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Peace on Earth requires peace with Earth -- A vision for returning democracy to the people.

A National Conversation is Needed

Copyright 2003 by Dave Ewoldt

The anti-SUV TV advertisements that link driving an SUV with support for terrorism, and mainstream media's refusal to air them, point to a deficit in our ability to be honest with ourselves. If the truth in advertising laws actually had any teeth, all SUVs would come with a bumper sticker already affixed that says, "I support the Taliban. Ask me how."

There is a very real link between our lifestyles of conspicuous consumption and the fact that we now find ourselves, as a nation, in the lead role in the war on terrorism. Let's leave aside for the moment our government's own acts of terrorism, or support for repressive regimes with documented human rights abuses, or our failure to uphold and ratify accepted international law and treaties, or our general lack of respect for the United Nations and the world at large.

This is all part of the national conversation that the powers that be refuse to let take place and the issues they skirt around, spin, or simply fail to address when questioned about them. This is the idea that got WA Senator Patty Murray in so much hot water with the far-right. That she would have the audacity to cause high school students to think for themselves, and actually question why there is so much anti-US sentiment in the world at large, especially in developing nations whose resources we lust after to fuel our own excessive consumption.

Driving gas-guzzlers, eating at any fast food establishment, building 10,000 sq. ft. houses for a family of two, buying "labor saving" devices for labor we wouldn't do in the first place, working longer hours for less "real" money (in purchasing power), wasting our health care dollars on cosmetic surgery, building nuclear reactors to power our hair dryers, and then demeaning and devaluing any culture that doesn't want to emulate us. We try to export these shallow values to the rest of the world, and ignore the fact that with the world's present population, the Western "standard of living" (not to be confused with quality of life), if it were possible for everyone in the world to adopt it, would require five planets the size of the Earth -- two to supply the raw materials, and three to hold the waste and garbage.

This standard of living is really best described as a sub-standard method of merely existing. For validation of this point we need look no further than to the fact that the majority of American adults need daily anti-depressant or stress reducing medication, alcohol or other recreational drugs, various pain relievers, or are in regular counseling for anxiety or fear induced phobias, all to try to remain sane in an insane world.

Does human happiness need to be opposed to the needs of the planet? Can satisfaction be found that is harmonious with nature and with people's inner nature? By seeking satisfaction through consumerism, we are doing as much harm to the planet as is caused by overpopulation. Not only does consumerism fail in its promise of happiness, but by decreasing our free time and by keeping us from developing satisfying relationships, consumerism makes us less happy.

Consumerism -- the concept of growth through consumption -- is US economic policy's primary goal. We are 4.5 times richer than our great-grandparents, but it would be very had to argue that we are 4.5 times happier. In the effort to turn consumption into a ritual to bring spiritual happiness and self fulfillment, we have fooled ourselves into thinking that material goods can fulfill what are actually social, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Surveys have consistently shown that people have believed for decades that if they only had twice as much money they'd be happy, no matter if their yearly income was $15 thousand or $15 million. But surveys also show that the number of Americans who report they are very happy -- 1/3 -- is the same now as in 1957, despite a doubling of the GNP and personal spending since then.

People are unsatisfied, without knowing why. They think they need more of what they have now. But, if what they have now is what makes people unsatisfied, will more of it make them more satisfied or more dissatisfied? Perhaps people are tuning in to the fact that if human desires are infinitely expandable, it is physically impossible for material consumption to provide fulfillment -- a fact ignored by the economic theory that fuels consumerism.

Consumption fails to make us happy, and advertising then cultivates and preys on that unhappiness. Ads make people self-conscious about being human and unique; to be unhappy with whatever they have that doesn't match this year's fashion. The advertising industry then assures people that the corporate gods have the proper synthetic salvation for their falsely created, non-existent problems.

The things that people say make them happy and life rewarding include developing talents, building stronger family and social relationships, appreciation of nature, pursuing education, and having quality leisure time. These are all sustainable and non-consumerist. But the race to keep up with the Joneses is subverting these desires. Instead of having more leisure time, Americans devote one billion working hours per year to buying more leisure wear.

It's time we all start to examine our assumptions, address our fears, and honestly work toward achieving our true desires. This is the national conversation we need to have with our elected and appointed leaders who are charting our path into the future.

 

 


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