Reflections on Consumption

by - August 07, 2011

I don't regard myself as driven by consumption. I like to think I spend modestly and responsibly. However, I get antsy during the week if several days pass without a trip to the grocery, big box store or nursery. I begin to invent reasons why I need to shop. As I sit to reflect on my motivation and assess that all my needs are met, I get overwhelmed with self-disgust. I see that materialism permeates my thoughts and desires. Even what I deem a noble pursuit, one core to human existence - growing food, is tainted by my craving of garden gadgets, diversity for the sake of long growing lists and gardener's bragging rights. In reaction, I teeter between trying to downplay my tendencies and wanting to empty the house onto to the curb and build a hut on the back of my parents' property.

This past week I watched "The Story of Stuff" on YouTube. One quote by Victor Lebow blew me away. Here's the full version of it:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.

- Victor Lebow, 1955

It is no wonder half the time I am blind to my materialism. The other half during which I am actually aware, I find it nearly impossible to escape it. Humans are hardwired to worship something - to spend their lives in service to something, whether that is social advancement, being a moral person, or hoarding away five lifetimes of useless goods. All of these are perused and evaluated on a comparative basis. Wealth is relative. Social standing is relative. Even our perceived morality is relative.

In one hand, it is next to impossible for one individual to rise up against the Corporate Machine that is America. However we can renew our minds daily, allowing truth to wash out the lies that our value is in consumption. Here are some words from Solomon, the wisest man ever to live.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun...

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

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