Monday, 9 November 2009

how much is enough?

At the weekend, a trashy glossy mag found my hands. There was a picture of a 3 year old celebrity toddler wearing high heels and having a wardrobe worth 2 million. Sorry, I don't recall if it was pound or dollar, and I don't care really because such minute details are beside the point. Thing is, I got fuming furious.

As I do when I see food being thrown into the bin. Not that I'm never guilty, just that I feel so flipping angry when I see people (including myself) doing it.

Excessive spending, excessive richness, excessive waste do my head in. In my world, there is no justification for the super rich. It annoys me unspeakably when people justify the amount of money some people earn, receive, inherit, or spend. To me, there's only so many resources going around and if someone has more than their share, there are people on the other side with less than their share. In the past, this had led to people calling me a communist. In times of the cold war, it was meant as the ultimate insult. But if that's what communism is about, well, fair enough, let me be one. Although I've never been comfortable with any label, political or not.

The image also reminded me of the intrinsic competitiveness that is in our human nature, which effectively leads to inequalities. Now I'm the last person to claim I'm not competitive. I believe we all are. Competitiveness can be a positive force, something that is all about striving for something better, progress and ultimately positive change. Yet we use it more often than not to aggravate the misery of others. As parents, we seem to automatically become competitive about our children. Who's got the most, the best for their child. The worry that comes with seeing a child do stuff that our own can't yet do. How bad I feel when I visit a house filled with toys. Not about not having them (because I know I don't want so many and neither does my child) but because I know that the other parents must think we're not giving our child the best start we could. Peer group pressure, competitiveness of keeping up with the Jones's. Or the worry that our explanation of our parenting priorities may in turn upset the parent who have transformed their home into a Toys R Us.

And yes I too fret over cute outfits and wish I had an excuse to buy them. In my case, there is no NEED to buy anything, yet I still DESIRE to buy stuff for my little girl. It seems in our parental nature. We want more. More. Ever more. Even if we've managed to disengage from buying ever more for ourselves, it all starts over even more viciously with our children. It's a daily struggle to resist the call for more, the desire to spend. I resent it when this competitiveness leads to mindless consumerism and, yes, greed .

Another mag that found my hand was the New Scientist. Not sure which edition, but it summarised how money shapes us. How, once we've got enough dosh to take care of food and shelter, we are happiest. How once we've got more than that, we become self-sufficient and disengage from human interaction, while if we have less than we need, we become more social because we need the help of those around us to make things work. Neither extreme makes us happy campers apparently. So if being poor and being rich make us unhappy, why do we live in a society where financial gluttonly is heralded and justified, excused with "s/he must work hard for it, s/he has so much responsibility and this has to be rewarded", the 25k rocking horse (thanks J for the example!) while people around the world, including the UK, go hungry, with 1 in 3 children in the UK growing up in poverty? The 25k rocking horse, the 2 million wardrobe of Tom Cruise's 3 year old daughter are wrong, and ultimately unnecessary.

At the same time as we can see from international comparison that those countries are more equal and fare better where the differences between the very rich and the very poor are least pronounced, where in fact a social Spirit Levelhas been achieved. Maybe my anger at greed, the very rich, the wastefulness of every day life, consumerism is well founded because all of this seems to be at the bottom of our society's ill.

I've been reading Not New Year blog with fascination over the past year - because of the very simple idea behind it, the attempt not to consume. It is more than an ecological statement. It is paying tribute to the limited nature of all our resources and the inequalities that our consumer society creates, the dependencies which, in the end, is likely to make us all suffer a rude awakening. I admire anyone who can make such a significant statement in their lives and not buy anything new for 6 out of 12 months. And they show us that it's possible, with conviction and real commitment, a commitment of action, not words.

A first step is of course to recognise our greed, our fascination with money and what money can buy us. The next step is to take stock of how much is enough: Do we really and truly need to consume the way we do? How can we consume less and in the process create a just society? Can we create general wealth by going with less (not without)? Is this possible to tweak our system or do we need to rethink it from scratch? Can we replace greed with compassion?

Above all, how can I make a small but significant start in my own life to waste less, buy less, give more to those who need (rather than desire) more? How can I free myself of the desire to have more when really and truly I have enough? Because at the end of the day, my gain is somebody else's loss.


zooarchaeologist said...

Agree, agree and agree with all these sentiments. Just finding them a little hard to carry out properly in a serious money commuter belt town.
Am creeping back towards joining them rather than making do. I even bought a pair of trousers the other day, not something I have done for myself in about 5 years.
Its the flashy celebrity lifestyle that fuels it all, if you dont know about stuff you dont want it. They should be setting a good example. Shameful.
I am now about to embark on a long rantish waffle so instead I will go and have a look at that blog you recommended...

Weston-super-Mum? said...

Financially, we survive on very little and I don't think I've ever been happier. My Girl is three and is healthy, warm and has so much bloody plastic. Thing is I have bought relatively little, for one thing I haven't the resources but mostly because so many people now recycle. Most of her clothes and toys have been handed down from friends and I will continue to pass on what I can.

I remember being in a baby superstore (I know) to get a car seat and all women seemed to be saying, "Oh, look. How lovely." and the men, "Yes, but we don't really need one, do we?"

As for food waste, you know what they say, "Make a friend of your freezer."

Fabulous post and so, so true

Zoe said...

A super post, and very appropriate given that we're now in the (long) run-up to Christmas.

Hot Cross Mum said...

A great post and very timely given the mass consumerism which happens in 'celebration' of christmas. The world has gone a little crazy I'm afraid. Good for you for trying to do your bit to bring it back on track.

Sinclair said...

My family lives on very little, and we have cut way back on consumer spending. (Not that we were ever lavish in the first place.) The greed and the frivolous spending of the very rich angers me because there are so many who could be helped so much by just a fraction of what is spent. That 25k rocking horse could fund a frugal family for a year. However, I do not go so far as to say they shouldn't have their money, and I certainly don't believe in communism. (The people at the top there always had/have more as well. There is always somebody at the top.) I just wish they would choose to help others more where it really counts.

For myself, I have started my own charity giving effort on my second blog, I felt that there was little I could do because I don't have funds to give, but there is so much need in the world. So, I found a way to make a difference in a way that I actually could. I find it very rewarding to give to others in any way I am able. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

cartside said...

Zooarchaeologist, making do is a very hard choice. And you've blogged about the question if the financial gain is a personal loss if you're running your tail off every single day.

Weston Super Mum, it's great that recycling is becoming more widespread now, still a long way to go around here though! Glasgow is definitely behind in that respect.

Hot Cross Mum, I'm trying but I'm not very good at it I have to admit. I haven't gone as far as a not new year year, not even a month! I'm full of admiration for Tammy for doing it.

Zoe, and I never even thought of Christmas when I wrote this, but of course, yes, it's that time of senseless spending again. I'm trying to give as many handmade presents as I can, where the time spent with a person in mind counts, not the amount spent on them. Reality is that between work and family, there's not much time to make things.

Sinclair, I love your projects, and it's fabulous that you've set up something to help others in very practical ways, without money even. Oh, and I don't believe in communism either, so far, it clearly hasn't worked - maybe because it's contrary to human nature. I do believe though that there should be much more equity.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Great post. Am too tired to think of anything intelligent to say just now (as opposed to my usual wittiness, haha), but you are very spot on here, as usual. x



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