Consumerism has to end. By which I mean all of us constantly buying new stuff, to stimulate perpetual growth, as the basis for buoying up economies – as the American public were so famously urged to do by President Bush after 9.11.
It can’t go on. Surely. We have to find another model.
This thought struck me very strongly in a shop called The Emporium at Disneyworld, Florida, where I was a couple of weeks ago.
It was Saturday night and we’d decided to head to ‘Downtown Disney’ – a kind of Disney capital city within the nation state of Disneyworld – for dinner. Me and my beloved pal, Karen and our two tween kids.
Downtown Disney is basically a theme park of consumerism. It consists of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops – all of them entirely Disney, whether they be an Irish pub, a Mississippi steamboat restaurant, a candy store, an ice cream parlour, or the Christmas store.
The Emporium was the department store, selling all the Disney merchandise across all the ranges from the obvious stuffed toys, to jewellery, homewares, gift food, make up, luggage, clothing… I could go on.
Among all the merch, was a roiling mass of temporarily insane people, wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth as they scoped the endless shelves of tempting trinkets, in a state of extreme excitement, adrenalin pumping on a consumer high – anxious lest they miss out on some essential cute item to take home, or purchase as a ‘gift’.
To me, it was Dante’s inferno, although I did examine the offer in detailed fascination at quite how many ways the Disney icons can be exploited in fundamentally useless objects.
Then I started to imagine how it would all subsequently look in the Illinois homes, Kentucky trailers and New York apartments where it would end up. Where, after an initial coo of excitement it would gather dust and eventually be thrown away.
Is this really what we are exploiting the earth’s resources for? I found myself thinking, feeling quite ill at the prospect. Images from the amazing 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi flashed into my head.
If you haven’t seen it – I urge you to (the trailer is at the bottom). It’s astonishingly moving to watch and hear (the music is by Philip Glass), but way beyond that is the message – even more pertinent today than it was thirty years ago.
The title is a word from the language of the Hopi Indians of the American South West, meaning ‘life out of balance’ and the film is a breathtaking – and heartbreaking – visual essay of time lapse photography, contrasting the beauty of the natural world, with man’s impact upon it.
Watching the crazed consumers in the Downtown Disney Emporium, desperate to snap up their Piglet Pillow Pets, Goofie Picnic Cups, Mickey Mouse Rollerbags, Sleeping Beauty Necklaces etc etc etc, I remembered the moment in the film when it cuts from a beautiful untouched landscape to a heavy digger, clearing the ground for mining.
All that destruction and pollution for rubbish like this. The water tables of central Asia destroyed to grow cheap cotton, the factory cities of China belching out pollution – for a Minnie Mouse oven glove and tea towel set.
Now, I could write what I properly understand about economic theory on the back of a Donald Duck coaster – I’m fairly well across Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, but then it gets a bit hazy – but it seems to me that the concept of constant perpetual growth being necessary to keep things on an even keel is fundamentally flawed.
We simply cannot sustain ever increasing production indefinitely. It’s common sense. We’re creating mountains of trash using the resources mined out of real mountains. I have this image of the world collapsing like a balloon, empty on the inside.
There has to be another way and I believe it’s going to start from the ground up. Not from elevated ideas, but because our houses are getting full up – see my previous posts on clutter clearing.
Since I’ve started doing that, using valuable time and energy to clear out stuff I have mindlessly consumed, so I have room to live more comfortably, the urge to bring more stuff in, has left me.
I know it’s not just me, or even a tiny minority of hippie types who forage hedgerows for food. Talking to my friends there seems to be an increasing understanding that – just like any other addiction – non-stop shopping creates too many problems in our lives to justify that transient pleasure hit.
So what is the alternative to constant ‘growth’ as the basis of economies? Can anyone tell me what to read?