Has anyone made a mental note of the fact that our Federal government is issuing payments to homes that need financial support in order to move their TVs into the digital age?
By strange coincidence, I viewed a 20-minute version of "The Story of Stuff" yesterday, and of course that wonderful documentary includes not only the physical impacts of consumerism but also talks about the effects of consumerism on society. According to measurements, happiness peaked for the USA in the 1950s, just when the corporate-calculated move to encourage consumerism was starting. The video discusses how we live in relation to our goals, and how our material habits interact with the other parts of our lives.
By the end of the Story of Stuff video, we humans are shown as frequently caught in a circle of watching television and receiving "buy" messages via the commercialism of television, then going out and shopping, then working extra hard to pay for the things we have bought or want to buy, and then being exhausted and going home to watch more television and receive more buying queues from the television. Repeat ad nauseum.
Now, I know that does not describe 100% of anyone's life, but it has an eerily familiar ring in the life of many people I know. Fortunately I do not shop much or watch TOO much television - but my daily watching of an hour re-run of Law and Order flavors 1, 2, or 3 does smack of some kind of mental fatigue. Many friends similarly avoid television, but all seem to be caught in a hard-work cycle that resembles a treadmill.
Why are we working so hard? Why is it hard to see family and friends? In the documentary "Sicko" it can be seen how much more enjoyment of life is built into the societies of European countries such as France, than here in the supposedly wealthy USA. And my last question on the topic is, why is our government afraid that some of us might lose contact with our televisions after February 2009, when our world goes digital - or at least the TV world does? Sending us money to upgrade our televisions seems bizarre until one concludes that we are living in a painful state, as a society, with too little pleasure (of all types) and too much to achieve in a material world. Just as the Story of Stuff would predict is happening, the government is the "drug pusher" where the drug in this case is the mind-numbing, sedative, commerce-inducing, television set.
Daniel Quinn with his Ishmael and related books talks of a culture that has taken over a good part of humanity, a culture based on infinite expansion. From Henry Thoreau's famous statement that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation", to the often-repeated economist mantra of never-ending economic "growth", there have long been indicators that our values were leading to greater material wealth, and perhaps less satisfaction. Studies have indeed shown that wealth and happiness do not correlate.
In the end, it is the combined small acts of individuals and even the government that will decide whether we are a society of dedicated materialists who are doomed to spiral out and burn as we consume our entire environment, or can we be re-born on a massive scale under the pressure of necessity, to become a more caring, relationship-centered and wisdom-centered society and world.
I will not take government assistance to upgrade my television. I think the government can better use the funds to support wind and other solar-based, renewable power than to upgrade my or anyone else's television. Let's not forget those most empty political words of the 21st century by our President George Bush, after the terrorist attacks, when he asked Americans to go out and shop, in order to help our country.
May we awaken soon and see the beautiful day that is all around us instead of living the shopping addiction and opiate, with its partner of cable and broadcast television, that dominates to this day.