Taking Responsibility (Part 3)
When our elected governments and institutions do the things
we asked of them
We make implicit or explicit demands upon our institutions and
we must follow them to their origins. A society in denial can not
properly function in a competitive world. Here are some examples
of current concern:
Keeping up with the Joneses
Follow this line of argument.
- The Industrial Revolution created abundant manufactured
- In prior ages most people had little in the way of material
possessions. They lived a simple lifestyle centered around work
and family. Most owned only clothing, a bit of furniture and
household utilities. Even farm families usually worked someone
The rise of industrial age led to the capability to produce many
items in large quantities at low cost. The need to find markets
for these items led to the development of advertising.
Advertising leads to increased demand.
- The need to sell mass produced items meant that a desired
needed to be created in the buyer's mind. Advertising that just
informed of the existence or properties of a product was no
longer adequate. Without a demand being created there was no
market. Thus, the rise of persuasive advertising. This is
designed to appeal to a person's inadequacies or fears.
Especially social inadequacies.
Increased demand requires increased income.
- Prior to the industrial age people earned just enough to get
by. Excess wealth was of little practical use since there was
little that could be purchased by the average person. Local
villages and towns produced mainly utilitarian items. Once you
have a table and chairs, you don't need another set. Desires
fueled by advertising are not aimed at utility, but inadequacy.
If your neighbors have something which is seen as a mark of
status than you will feel you need it as well. So having clothing
gets replaced by the need for "fashionable" clothing. What was
once a need for adequate supplies is replaced by the need to
substitute the latest fashion for perfectly adequate objects.
Thus a continual need can be generated. This need to purchase new
items requires a larger income.
Increased income requires more work effort.
- Where one would stop working when an adequate amount of
supplies was assured, now one must earn income continually to be
able to afford desired possessions. This leads to longer work
periods and more people entering the paid labor force.
More work requires more raw materials.
- Once the cycle of materialism is started there is a
simultaneous rise in the need for raw materials. More of the
landscape is taken over by extractive industries. Mining,
forestry, factory scale farming and energy supplies need to be
expanded. The waste from these industries becomes a concern as
well as the potential for eventual shortages of raw material.
Since one society cannot produce all the raw materials needed
there is an increase in foreign trade. This is followed by a need
to protect sources of supply and transportation routes. This is
usually accomplished by the establishment of armies and
More work creates stress in society.
- The pressure for more work
creates stress within the workers. Fear of loss of income or
economic status makes people fearful. The marshaling of vast
industrial enterprises to find and move raw materials also puts
stress on the overall society. A typical example can be seen in
the clogged roads leading to road rage. Rather than the pursuit
of material possessions leading to greater life satisfaction many
people find themselves less happy.
So our unreasonable desires for more and newer material
possessions lead to less free time, additional stress, despoiling
of our environment and socially unproductive pursuits such as
drugs and alcohol as an attempt to cover up our
How would we have to restructure our lives and society in a
less material setting? Government and industry have no
suggestions on how such an economic system would be structured.
When the economy turns down in modern society the only thing that
is suggested is for people to go out and spend money. Shopping is
now the number one leisure activity. People go to a site like the
Grand Canyon and spend about an hour viewing the natural beauty.
They spend over three times as much shopping!
Perhaps the rise of religiosity in recent times is a
reflection of the dissatisfaction with peoples materialistic
strivings. Most traditional religious teaching favor modesty in
lifestyle and concern for other over self indulgence. Is it
possible to devise a secular philosophy which promotes the same
values without appealing to religious exceptionalism? Can our
planet continue for much longer along the path of unbridled
If we wish to change how would we accomplish it? With consumerism as
our guiding principal what would we do instead? Can we design a society
that is less dependent on "things"? We need to set humanistic goals for
our society, but at the same time we need to establish a realistic
transition plan. Letting the "market place" decide produces vast inequalities
in social position and this creates resistance to change as well as
unnecessary hardship. After World War II there was conscious planning in this
country on how to move from a war economy. Specific plans such as the G.I. bill
were created to help with the transition. Similarly, the Marshall Plan was
established to help rebuild the economies abroad. Such planning can be done
and done successfully, but it requires determination and a willingness for
real planning, not appeals to the mystical "invisible hand" of the marketplace.