The problem of Consumerism

The other day I was listening to a book,(audiobook) and I heard an author speak about consumerism.  He said that todays socialist and communist don’t need the gulags and prisons employed in the past, they can control people simply by regulating their consumerism.  This struck me as an odd idea, so I listened further.  Society is addicted to consumerism, he went on to say.  So much so that we will change our lives to put ourselves in the best place to consume.  Governments need only to reward “right” thinking with ability to consume, and “wrong” thinking with the inability to consume.  Evidently China is now employing this tactic with significant success.

Of course that is China and this is the United States, however it did get me thinking about how much an American might give up to have “the good life”; which by all popular accounts centers around having good stuff.

As I thought, I remembered back to my first years out of college.  I was a product of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, and monetary success was pretty much all we could think about in those days.  Get an education, and then work as much as possible; collect your paycheck and buy the things that would let everyone know that you were successful.  Where you lived, what you drove, what you wore, these were the outward signs of success.  

Stephanie and I plunged ourselves headfirst into this lifestyle.  We had a two year old son, and by 1990 we were both gainfully employed.  Stephanie worked for a nationwide office furnishings company as an interior designer, and I was an architect.  Russell, our oldest, went to daycare.  We bought a house and added a second story to it, for a time it was one of the nicest in our neighborhood.  We had two nice cars and we were truly on our way, until one very special day picking up Russell from daycare.  

Stephanie and I worked long hours, Russell would go to daycare when they opened at 7am, and would usually be picked up around closing at 6:30pm.  This process went on for a couple of years.  We would spend one or two hours as a family in the evening, (if one of us did not have work or a meeting) and then we would go to bed and wake up to do the same thing over again.  

One day I picked up Russell and after a very short time I the car, I clearly heard a Louisiana accent in his speech.  After a brief disbelief, I quickly figured out that he had gotten this accent from his nursery worker, who had a pretty thick accent, being from Louisiana herself.   It did not take long for me to deduce that Russell had this accent because he spent more time at day care than with us…much more time.  His nursery worker was a very nice lady, but I truly thought that God gave us this baby boy to raise in the faith by Stephanie and I, not some random nursery worker.  Though she seemed very nice, who knows what she is really like; and she had so much time with our son that he was taking on her characteristics instead of ours!

Stephanie and I quickly decided that she would quit her job, and take another job where she could still be with our son on a daily basis.  I will be honest, at the time Stephanie and I just wanted to assure Russell would be raised by us, we did not stop to look at the larger problem.  Consumerism.

Why did we have Russell in daycare?  So that both Stephanie and I could both work.  Why?  Because we wanted a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  We wanted new cars and other things that come by money.  I don’t think I am alone in this confession.  If where we live made no difference, if having a nice car did not matter, Stephanie and I would not have both been working.

Governments have taken note of this.  If the populous of any country would risk their own children to have the house they wanted, what else would they give up?  Rights?  Free speech?  Would they allow open microphones in their houses so they could more easily order things online?  The answer, as was discovered, is an overwhelming yes.

I am a cleric, and try my best to keep out of politics, except where they intersect with the Church.  So all earthly aspects aside, if people are willing to give up earthly rights for consumer goods, would they give up their soul?  Please don’t think the devil has not taken note of this.  We all have blurred the line of what we want and what we need.  Why is this an important line to know?  Our needs are required.  Food, shelter, transportation.  Our wants are anything that goes beyond the basics of these three things.  Beyond these three things is where consumerism comes into play.  Consumerism takes money that could be used for charity.  Consumerism requires money, which causes us to work and take time away from our God given responsibilities; such as our family.  Consumerism is also addictive.  Buying things makes us feel good, and we will work like trained animals just to get more money so we can buy more goods.

Where am I going with all this?  I am going to start to cut back on my consumerism.  I want to know that I am making decisions for God, and not for my own wants and desires.  I am going to be looking very closely at what I eat, and what I buy.  I am going to work towards everything I own being a needed item, not a wanted item.  After an allotted time, I will start again to buy wanted items, but I think after a good fast from my wants and desires, I will probably be able to better govern my wants.  Wanting something is not inherently bad, but I see signs that we as a society have gone well beyond the occasional reward for hard work, and are well into gluttony on many fronts.

Here is my plan:

  • Take an inventory of what I own, how much is needed, how much was a product of want.
  • When I am stressed, do I turn to a want of desire? I.e. food, drink, purchasing…
  • Where am I finding my happiness?

Compare to 

  • Scripture tells us to live simply.
  • Scripture tells us to turn to God with our concerns and troubles.
  • Scripture tells us true happiness is found in God and His works.

We have been trained to be consumers, and this exercise in purging that desire will not be easy, nor will it be quick.  I really doubt if even the most serious of us could quit cold turkey.  But I am going to start.

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