Photo by Benson Kua
I was posing the question to you of how we can save people from the perils of consumerism. That drug which lures everyone into a false sense of ego, independence and invulnerability; an illusion of power and control. Such cultural programming has become a drug-like belief by which the possession of material goods will allow us to instantaneously feel complete, successful, in control of our lives and in reconciliation with our internal judge who is never satisfied with our persona. We can realize how dangerous this drug has become when we evaluate its effects at the personal, societal and environmental levels.
Whereas in the 50’s the TV monitor brought daily ritual congregation in the American family, gathering all co-habitating family members and even neighbors, today’s TV has been multiplied four or five fold allowing each member to enjoy his or her respective show or virtual adventure in privacy and quite often in solitude. This trend is taking away the interaction of the individual with family, friends and others.
What about automobiles? Some of us still remember the magic of sharing a road trip, filled with storytelling and radio soundtrack to the natural motion picture projected through the windows. Most households nowadays have 2 or 3 vehicles and the only vehicle carrying more than one person is mom’s minivan or SUV. But unfortunately mom has little time or concentration left for a meaningful conversation with her children, particularly because they are distracted with Game boys, Nintendo’s or the TV in the back seat.
TV’s and cars are just two examples of how technology has increasingly lured us into the dream of independence and separation that fills our powerlessness and submission to society, full of mandates, pressures and responsibilities.
This vision of technological independence and private self-satisfaction feels to me like a masturbation of the ego; a rapid means to relieve our aroused senses believing that the excitement, self-importance and sense of accomplishment generated in the consumption experience will cure our fears and fill our emotional voids.
Think again, this vision has ironically turned us away from self-sufficiency. It has made us addicts of runaway consumption, where we are subjected to an intentional void in our sense of self-esteem and self -realization which generates an insatiable appetite to acquire goods and services condemning us to an artificial comfort zone which we fear to leave. This apparent sense of comfort and safety has drawn us away from family and society. It has taught us to revere individualism turning down our sense of community so necessary for emotional health from the personal to the community level. We have thus disconnected more and more from our relatives and friends increasingly becoming more protective of the time they take from us and less sympathetic to them.
At the societal level, ethics and values have then taken a heavy toll, promoting self-interest, competition and materialism. This is an effective way to get rid of compassion, the only true source and driver for man’s harmony with himself and the planet. In the name of freedom and independence, greed has been institutionalized.
At the environment level, our dangerous ego trip of separation from our own species has made our disconnection with nature only more obvious. That illusion of separation can only make us unaware and insensitive to our degradation of the environment as we encourage the super production, consumption and waste of products. Our cult to self-satisfaction has been very instrumental in the unlimited uncontrolled growth of personal items designed not to be shared, cars, TV’s, DVD’s, MP3’s, computers, etc. The over consumption of these goods is responsible for huge increases of natural resource consumption, pollution and reduction of the planetary natural habitat.
The question that comes to mind is: Can we do anything to stop this quick deterioration of civilization? Unfortunately, the question is very difficult. in spite of the fact that we have the intellectual tools to engineer sustainable solutions that could correct many of the disrupting effects of our industrial existence, the problem cannot be resolved until we let go of our voracious appetite for consumption.
We need to be brought back to the real reality where human values drive our believes and behaviors. We need to regain our sense of empathy, which will trigger love, understanding and devotion for others. We need to let our revived hearts heal our sterile Cartesian reductionist minds and make them understand our iconic fantasy of separated egos.
We cannot live as isolated entities because we are simply connected to nature and everyone else in the planet. We cannot escape such overwhelming reality. Any attempt to do so becomes futile as we learn of the endless pain and lack of satisfaction we experience in this process of “independence”; as our irritability and neurosis develops in the cool of our failed parents’ marriage; as competitive rage makes us fight for a position at work or a parking space; as our non-negotiable self-focus prevents us from saving our friendship, our spouse or our child.
But how can we instill consciousness in this manipulated society at such a fundamental level? How can we recover empathy, love, understanding and the sense of community? I propose recovering the loss of the community institution, the perennial concept of tribe through its most powerful tool, the tribal art of storytelling. Telling stories that are exciting but meaningful.
Interestingly enough the very technology responsible for leading us down the path of isolation can now provide story-telling of global proportions and subsequently take us back to reconnect with ourselves and our human global tribe. It is communication and information technologies that are reversing the trend of isolationist consumerism and teaching us the ecosystemic potential of human development. The digital revolution can be worsen this problem or provide a solution path.
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