Posted by: gcarkner | September 14, 2013

Recovering Stewardship …3

From Whence Comes Consumerism?

What are the philosophical and historical roots of consumerism? What we now know as the Consumer Society is actually a fairly recent development–roughly since 1945. It is a post-World War II phenomenon. During this era, advertising exploded as an industry. Governments fuelled consumption in order to rebuild their Gross Domestic Product. Factories multiplied and consumer goods increased exponentially both in variety and number as did wealth. The advertising industry went into full gear, utilizing popular media as the means to promoting consumption. The result has been a phenomenal, unstoppable revolution in rising expectations (think cell phones today). And of course with this comes the voracious consumption of natural resources and fossil fuels (cheap energy). One of the reasons that consumerism is so virulent in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is that many in the West have bought into a metaphysical naturalistic materialism as well. Material things are on the ascendant: only the physical world exists and matters to us.

Historically, we find the roots of consumerism in Adam Smith of England, and Benjamin Franklin in America. Smith, the father of modern Capitalism, felt that the individual pursuit of self­-interest would not only benefit the individual economically, but also work for the common good of society. This is his famous trickle down theory–the blessings of the wealthy few were destined to flow to the many. The Invisible Hand of the market would see to it. There would be wealth without end. We notice a key assumption here: i.e. that the enlightened individual was viewed as someone who given lots of freedom, would do the right thing, give back to society and share with the needy. But, has this happened? It appears that some plutocrats have been generously helping in health care and education (Gates, Buffet), but many more (the majority) have not and have used every offshore trick in the book to hide massive tax revenue. Selfishness and greed  (formerly feared vices) have become the new virtues as depicted in the movie “Wall Street” and its sequel.  John Maynard Keynes, a famous twentieth century economist, mirrors Adam Smith with his dystopian phrase: “Avarice and greed must remain our gods for a little longer still.”

The consumer mentality was reinforced in America by Benjamin Franklin. His ideal of the new humanity was a society in utilitarian pursuit of success and prosperity. He encouraged efficient, conforming, acquisitive behaviour. Success and affluence came to replace virtue as a life goal. So, the consumer is told by the economist that there is scarcity and that producers are meeting that scarcity need. Dissatisfaction with present goods is built into the fabric of society and the whole system. Unreflective consumers always feel that they need more, newer, better products. The same consumers fail to see that economists and advertisers employing the latest insights from psychology are themselves fabricating those very needs artificially to encourage consumerism and phenomenal waste. Our capacity to create new needs as fast as we satisfy old ones is well-known psychologically. Economists assume the legitimacy of all material needs and are in the business of creating a multitude of new ones. It is a sad legacy if Western societies are founded on Greed and Self-Interest, rather than stewardship and compassion for the Other and for creation. Yet we claim to be a just society; the incongruency is glaringly obvious. Where is the justice in the fast dwindling Brazilian rainforest or the grinding poverty in developing nations, or the lower income earners in our Western nations (victims of the Subprime Mortgage Scam)? Hubris and greed seem to be very costly indeed. Perhaps there is a need for a paradigm shift in our identity and thinking about how we are going to live together as a human community and how we are going to do economics communally.

~Gord Carkner

Highly recommend the Documentary called “Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve” 

Also Read on this topic the brilliant insights of:

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom

Ostrom identified eight “design principles” of stable local common pool resource management:

  1. Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
  2. Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions;
  3. Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
  5. A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
  7. Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities; and
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.

Paul Williams of Regent College in Vancouver Critique of Capitalism

Virtues & Vices re: Fellow Creatures

Respected Canadian Economic Thinker Jeff Rubin, The End of Growth. (p. 254) “Governments are pulling out all the stops to shock the global economy back to life. Interest rates are at rock-bottom levels, central banks are pumping money into the economy through quantitative easing measures, and governments are spending billions on stimulus packages. Add it all up and it means future tax payers are being hamstrung with mountains of debt that will need to be repaid…. These policies are chasing a vision of the world that’s already in the rearview mirror.”

Niall Ferguson of Harvard Business School, The Ascent of Money;  and  Civilization: the West and the Rest.

Notre Dame’s Brad Gregory The Unintended Reformation. Chapter 5 “Manufacturing the Goods Life”  Sample: “Consumerist ideology succeeds through the inculcation of a manipulative, contradictory message: endless acquisition is the highway to human happiness, and one should be unhappy with whatever one has just been persuaded to purchase, no matter what it is. Arlie Hochschild places consumerist capitalism at the center of the decline  in the American culture of care.” (p. 236)

“Consumerist acquisitiveness, post-Fordist capitalism, postmodern conceptions of the self as endlessly malleable and constructed, and economists’ denial of any meaningful distinction between  needs and wants in favour of demand, are four aspects of the same thing.” (p. 293)

Comfort me with applesJulia Skeen Comfort me with apples Song of Solomon 2: 5

“Julia Skeen’s visionary paintings transform three widespread cognitive disorders of urban homo sapiens: fudging, gulping and forgetting. Fudging is looking without seeing. Gulping is careless consumption devoid of grace. Forgetting is dislocating our being from the biosphere which sustains all life on the planet. These three habits of thought shape much of the behaviour that destroys the natural environment.”

~Marleen Hengelaar, Artway

The Earth’s Call for Responsible Stewards

It is calling for compassion
It is calling for responsible hands
It is calling for stewards,
stewards to see and listen,
stewards to learn and act,
stewards to protect and love.

The earth is crying,
crying over destruction
in her hills and mountains,
fields, valleys and air,
seas, lakes and rivers,
plants, animals and humans.

The earth is calling
men, women, youth and
children to do their share
as stewards: responsible stewards
of what has been entrusted
from the beginning of time.

~Elizabeth Padillo Olesen~

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