This piece is about excess. It’s about obsession and the mental prison into which living with an obsessive-compulsive disorder brings to a sufferer. It is about a massive and a growing assault on integrity morale and resolution.
The sufferer of all these ailments is the world. The world is the patient: the impatient patient. The complaint is getting worse and will get worse inevitably; were things to go on as they are going now.
I think I have said a lot already about how our system of exchange depends for its stability and continuance wholly upon a few basic propositions.
- New kinds of (profitable and maybe lawful) goods and services of any kind continually being added into it
- More quantities together with upgrades (technically) of qualities of products and services continually being offered, supplied, marketed
- Goods and services being replaced/upgraded by buyer consumers regularly and frequently
- Marketing by way of a saturation advertising psychology which aims to create and to grow a need; and to boost perceived values of goods/services
The force of this global machine of economic activity is ultra-powerful; no-one is in charge of it and it is very nearly unstoppable. Presently there is no will to stop it; and no perception of a need for it to be stopped or for it to be changed in its direction.
Some of the main outcomes of this machine continuing to carry the World along are:
- Ever increasing demand upon and pressure placed on material natural resources
- Ever increasing turnover and wastage of technically superseded goods
- Ever greater saturation advertising and increase/creation of demand
These things will happen and are happening; although what of the effects on us of these ever-accelerating motors of the consumer economic machine? First, consumerism has brought us many things we have benefitted from – massive choice in basic products and services; freedom from basic want; all the basic necessities for life within the reach of the pockets of billions of ordinary persons. This is a big plus for the World.
Caught in its own machinery however consumerism necessarily has to up the ante, force the pace, boost the output, and so on in order to stay healthy and together. The system is geared up to do this and can only survive and stay useful by doing it. It is like the guy who wants more hot water in his bath, so he turns on the hot tap but finds he is unable to turn it off or get out and so the water begins to scald him. Or like a fire lit in a freezing forest by campers for them to be able to survive; but which spreads and ends up burning down Alberta State.
Post-war consumerism was a successful escape from a very harsh life for millions of our grandparents. It had its day, like every dog has. Now it has outrun its course and is responsible for environmental degradation and material resource crises; it has caused overproduction and so overemployment (bear with me on this) and overconsumption; and possibly worst of all, it has spoilt and is further spoiling humanity with excess and with surplus choice and with ultra-temptations to accept and use these things; thus humankind has become its own worst enemy.
Maybe a lot of persons reading what I have just written will laugh and say I am stupid? Maybe the same persons are contented with the great offers for a binge of self-indulgence which in practice only stokes a hunger for more, and more fierce, of the same; and nourishes a deep sense of a lack of fulfilment ever more keenly?
The big thing about consumerism is that one can buy almost anything provided one has money to buy it. Hence money becomes the key which unlocks a sort of narrow-gauge freedom for us and forms the foundation of a life as it were moving on set tracks along an endless dark tunnel with a light at the end which is ever-receding. Money and the getting of money becomes, has become, paramount; and it trumps every other card in humanity’s pack – fair play; family life; friendships; health; joy; sheer wellbeing.
This primacy for us of the necessity for getting money, when it is the case that we are not living as destitutes when we might rightly be desperate for money; this primacy is our sickness and it is what governs us just as if we were overseen every moment of our lives by a jailer master.
We feel, correctly so, that we must have money to get hold of the key to open the shop door of Pandora’s Box. We feel that what we sacrifice in the getting of money is an acceptable trade off. We are willing to submit ourselves for half or more of our waking hours daily to another’s biding and control and command. For this is what we do when we are an employee; in effect we are selling to another half our life’s quantity of liberty.
We thus create in recompense the concept of ‘quality time’; which is in fact normal time and is time as time should be for us always. Not necessarily all leisure; but certainly all freedom and more fulfilment. Our ‘quality time’ then, is largely channelled towards retail shopping and towards other ways of spending money. Having money then, means one can ‘have a good time’. These channels then are our default activities; which we do and spend money on in lieu of experiencing a broader equilibrium for our lives. These shifts and resorts then are blowholes; safety-valves; the extreme responses and reactions to a half-life of semi-servitude.
Were we not expected to produce so much at work; we should experience less pressure, less fatigue, less ennui, less distaste for Monday Mornings. We should work fewer hours and achieve more and get more satisfaction in those fewer hours that we do presently. Our time would be more our own and our lives would level out and feel more like real lives.
Money as the key to the World as it now is, means that money is our overpowering temptation; like the kid at the sweetshop window with a £5 note to burn. We in the West all admit to ourselves we overbuy; we throw out; we waste; we do these things as a stopgap for lack of fulfilment.
‘Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble, with too much conceiving;’
Our essential bedrock sense of living in a retail and wholesale desert continually saps at our wills to resist and to go for something we might feel is more salutary and so able to make us feel better about ourselves. The consumer machine stands in relation to us all in the same way as The Servant Monster stands in relation to his Master when he says bitterly:
‘You taught me language
And my profit on it is I know how to curse’
At once we are tempted and demoralised; and placed thus in the classic double-bind of the obsessive compulsive addictive personality. It’s a trap. It’s a trap which will not let us go until we are destroyed – personally, and as a race and species. Get off the hamster wheel, jump the dog spit, and wean yourself of Working for The Man, of blowing it all at weekends, of a repetitive hot/cold/hot/cold lifestyle and settle for a life more temperate and for temperance.
(A person on TV was telling how technology and consumerism had made all our lives the lives of Kings and Queens. He compared very unfavourably the life of peasants in the days before industrialisation. He spoke of peasants working every waking hour, either in fields or at home evenings darning, whittling carpentry etc, etc. He failed to understand that those lives of peasants were very hard lives and always occupied with doing and making; but that they were authentic lives, lives of ‘quality time’ we might call it; because the integration of work and enjoyment, purpose and direction, will and pleasure was present for those people.)
‘And I shall make my soul’