Here is the discussion post for the third installment of the Affluenza, The All-Consuming Epidemic book club.
Chapter 11. Resource Exhaustion - One of the points made in this chapter was regarding the real costs of the products we buy. For example, when we buy a computer we don't take into account the 700+ materials that went into it, we don't account for the 140 pounds of solid and hazardous waste resulting from its manufacture and we certainly don't account for the 7,000 gallons of wastewater and the massive amount of energy used in production.
The argument was not so much that we need to necessarily give up everything (although there is merit in that point), but to be conscious of what we are buying and choose products, when we do buy things, that have less ecological impact. For example, if you must still buy coffee, make sure that it is shade-grown or organic (and fair-trade, I might add).
What items do you still purchase that aren't necessary, but where you've made a concerted effort to choose a product with a lighter footprint?
Chapter 12. Industrial Diarrhea - We live in a toxic sludge soup, where 1,600 pounds of synthetic chemicals are produced every year per capita. Over the last half century the production of these chemicals increased 600 times. Again, there are hidden costs. All that cheap food is the direct result of chemical use, with cost savings a result of fertilizers and pesticides. And how many of those chemicals are we storing in our bodies?
The estimate in the book that 2 out of 5 Americans will contract cancer at some point in their lives rings true for me. Of the 5 family members I have living in Seattle, 2 of them are battling aggressive forms of cancer.
We rail against products like DDT, but how many of you are aware of the dangers of Scotch Guard, a common product that shows up in nearly everyone's blood stream? How many of you are still using non-stick (Teflon) pans? Convenience never outweighs the public health risk of many of these chemicals yet we oftentimes turn a blind eye on them until the risks are so blatantly obvious that we can't do anything but avoid them like the plague.
How aware are you of chemicals in your environment? Do you get disturbed every time you see advertising for spray air fresheners, and that hideous Febreze? Or do you think their benefits outweigh any potential hidden cost?
Chapter 13. The Addictive Virus - Consumption is an addictive virus, hooking the victim into feeling a sense of reassurance when they have purchased all those goods. Yet the standards for what is fashionable or acceptable changes constantly (thanks to product improvements and new, additional features), thereby leaving the addict never feeling satisfied with what they own. So, they continue purchasing, hoping to feel like they finally have what they "need".
I found this statement interesting: "Psychologists tell us pathological buying is typically related to a quest for greater recognition and acceptance, an expression of anger, or an escape through fantasy - all connected to shaky self-images." This sounds awfully like many of the "therapy shoppers" I know out there. There is the perceived need to have the next best thing lest you be though less of, or think less of yourself.
I frankly don't care about recognition or acceptance based on what I own, wear, want, read or eat. But it seems like the majority of Americans are stuck with that sort of mindset. Do you feel this is a result of media influence (TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives) or product marketing or both? Sometimes I feel like product marketing in a vacuum outside of media doesn't have the same impact as watching what your favorite stars wearing or using what is being hawked.
Chapter 14. Dissatisfaction Guaranteed - We are not only working ourselves to death in order to buy things we really don't need, but we are working ourselves into a state of unhappiness. That's not to say that rich people are inherently unhappy. For many, it's the goal of wealth that drives people too hard, displacing things in their lives that are necessary for an enjoyable life.
So, let's talk about real wealth in terms of friends, skills, libraries, wilderness and free time for napping. The more real wealth we have, the less money we need to be happy. Hell, I would take a significant pay cut to keep my afternoon naps.
I think if everyone made a list of their top ten "real wealth" items, many of them would be inexpensive, or needn't be expensive. Things like spending time with friends and family cooking, eating or talking, taking a walk through the park or on the beach, watching the sun set, stargazing, playing with their children, having sex, reading a good book on a rainy day, sitting in front of the fire.... the list goes on and on. Granted, for many, the list would also include expensive entertainment (eating out, theatre, sports, travel) but I would argue that it includes less material items than you think.
What are a few of your favorite things? I, for one, won't be including opening the door of my overpriced faulty refrigerator as one of my top tens.
That ends Section I. Symptoms. Stay tuned for Section II. Causes in two weeks.