The Consumer Roller Coaster

Note the URL I have posted above, an excellent blog topic today referring to a documentary the writer came across on ‘Status Anxiety’. He also refers to ‘The Story of Stuff’, which I have referred to in previous blogs. But, as environmental themes mature, we are seeing, as Grant Buffet mentions, as sort of desperation, in spite of our modern ideas of wealth.

How do we get off this roller coaster? Do we really have any more time to waste? It is clear, I’m sure to many, many people that stress, anxiety, road rage, frustration, fury …… and on and on, all negative personal sensations and emotions are signs of something within our lifestyles that is profoundly wrong. And I think, many of you, as I am, are beginning to suspect it has everything to do with our consumer lifestyles, the sort of things we seldom think about, and/or feel helpless to control. This whole thing connects directly back to environmental issues, both at a personal level, local, national and global.

Our technologies have brought us breathtaking improvements in our lives in health care, education, travel, communication, the sciences. But it has tremendous downsides too; we are pushed to live our lives at an unrealistic pace, leaving us little time to stop and question our environment. Cars, electronics, computers–we find it difficult to live without them–are obsolete by the time we purchase them. It gets harder and harder to find items that we really need that won’t break down quickly, and … well, try and get something repaired. Furniture, appliances, clothes, cars:  it’s all junk.

I watched a show on TV the other night that told the story of an Englishman who arranged to live with a tribe of Pigmies in a remote part of the Congo. He was to join them on a hunt using sticks, shouting and home-woven nets, build a hut out of materials he found at the site, gather nuts and fruit for sauces, and learn to recognize the single type of leaf that was edible in the local area. He brought his own canned sardines in case the hunt failed, and after he had opened them, the pigmies felt his canned food had driven away the animals they were hunting. His punishment was to leave him behind during the next day’s hunt. But there was no rage, no long-standing exile from the community, no grudges. He burnt the empty tin and did his penance, was quickly rejoined to the community. These wonderful people seemed healthy, happy, full of the joy of living, with dancing, drums and celebration whenever their food was plentiful, sharing and resilience when food was short. Tough lives by our standards, but I bet they feel sorry for us with our tinned food, our status anxiety, our ridiculously paced lives, our fancy possessions.

We have so much to learn from those societies if we could only turn away from our stuff, stop shopping for a day or too, and slow down long enough to absorb the lessons they offer us.