Our Consumption and Connections Reinforce Each Other
Back in the way-back machine to a simpler time
Whatever became of that outfit you wore on your first day of kindergarten? What about all those toys, action figures/dolls? Where on earth are your first real Lego-like building blocks? Your stuffed animals?
What happened to that first game console you had decades ago? You haven’t spent much time thinking about where your things from years ago have gone. In effect, they don’t exist for you.
Non-biodegradable toys are a new invention in human history. When you graduate to teen years and then adulthood, overconsumption becomes much worse. You are asked to buy — and waste — much more.
Worse still, as time goes by the durability of objects has also fallen by the wayside. Almost everything is made from petroleum and mixed byproducts. It is made to be disposable so that we all buy too much.
Worst of all, the means of extraction and production of “too much waste” entails a system that produces jobs, and what is fondly called “the economy.” This means that we all are dependent upon it in order to make a living to buy food and products.
Somewhere along the way, we lose connection to one another and our belonging to the natural world.
You and I are both in the modern world
You and I live in an age of expected waste and indulgence.
What about being an elitist? One definition is having the privilege of not even realizing that most people live very differently.
In this sense, almost all of us in the global north have little to no consciousness about the state of the natural world being used up, and/or the rest of humanity and how they live.
Look at this orange and red map of the world and review the data.
From the birds, bees, and beasts, and belonging to a much greater humanity, we are disconnected.
Carbon footprint and foot-in-mouth disease
For most of our lives, we have heard about our huge carbon footprint. This was sold to us to deflect responsibility from polluters and systemically bad policymakers. Here is a story on the shocking origins gifted to us from British Petroleum, but easily used by all fossil fuel profiteers.
Given our human psychology and sociology, knowing our carbon footprint has only been effective at making us feel guilty and miserable. It has not made us change our ways. Our emissions are still increasing, and we are consistently told that our time is running out.
We end up not talking about our worst habits at all. We don’t want to have to swallow our words, or worse, to stick our foot in our mouth socially. We don’t like making others feel uncomfortable. We are social animals that want to do the right thing which is why the footprint campaign ended up working against us for the last few decades.
Recycling systems could work, but they are designed not to work. They are designed to optimize over-use, dependence, and waste. We are all made to feel guilty for not doing better, when in fact we should only feel guilty for not demanding more from leadership and production that are set up to drive growth and profits, not sense and savings of resources.
The circular economy, having everything put back into use until possible efficiency is optimized, is a sound idea, but profitable production systems have found ways around it. From putting accountability into the hands, (and onto the conscience) of the general public by making all sorting a nightmare, to green-washing, we are too distracted and even divided to attend to demanding the system to be improved.
Our social belonging has changed like the weather
If you go to a church or have a spiritual bent, it is likely expressed indoors and not in the pristine cathedrals of forests, plains, shores, or in any of those places our ancestors felt were sacred.
Our spiritual belonging, like our social belonging, ultimately has to do with our ability to see ourselves as connected to our world.
If you care about social issues like inequality and injustice, it feels somehow disconnected from your rate of consumption. Our overconsumption is based on the idea of newer, better, and now, not later. We tend to think of the have-nots as needing to have more of everything which is newer, better, and faster made.
A social contract to spend more time in actual social discourse is not found in popular culture. We are sold the idea of connecting, but no actual means of direct in-person, connecting itself, since that requires no products, platforms, programs, or apps.
The history of our species relied heavily on in-person direct contact. Think of children needing aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors, nieces, and all manner of villagers to “raise a child.” Think of knowing the neighbors’ homes, trails and lakes, hunting and gathering areas, and discussing problems in small groups rather than online.
Much of psychology and sociology today investigates our dependency (and even addiction, some believe) to the internet.
It is not that we shouldn’t change our own worse habits. That is empowering and needs to be done. But while you drive less, or buy less, also make sure you are not shutting out others, and are in fact, joining together in force to address the consumption system itself.
We need to find ways to identify the drivers of our extraction and over-consumption. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by guilt which is deflecting and ultimately has us blame the “other.”
We need instead to realize our human, and worldly dependence upon one another, and our belonging to the natural world which must be protected and shared wisely with opportunity for all.
And all of this has to happen in ways that do not disintegrate our bonds of belonging, but instead, will strengthen and support them.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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