Tuesday, 23 August 2011

There has to be a better way!

A report by some agency or other, contracted by the Government to look into the recent riots, scathingly pointed the finger of blame at "rampant consumerism" and the "you are what you buy culture". Given that the lead author of the report was a broker from The City, it seemed it took one to know one, so to speak. The whiff of hypocrisy hung heavily in the air around the comments, but the point was well made.

Well, I noticed my house is full of stuff. Just stuff. Stuff I have accumilated over the years and the majority of which I could probably divest myself of without regret. Granted, much of it is materials for constructing projects and tools for doing so. These I will not relinquish as the construction of my my various schemes is something that gives me existential pleasure and adds meaning to life for me.
But other stuff is just clutter. I am not sure why I have it all, but I do. And it is largely unnecessary.

I went to the Mall in Bristol last week. I needed a shirt for a wedding, and I got a beautiful, tailored fit white shirt with purple stripes, and a tie in lilac shiny paisley which picks out the purple of the stripes beautifully.
But I sat on a bench and opened my ears to hear the quiet buzzing sound of thousands of people all scurrying in and out of shops buying stuff.

I looked at the map of the place. There are retail outlets for objects pertaining to all aspects of life and none. It seemed that people were so consumed by the activity of consumption itself that they appearer to be entirely absorbed by the process without any thought for the wider context of whether what they had bought was actually more than immediately desirable. I wondered what need it was that they were feeding. Of course, within that, there may be significant and real requirements, like my shirt. I concede there are reasons to buy things that are to do with purpose rather than mere immediate whim.

I sat down again and thought hard about all the shops in the place and it occurred to me that there was actually nothing in the place I needed, or even wanted. And yet, there was still some residual compulsion to purchase... something. I am not sure what.
Regarding the bland expressions on the faces of those who had just happily parted with their money, the feeling suddenly dissipated and I felt the need to go home.

In my street, there are three Jaguar cars. I don't like them particularly, but they are popular with certain Gentlemen of an Age. They do not perfom all that well. The accessories are spartan unless you pay significant more for "extras". They do not even look particularly attractive. But they are Objects of Desire and seem to be bought as some kind of statement. Presumably they make the owners feel more presigious.

And I thought to myself, observing the ritual washing of these machines one Sunday morning: There has to be a better way!

It seems that people are admired and afforded status by that which they own. My own lowly skoda has stopped conversation dead at dinner parties when the pigeonholing-by-possessions begins. My actual emotion was amusement but underneathit all is a sadness that people are not measured by their actual, intrinsic worth as a human being.
Of course, I know the machinery which compelss consumption is honed to appeal to our inherent desires. And this marketing machine keeps the economy going round, feeding in from our pockets, into corporations, maintaining jobs in retail here and factories in China, and ultimately to higher share prices to support our pensions and investments (yes. That has been spectacularly successful in recent years, hasn't it!). So, our collective wellbeing somehow rests upon people buying things continually.

But leaving aside the economics, and returning to the instinctual, wealth and status seem to go together as an accepted pairing of value. The message is impressed upon our eyes and brains every day by the aforementioned adverstising: "Buy this and be seen as stylish/successful/sophisticated! Be the envy of your peers!"

A porsche evidently makes the dullest, most rotund little man significantly more appealing (and this too I have witnessed in dismay) than a reasonably conventionally attractive man with an old banger. An Aston Martin or Ferrari can ensure attractive (though possibly not mentally stimulating) female comanionship for as long as one possesses it, or so I gather. How depresing. Does it impy something Darwinian about the owner, making the man who is willing to pay for an expensive car a better evolutionary bet? Perhaps it does. I don't know.

But if we take the idea to its extreme, to the Bernie Ecclestones and the Donald Trumps, those with wealth and power are lauded. Perhaps the characteristics that helped them accumilate that wealth are admirable. It could be tat that gets them their standing and the pauper, contempt, for presumable being that most pitied and scorned character, the "loser".

But I doubt it. Rarely are the most worthy, the kindest, the nicest people looked up to. Seldom are such qualities as compassion and humanity rewarded with regard by others. Quite often the opposite in fact. The most truly admiraable people rarely rise to the top.

So, my hope, if just here, in Internetland, to find a place where the appreciation of thought, beauty and civility are appreciated. Art and artifice are worthy pursuits for an enlightened mind.

To me, the possession and pursuit of a vivid and lively life of the mind is the pinnacle of admirable traits in a person. A different value of a person's worth can surely be arrived at here where belongings and other material attainments count for nothing.

How many would pay thousands for an ugly painting by an old master and yet overlook the exquisite construction of a beetle?

So, let us find admirers of beetles and share discourse with them. And the shiny, pointless baubles that hold everyone in thrall can be left at the door.

1 comment:

  1. Tom Hodgkinson has a lot to say about (or against) consumerism. There was, you guessed it, quite a big and interesting article about him and his philosophy in last week's ZEIT. I expect you know about "The Idler"?