back against the terrorist threat? Go shopping.
Fast forward to today. Untold thousands of layoffs are occurring monthly. There were over 2 million home foreclosures in 2007, a jump of over 75% from the previous year. Many of these families are the victims of the shifty subprime loan schemes.
Yet as families are faced with financial catastrophe and the economy slumps into a recession, what is the solution being proposed? We are given a fistful of dollars and told to go shopping.
Does this seem weird to you? Well, stay tuned, because on the way to Graceland, there is bound to be a bit of weirdness ahead.