Seeing The World Through The Lens Of Materialism
Possessions, people, and love. Not necessarily in that order.
I went camping last weekend, and I had a great time. We set up our tents, we ate, we walked, we talked, we played, stayed one night, and then went home. On the way home, I noticed that the sky was not blue, it was grey. The sun was there, but it was a hazy yellow orb in the sky. And I wondered if there was more to us than this. I wondered if the smoke in the sky is the cost of materialism.
I see Trump telling us that he’s fighting to make the economy great again. For what? So we can all buy a nice house and fill it up with stuff? So we can all go to Costco and buy an 86-inch TV? So that we can all go to the supermarket and fill our carts with a pile of junk food? So that we can all go to Trader Joes and get some fine food? So that we can all go to Europe, Canada and Hawaii at least once in our lifetimes? So that we can all send our kids to college so that they will earn enough money to do it all over again?
I get it that the economy is important. But as I looked at the smokey skies during my camping trip and on the way home, I had questions. I seriously doubt that we can even have an economy if the environment doesn’t support human life. I’m not worried about the rest of the planet. The rest of the planet will be fine without us. I’m thinking about us. I’m thinking about humanity as a going enterprise. I’m beginning to think that humanity is bankrupt.
While I was out camping, there were very high winds at home in my neighborhood. Not too far away from my home, they saw close to 100 mph winds. My lawn chairs were knocked over. Some planters were knocked over. The winds blew out the smoke in the valley, but I knew that the fires in the west were creating weird weather where I live. I saw a daytime high of 51 two days ago. That’s something more like November, not September. I saw that there was snow in Colorado just a day or two after they saw 101 degrees. I am beginning to wonder if this trip is really necessary.
I’m thinking of what we’re leaving behind. Landfills dot the country. All the packaging for all the stuff we get from Amazon has to go somewhere. All the tires from our cars go somewhere. All the spent batteries from all of our gizmos have to go somewhere. We have enough money to make the things we buy when we go shopping, but it’s hard for us to find the money to clean up our messes. No one seems accountable for their messes. Not the businesses that create them nor the consumers that finance the messes.
When I look around at the bounty of capitalism that I’ve managed to secure for myself and my family, I think of all the waste that comes with each product that we have bought. The packaging is obvious. I’m thinking about the waste from the manufacturing process. There is always something left over that can’t be used for anything else that must be discarded when something is made.
Every chair, every pot, every TV, shirt, sock, hearing aid battery, ping pong ball, every dish…all of that was made somewhere and waste was created in the process. I think of that when I use what is in my house. I use the things in my home with care, knowing that if I buy another one, that will register in some server as demand, and they will make more of it.
I’m thinking of the movie, “Wall-E”. I’m thinking of that robot that spent 700 years compacting and stacking trash. I’m thinking that there are some people who think that they can just leave their mess for someone else to clean up, and then go to another planet. I’m thinking of just how temporary all of this really is.
The fires remind me of that. I saw the pictures of the burning houses. Temporary. I think of my own home. Temporary. In our lives, they seem permanent. But on geological time, everything around us is temporary.
So I just make the best of what I have around me. My mortgage will mature when I’m 80-something. My kids will have grown up and married by then. I can only hope that my wife and I will still be together by then. In 2009, my wife asked me for the next 50 years. Ok, cool. So when I’m 95, I’m free, right? I hope to be walking with her in the morning when I’m 95. But even then, I know that it’s all temporary. Don’t really know where all this going.
I do know that the earth will recover from us. I also know that the damage we do to the earth will not recover in our lifetimes unless we change course in a hurry. I also know that whatever we’re doing to the earth, the earth will do to us. Anything we do that damages the ecosystem that supports us will have an immediate effect on our capacity to grow the population. We are already seeing the growth rate of the human population begin to slow. I’ve seen estimates that by 2040, our population will begin to decrease, a net negative.
All of the stuff we use now requires brains to build and to maintain. Everything we own requires a decision to be made. When we throw something away, we think that’s the last decision to be made. It’s not. That thing we threw away is still with us, maybe it’s in a landfill instead of our home, but it’s still with us. Someone will still have to make a decision about what to do with everything we created and no longer need anymore.
If the point is to accumulate things as a sign of our success, we’ve missed the true point of our lives. If the point of materialism is to give some context to the people in our lives, then we’re still missing the point of our lives. It is the people in our lives that give meaning to everything around us. All that stuff doesn’t give us meaning. It’s convenient, but what really matters is the people around us. The people give us meaning. Every possession we have gives us something to do that is not with other people. The stuff that we fill our houses with takes time away from the people in our lives.
This is true regardless of the form of government, economy, or society we live in. The TV doesn't matter compared to the people we love. The latest shiny new car doesn’t matter compared to the people we love. Whether or not we have the greatest economy in the history of the world, doesn’t matter when compared to the people we love. And unless we have an ecosystem that supports us, we can’t have the people we love in our lives. There is no economy without air to breathe, water to drink, and a place to live.
So I’ve been working on expanding my vision. I’ve been mindful to be careful with the things that I’ve bought. I’ve been conscientious about the way I prioritize people and things. I kind of tear up when I think that all of this is temporary. So I make a point to spend time with the people in my life, for that is how we build character. And my character is strong.