This is going to be a difficult post to write, and categorise (technically, I wrote most of it on the 11th, just finished it up on the 26th).
I’ve been thinking about stuff. That can be a dangerous thing to do, but I just kept doing it.
I’m working tech support. I work a job that I’m not really enjoying right now, to provide tech support for people whose internet connections are not working in the way they expect them to, and I am a means to the end that they wish to reach. Some are reasonable. Many are not. I do it to earn money to keep a roof over my family’s head. A roof that is owned by someone else.
I do it to put clothes on my children’s backs. What clothes should I buy for my children? The clothes that are made of cheap materials in sweatshops in China, or the clothes made of more expensive materials from sweatshops in Taiwan? How about my shoes? Cheap shoes that fall apart after three months and make my feet fall apart, or more expensive shoes that start to fall apart six months later?
I’m staring into the belly of the beast, and it’s not a pretty sight.
I get up at 6:00am, to leave for work by 7:15am. I get home around 5:00pm. I work to make money to buy stuff so my kids can survive and get an education so that they will be able to get a good job to make money to… buy stuff?
Wait a minute.
The difficult thing about this internal examination is this:- I pondered these deep difficult ideas about consumerism while driving home in my $30000 car listening to my $600 iPod via it’s $150 radio transmitter sitting in it’s $50 dock, then got home and sat down on my $1500 lounge and put my $160 Nikes up on the coffee table while I drank my Coke Zero and wrote about it on my $5000 laptop.
Does this make me the worst kind of hypocrite? When I bought those things I wasn’t thinking about the machine, I was just a willing participant. Now what?
I need a reliable car to travel the 40km round trip to work each day. Public transport isn’t exactly the panacea for all of my travelling woes. I could have paid less for a diifferent car – but I also passed on my long legs to my children. I didn’t need the iPod. Or the transmitter and dock. The lounge was cheap, for what we got. If we’d paid less and bought a “budget” lounge – how long would it have lasted? Longer than this one? Who knows?
I’m 6’4″ and weigh … more than I should. I’m hard on shoes, and I mostly wear the same pair of sneakers each day. I can look at $250 sneakers and that seems a bit excessive… but to someone else looking at what I paid for my shoes…?
What about if my laptop dies at the end of the warranty period? Do I replace it? What if my iPod gets stolen? Or my car gets stolen with my iPod and laptop inside it? They’re not covered by the comprehensive insurance on the car.
The question is… what is the alternative? I can’t afford to buy a house outright (thus giving me the impression of control over my own destiny), I can’t even afford for the bank to lend me the money to buy a house and let them control my destiny. So I live in a rented house, where the impulsive acts of a four year old with a permanent marker require that I pay for new carpet to be laid in at least one room of the house (possibly two, thanks to the two year old).
Do I quit my job? Paying the rent becomes a little difficult. So does feeding the children. I’m not sure what I have to offer them as they grow up. “Hey, you can grow up to get a job where you’ll be underappreciated, seen as a resource to be used and discarded if necessary, so that you can make money to buy more stuff.”
So what triggered this thought?
iTunes and Hollywood. No, I’m not kidding. I have friends who are musicians. They barely live on what they make. They’re producing something that has been by and large reduced to a 99c commodity. I had one friend relay the story of someone who came up them at a gig and absolutely raved how much they loved this person’s music and how they owned every CD they had released. Not realising that her husband had ripped every single CD to MP3 from a friend of theirs (until the husband sheepishly admitted it to my friend).
Then she walked away without buying a CD. I bought the CD. I ripped it to my iPod, but I’m not sharing it with anyone.
How do my friends survive when art is reduced to a commodity? Mind you… they seem to be quite happy to me. I have to ask one of my friends if they are happy – or if they long to own a house of their own. If they’d sacrifice their art on the altar of consumerism and throw away their dreams to have the house and car and 2.5 kids. Do they long to join the rat race…?
I’m surrounded by people trying to get ahead… of WHAT? What are you trying to get ahead of? Why are you trying to make more and more money? So you can buy a house, do it up, sell it to buy a better one? What about people buying houses for investment? So they can afford to get further ahead of their tenants!?
I bought my new car because my old car was falling apart. It was falling apart because I hadn’t taken good care of it by getting it serviced regularly. I wasn’t getting it serviced regularly because I couldn’t afford to. I couldn’t afford to because I was running my own business that was barely turning a profit. I barely turning a profit because I insisted on building PCs myself instead of selling pre-built systems from my suppliers – and because many people would get a quote, then buy something cheaper from Dell.
See… a whole chain of events. I bought my new car with the profits we made from selling our old house. Probably the only house we’ll ever own. On a single wage, I will most likely never be able to afford to buy a roof to put over my family’s head. Instead, I live in constant fear of one of the children damaging the house that belongs to someone else, in a way that will cause us to have to invest what little of the savings we have left in repairing a house that belongs to someone else.
At what point do we say “enough is enough”? All around us there is a constant stream of noise trying to convince us to buy more stuff. Buy this song for 99c! (AU$1.69). Buy this TV show that you saw last night for US$1.99. Don’t drink water, buy Coke Zero! Piss your money away on a constant stream of little things. We need you to spend money so that people can make money so we can tax them so we can buy bigger guns that can kill people more effectively. (As a side note, if the old gun killed someone effectively, why the hell do we need new guns? Do they make people deader?)
I live the tiny part of the planet that has more than enough, and a hell of a lot more that the other 98% of the planet. I could sponsor a child on the other side of the planet for $30 per month. Everybody should spend $1 less each day and sponsor a child. I should! If we sponsor enough children, we might be able to help those countries lift themselves out of the hell they’re in so that they can get an education and get a job and buy Coca-Cola and iPods like us.
Is that overly cynical? Perhaps. But what is the point. To me it’s obvious that we (rich western world) should be doing something to assist the third world, particularly in countries where the Government wants to spend the aid we provide on health and food and education rather than guns and palaces, but to what end are we providing this aid? What goals are the rich western world leading our third world family to? Are we that much better off? Maybe financially, but morally? Ethically? Are our bellies full but our hearts starved and malnourished?
Do we really want to help Africa to join the rat race?