modern living

The market is falling and Bush is doing his best to be the calm guide, as are most leaders. I remember 1987, but as a young teenager not for global traumas but just personal / family problems that seemed global at the time… But the radio says it was just as bad then, and we seem to have recovered pretty completely from that, so perhaps this isn’t the 1930s all over again.

Still, what it makes me think of is reflections on consumer capitalism as a way of life, and the question of whether our very method of living is sustainable. This is a cartoon presentation that gives an overview of the issue. It’s a little oversimplified sometimes – the idea of “toxins in, toxins out,” for instance, doesn’t really explain how toxins get out there to begin with, though it does give one example of how it’s often to do with making products flame retardant (and it would make the video even longer to explain the entire history). Likewise it doesn’t get into the story of why a system like this would become entrenched to start with if it has so many negatives, or about the positive aspects this culture might provide. But that’s because we see that constantly, so this is an alternative view, which I think is important to think about.

As a rebuttal to the whole “consumer cog in the machine” idea, I was sent this story of a pencil, which attempts to claim that the fact that no one individual can make a pencil, but instead it’s the product of dozens of bored workers who don’t understand or care how it works, is a beautiful thing – we’re working together! whee! I don’t find it inspiring. It highlights the meaninglessness and wastefulness of the consumer culture – who even needs pencils anymore? The only reason I can think to have them is for those auto-graded tests… In a craft economy, a person’s identity is wrapped up with their profession, but when you work on an assembly line pulling a lever to insert graphite or whatever, you don’t give enough of a shit about it to even know the rest of the process: your identity is wrapped up with getting the paycheck and spending it to prove your worth… to become part of that consumer culture again.

I don’t know if there is a better way, or if that last section is sort of overly hopeful and naive, but I certainly like the idea that we can collectively try to back away from the rat race and try to regain some humanity. Money isn’t everything. We can pursue technology smartly, not dangerously or greedily… at least, I’d like to think we could. Maybe it’s too much to ask of us at this stage of history, but at least the poets and the comedians can drop to the sidelines and watch: Andrei Codrescu offers a nice little tale in that vein.

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