As a comedian once noted, “You can’t ever get enough of the stuff you don’t really want in order to impress people you don’t really care for.”
This sums up the angst and the futility of consumerism and capitalism.
The comic was not referring to the basic stuffs like sufficient healthy food, decent sanitation and adequate shelter, access to affordable health care and education, along with an equal opportunity for employment with fair compensation. These basics are the foundation of a sustainable society and the hallmarks of an effective system of government.
No, the comic was referring to the collective obsession with and association of the twin notions of ‘new’ and ‘more’ as somehow adding up to something that is or that feels ‘better’.
I’ll start by looking at the notion of ‘more’. Here’s one of the underlying beliefs: “If a little bit of something is good, than more of that something must be better.” Some examples:
- if two aspirin relieve my headache, than four aspirin will do even better.
- if buying one piece of junk at $19.95 seems good, than getting two at the same price is even better.
- if recipe calls for a teaspoon of an ingredient, than a tablespoon will be even better. (come on now, you all know you’ve thought and done this)
- if running two miles every other day feels good, than running four miles everyday will feel even better.
So, ok, you get the idea of how we turn the concept of ‘more’ from a measurement of comparative quantity (or frequency) into an indicator of quality. We don’t just have a boat, we have two boats for changing conditions or a different boat for every condition. That’s better, right?
But how many boats can you be on at one time and how often do you really like to go boating?
More money, more sex, more travel, more houses, more clothes…when I have more of any or all of these, I will feel better, right?
Eventually and inevitably, we all come to the realization that more is just more. More is an empty promise of satisfaction and not anything that’s really better…always only more. And even when we are surrounded by plenty, we still feel empty and not enough.
‘New’ is the second notion that we automatically link to ‘better’. Fifty or so years of being brainwashed by advertisers has something to do with this. It was their stock in trade phrase used relentlessly to get us to purchase anything, “New and Improved”. That has become our whole concept of progress; whatever is ‘new’ has to be better than what came before, otherwise why would we be buying it or doing it?
Again, much the same as with the notion of ‘more’, the ‘new’ is not a qualitative measurement. It is a temporal one, simply noting the appearance of an object, person or event in the sequence of time. We can have a new job, new relationship, new boss, new neighbor, new…car…pair of shoes…laptop…haircut…and what have you…and not a single one of these are necessarily ‘better’ than what we had before. Still, we chase after the latest, the newest, as if it were the holy grail.
….Until we ‘see’ them for what they are….
Mirages leading us off into the desert.
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