“I don’t mind stealing bread
From the mouth of decadents
But I can’t feed on the powerless
When my cup’s already over-filled…
I’m going hungry.”
– Temple of the Dog, Hunger Strike
There is nothing in this world today that has not been touched by the culture of mass consumption. There’s over seven billion people out there today and every single one of their lives revolves around a system built to provide demanded products to those who can afford them. Those who can’t afford the goods to survive must serve their wealthy direct or indirect employers until they, their children, their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, or their distant descendants of a distant future can eventually claw their way up the social ladder to join the ranks of the consuming elite. If someone wants something, someone else will do whatever needs to be done to provide for the consumer. The consumer wants more, so no matter what the cost, they are going to get more. Because the world is measured in quantity, the quality of production, the quality of labor conditions, the quality of food, the quality of animal enclosures, the quality of air, the quality of water, the quality of life is all sacrificed. Nearly every major problem the world faces today — deforestation, human trafficking, pollution, homelessness, loss of biodiversity, urban slums, abuses of large agribusinesses — all boils down to one thing: the demands of an oversized consumer population.
A long time ago, our social systems revolved around survival — hunter gathering, subsistence agriculture, crafts trades — but then some of us got good at that. They got so good at surviving that they didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Standards of living rose and demands to make living more comfortable rose with it. Everyone just wants and wants and wants, so they learned to take advantage of those who were had not yet masters of survival by turning fear into efficiency. Low wages keep everyone hungry, hunger turns to desperation, desperation leads to violations of human rights and sanity. When you’re at the top, you’re at the top and it doesn’t matter how many small businesses or poor laborers you’ve hurt or how many health, safety, environmental, or human rights violations you’ve made to get what you’ve got, as long as you’ve got it. There’s a story behind every product on the market place, and unfortunately, most of those are stories of corruption and injustice.
“There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill”
– John Lennon, Working Class Hero
Meanwhile, the folks at the bottom are hurting. They’re sleeping in makeshift tents in the woods or cardboard boxes on the streets. They’re dehydrated picking fruit under the sun or inhaling chemical fumes in factories. They’re forced to put their livestock in cages and spray their crops with toxic pesticides. They’re forced to accept lower and lower wages because that’s all they can do to keep hanging on. That’s what has to be done to feed the famished commercial machine.
“…No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard
Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard”
– Lou Reed, Dirty Blvd.
If we weren’t all such depraved, thoughtless consumers, maybe we would stop and wonder about the conditions under which our shiny, new, fattening, lead painted, genetically modified products all came from. Was my new cardigan made by a child slave in China? Did the company that made my multipurpose household cleaner ever dump toxic sludge into the ocean? Was my new jewelry tree illegally made from the endangered, state-protected manzanita? Before it was slaughtered in a cold steel factory, did my hamburger ever know what it was like to walk through a field of grass? Maybe the time has come to change the system, it’s time to make the world less about wanting and more about caring.
“Who’s gonna save me?
Who’s gonna save me?
I pray that sense and reason brings us in”
– Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mine
Having faith that the world can change for the better isn’t unrealistic. Idealism is potential realism, as long as people are willing to take action. We know the consequences of our demand for more goods, so why can’t we fix our mistakes? It’s time to take the hands of the suppressed and pull them up instead of continuing to keep them down. It’s time to be aware of what we are consuming and how it’s affected the the environment, people, and communities around the world. With heightened awareness, we can prevent mindless consumerism from sucking the soul out of every single aspect of our lives. Destruction and suffering isn’t sustainable. If we could all just take the time to care a little bit more, then we could tear down the system blind gluttony and look towards a future that is still productive, but is thoughtful and compassionate as well.
“Is it only a dream that there will be no more turning away?”
– Pink Floyd, On the Turning Away