Here is the discussion post for the fourth installment of the Affluenza, The All-Consuming Epidemic book club. This post begins Part Two: Causes.
Chapter 15. Original Sin - In this chapter, the authors argue that affluenza isn't a part of human nature. That, in studying hunter-gatherers or more "primitive" cultures, the individuals and communities rely on very few possessions and are quite happy without amassing huge quantities of stuff.
But their lifestyle, moving from place to place as food and water sources warrant, really prevents them from acquiring too many things. What do you think? Are humans innately wired for possessing tons of things they don't need? Are the groups mentioned in the book merely not affected by affluenza because it's impractical and, given the ability to stay rooted in one place (with no other changes) would they hoard materials just like the rest of us?
Chapter 16. An Ounce of Prevention - Early Americans came to the New World in search of a Christian commonwealth based on simple living. Over the years, this idealism crumbled as delineations in wealth grew between the Americans and the British. By the time of the industrial revolution, the push for automation under the guise of higher production in less work time resulted in longer workdays rather than shorter ones as employers, greedy for more, exploited their employees.
Indeed, the concept of "more through exploitation" is accomplished by exposing consumers to affluenza. Modern advertising creates "imaginary appetites", using sex to sell as well as appealing to one's depravities. Karl Marx had suggested that too many goods results in too many useless people. And Thoreau stated that the luxuries and comforts of life are not only indispensable but also a hindrance to the elevation of mankind.
So, if the intention of many individuals and philosophers was a focus on the simple life, how did we become such out-of-control consumers? Did the influence of a few really affect the rest? Or were they preying on some deep-rooted desire for not just more stuff, but more stuff acquired through just the right approach and advertising?
Chapter 17. The Road Not Taken - The factory systems of the late 1800s pushed Americans to a crossroads. With all this efficiency came the choice of what to do with all that extra time? On one hand, you could make more stuff and on the other, you could work less. Luxury or simplicity. Money or time.
If given the choice of living a more simple life and working less, which would you (or do you) choose?
Chapter 18. An Emerging Epidemic - During World War II, Americans knuckled under and accepted rationing and deprivation, limiting their consumption and driving and growing their own food with victory gardens. After the war, an economic boom erupted, fueled by low-interest government loans and pent-up economic demand.
An era of consumption had begun and along with it was the increase in production of products created with "planned obsolescence" in mind. In other words, products were manufactured to last only a short time so that they would have to be replaced frequently. Products were continually upgraded, more so in style rather than quality.
And, how did Americans finance all this stuff? With consumer loans, providing tremendous purchasing power that theoretically resulted in a higher standard of living. Or so the story goes. Next up came shopping malls and televisions in every home. With advertising, manufacturers were convincing consumers through creative ads that their product was not only necessary, but better, convenient and disposable.
John Kenneth Galbraith suggested that our emphasis on private opulence led to public squalor with declining transit systems, schools, parks, libraries and air and water quality. Is it possible to have both individual wealth and public wealth? Are the two mutually exclusive or is this something that society can achieve?