We have a problem…
When a person says something that strikes you a certain way, a good way, your interest is piqued. When someone else also mentions it, you start listening. When a third person brings up the same topic, well, that’s when you start bugging out. I exaggerate, but the point is that if different people who have no relationship between them say the same thing, then you ought to start paying attention.
Such was the case for me. Over the past week, I’ve heard four different people say the same thing four different times. The first source was a pastor who preached a sermon on “comparisons”. The second source was a student who spoke about a paper she wrote for a class. The third source was a professor was speaking about post-development theories. The fourth source was a short video I watched earlier today on “solutions”. What were they saying, you’re asking yourself? In my own words: Consumption is killing us.
The problem with global capitalism today, and generally the way the entire global economy functions, is consumption. So much of the market is predicated on the acquisition of “stuff”. We can never have to much “stuff”. The market knows this and promotes this. As soon as you purchase an electronic device, it’s already out-of-date and you need to upgrade a few months later. Every day, we are faced with ads from some person or corporate entity trying to convince us that we need “this” and that our lives would be better with “that”. What also fuels this materialistic madness are the comparisons that the market draws between us. For example, your neighbor has “this” item which means that you need to get “that” item. Your coworkers have acquired “this” asset which means that you need to acquire “that” asset. We live in a world that promotes what I like to call “one up-manship”. While “sportsmanship”, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition”, “one up-manship” is the desire to always have an advantage over one’s opponent, regardless of whether there’s any real competition going on. In some cases, if not many, an individual will do literally whatever it takes to achieve this advantage or, rather, a perceived advantage. There’s no fair play. There’s no respect.
This is how the global economy works. This is how global capitalism works. It’s a competitive, dog-eat-dog world and, in turn, this logic has twisted our perception and definition of what “growth” is. Annie Leonard’s video, “The Story of Solutions”, speaks on this. We have fixed a dollar amount to growth. It’s called the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The idea is, the larger this amount, the better off your country is because it is a sign of growth. So, we continue to get more “stuff” because, after all, we need to grow. We need to have more stuff than the next guy and the guy after him! You can Google the GDPs of the countries in this world and, undoubtedly, the higher the GDP, the higher up the country is ranked as far as global influence and power. “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.” What the GDPs don’t take into account, though, is the means by which this number is attained: it focuses on the ends.
Do we have a solution???
It’s difficult to solve this issue of consumption and the quest for “more”. Annie Leonard’s video suggests that instead of pursuing “more”, we should focus on “better”. I agree with her 100%. Just because our GDPs are increasing, it doesn’t mean that the quality of life for people are increasing as well. There are many initiatives in place that seek to challenge and change the status quo by offering alternatives in pursuit of “better” and she talks about seeking out these grass roots movements using G.O.A.L. as a guide:
G = Give power back to the people
O = Opening the people’s eyes to true happiness (as defined by not being attained by material possessions)
A = Accounting for all the costs
L = Lessening the wealth gap
Now, I must say this all sounds well and good, but there are a few areas of contention. It would be extremely difficult to change the way the global economy works without incurring some serious repercussions. There are many business that profit from capitalism that would be crushed should the system change. Not all who stand to gain from the way our market is currently set up are evil or corrupt. What would become of them? Does anyone have a solution to change things from “more” to “better” and also help the small business owner? Would “better” actually BE better for everyone? I would lobby for a “better” global economy that would benefit everyone, from the “greatest” to the “least”. For these changes to take place, it would have to happen over the course of years. Years. How would our global economy function in the midst of such a transition? Of course, one must also take into account the “heavy players” who like the way things are set up now because they stand the most to gain. We can’t forget about them! These close-fisted characters didn’t get to where they are now by being the most charitable or morally exemplary. They are also the ones in power; the ones making the rules. How do you challenge that? Right now, I do not have a solution for that…
There’s nothing wrong with acquiring material possessions, mind you. I do not wish to paint a picture that all consumers and all consumption itself is bad. They are not in and of themselves an inherent evil. The problem arises when there’s an obsessive, uncontrolled, narcissistic level of consumption that profits a select few while crippling the masses. I’m talking about moderation here; temperance. Too much of anything is a bad thing, I say. The grass roots movements that seek to challenge the status quo are a wonderful starting point. However, I do feel that in order for REAL change to take place, on a global scale, everyone has to first realize and admit that the way we are currently doing things is unsustainable and we will ultimately reap some serious repercussions, more so than we have already seen. Then, we must all meet at the table and make a concerted effort to pursue “better” and leave the idea of “more” behind. I would like to see solutions where everyone stands the gain: first- and third- world countries, major corporations and small businesses, the 1% and the rest of us. Perhaps then we can all witness a healthier, sustainable idea of “growth”.