DO WE HAVE TO CONSUME AND WASTE SO MUCH?
Let us take a typical day of two typical citizens, one a working adult and the other a schoolchild. Let’s call the adult Jane and the child Billy. Jane is married with a young son, Billy. Her husband gets up far earlier than the rest and is away at his job when the rest have to get up by 7 am. Jane wakes up, wake Billy up. But Billy, wants to crawl up more and Jane has no time to argue. She has to get the 8am train to her job. She rushes to the bath, comes out, dries and dresses herself and puts the kettle and the toaster up. Pending their products she again goes to wake up Billy, this time more seriously. Eventually Billy has to get up and follow mum to the breakfast table where they gorge themselves in a hurry. Off goes Billy to the bathroom and bedroom to dress with mum’s help. She almost drags him into the street by 7.30 am making him join the other schoolchildren similarly expelled by their working parents for a bus ride to the school which starts its morning assembly at 8.30 but young children with working parents are not trusted with making their own way to school at a later time. So they have a too early and desolate morning outdoors, summer and winter.
Taking the usual train Jane barely makes to her workplace by 9 am and until 5pm she has to slave for the ruthlessly efficiency-conscious boss who will watch even her visits to the toilet and monitor her phone calls for any foul play. Exhausted by 5pm she rushes home. En route she has to stop at the school, pick up Billy from afternoon care staff and take the bus home together. They are home about 6.30 pm, make a cup of tea and Billy gorges another chocolate bar pending the dinner at 8pm just before when dad, Johnnie arrives even more exhausted. Of course all three have their day’s story to tell and reports to give. The two adults additionally have their day’s frustrations with the boss and the colleagues or customers and even perhaps flirtatious moments all of which are churning up various conflicting turmoils in their viscera. Because some of these cannot be declared the stresses remain and must be vented by proxy means. Johnnie may begin shouting about the bad quality of the hastily prepared dish or burnt pizza while Jane, frustrated with poor sex life the hands of a over-tired or already adulterously satisfied Johnnie. Or other way round. For his part Billy finds little opportunity to air his day’s complaints and frustrations and even if he could the two adults would have little time and real energy to listen to and address them. Everybody waits for the weekend and ultimately the ritualised family yearly holiday.
Even then hectic activities are planned because the modern urban person has not learned just relaxing and enjoying himself naturally but rushing to drinks, dance, sports and more sex all in a row. He is an incurable world-conscious, self-forgot robot approximating artificial intelligence and the moon-landing module. Feelings and emotions are routinely suppressed, forced rational thinking preferred and needs of the soul ignored. Religion is often regarded an irrelevance, considered with doubt at best and with more bored disgust than curiosity. Love is reduced to ‘love-making’ or at least worthwhile if rather quick sexual conquest is likely. Modesty and shame have long departed and are regarded with embarrassment in both sexes as outdated if not outright superstitious. As a result younger and younger children are experimenting with various forms of sexual intercourse with or without adult knowledge and consent. Every person is fair game to every other provided consent is extracted by means fair or foul.
We have hedonism once more ruling the world in the West of it as it periodically ruled many other societies in history who were too ‘advanced and enriched’ for their own good, like the classical Greeks and Romans. At the zenith of their powers fed by wealth these two sister civilizations won by both military and economic victories (colonizing the whole Mediterranean basin from the Near East to Gibraltar) similar leisure and means were created for their elite classes and developing urban populations of freemen who then like now followed the twin path of academic and technical advancements and a hedonistic and luxurious life style in which traditional mores and forms declined and sexual liberties and centrifugal social tendencies empowered. Families broke down and generation gaps widened, adultery, fornication, homosexuality and prostitution became almost prestigious if not honorable and artists of all sorts became the new idols of the people as they are today. An actor or singer, like today, commanded astronomical fees worth a lifetime’s earnings for top lawyers and doctors and religion was generally derided and philosophies justifying the loose and luxurious life joyfully endorsed. And again like today, waste was half the economy if not more.
To see this waste let us consider today’s economies. Beginning from food items is estimated that half of the agricultural produce go to waste even before reaching the consumer. Too much might have been produced too easily, delays between harvesting and reaching the consumer’s table were too long, a lot remained unsold in retail premises like supermarkets and stalls because of the greedily too high- prices. To illustrate this last point let me give you some current examples. Today, thanks to their immense buying power and volume main markets are buying out entire crops at least at half the price the greengrocers are buying. So, if the latter buys ten cases of tomatoes at £4 per case the supermarket buys for only £2. In fact far less because they often buy from huge farms or farming complexes at dirt cheap prices packed and delivered. Yet tomatoes are often sold cheaper by small retailers than their giant competitors. At Harringay in
And both kinds of retailers have to throw away a substantial part of their perishable wares because simply too much are arriving at their premises. That they could sell for far less is obvious from the fact that canned tomatoes of excellent quality sell for far far less than the fresh variety despite being canned back in
To keep this horrendous waste going we need more people to be employed. Food is not alone in this. Streets and refuse bags and bins are bursting not only throw-away food but clothes, footwear, often deliberately broken furniture, mattreses, pillows, broken electrical things from kettles to TVs all because labour is at a premium and repairing something normally costs more than buying it new. You may buy a pair of quite reasonable trousers for as low as £7 from anywhere, especially at sale times but take it to a dry cleaner for cleaning and zip change and you may pay as much. A 6” zip may cost the trader 10p but just to put it on which takes 3 mins he charges you £3. A washing machine bough for £250 may cost as much to repair with only one part replaced!
Transport vehicles from jet airlines to mopeds are carrying hundreds of millions of people at any given moment ‘from A to B’ often for n good reason except boredom on the part of their passengers which are bored for the reason that they haven’t that minimum amount and quality of moral and spiritual values to regard life as anything more than conatantly doing something physical to cheer up of kill time.
All such production and consumption items have to be overproduced or over consumed many times and products thrown away to add to the artificial of waste polluting both land, sea and air. While the rich nations are so unnecessarily massively consuming and throwing away the products of world’s raw materials. Then comes the duty of cleansing and reclaiming these polluted natural resources.
The result is the requirement of a workforce to not only produce the unnecessarily massive amounts of products and services but to fight the pollution and also diseases and accidents caused by all these activities.
Other than these direct production and consumption line side effects we also have to contend with the spiritual and moral losses.
We always listen to and talk about happiness. Because material deprivation is basic to our feeling down we make the mistake that by supplying us with abundant material need items we create happiness once and for all. This is hardly the case however. Satisfying hunger or wrapping up in woollens or listening to music from your CD is pleasant no doubt. But all these fall short of what man needs to be happy in a basic and sustained sense in life. Man, being a spiritual being with values, ideals and imagination which keeps creating many needs and cravings lower animals are unaware of needs more than animal satisfactions to find and enjoy himself fully. He even needs problems and enemies to fight and if these do not show up naturally he then need invent them. That is why perfectly prosperous and hedonistically well-provided for persons become so bored with all their material thrills and pack up to climb the Himalayas or go lion-hunting in
Another area of going beyond hedonistic life which embellish the dreams of many poor people and nations but bore to death their rich counterparts is the spiritual quest. Again, we find people interested in this quest abandon their hedonistic nest and deliberately court hardship and danger to obtain a more worthwhile something out of life. So we find Guatama (6th century BC), the newly wed Indian prince who abandoned his royal life and underwent great hardships deliberately until he attained his Nirvana and founded one of the greatest spiritual schools of mankind. His much later spiritual analogue was count Leo Tolstoy, one of the top giants of Russian and world literature who lived in the 19th century. He abandoned his royal life and shared his goods and toils with his peasant tenants in order that he attained spiritual enlightenment. Same with Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Same with many great mystics. Judging by results and the following they amassed and ages they dominated there is no doubt that spiritual seekers and attainers have been the most successful among men who looked something more worthwhile in life than plain hedonistic lifestyle. No artist, no physical explorer or conqueror, no scientist and even giant philosopher have enjoyed more appreciation, admiration, love and obedience than these prophets and saints who still rule over billions of people’s hearts including only too many artists, scientists etc.
So by common experience and historical arbitration spiritual quest and fulfilment is the top worthwhile activity of man- no doubt about it.
Of course we are not saying that we must all be prophets or saints or we can be. That has never been the case with humanity and may never be. What we mean is that we must not waste our precious lives in the hot and heady pursuit of economic competition to the exclusion of at least equally important things from the preservation of the integrity of our natural environment to the preservation of our own natures. On these two points the news are that thanks to chemical pollution male sperm counts are falling all over the world because of the oestrogen-like synthetic chemicals invading our foods waters and even lower animals like fish are being feminized. Destruction of the ozone layer or the accumulating mercury levels in the oceans and its finding its way into our food through the sea food we eat…. all these and hundreds more forms of environmental deterioration are directly related to over-production, over-consumption and the dumping of the products of our economy which is spiralling out of control. We certainly do not need to produce, consume and throw away so much, so why are we doing it?
Let me tell you a real story which isn’t a rare example. There are some old ladies who are cut off even from their children and grandchildren and live extremely lonely lives. They simply have got too much time on their hands with two little to do. They are so depressed that they do not want even to tidy up their beds. Ordinary house chores look to them daunting. Yet these same ladies work much harder than other old ladies who are not as lonely and as depressed as they are. One of them I know found her solution in do-gooding to an absurd extent. Without doing her house chores like making her bed or washing up her tea cup she rushes out every morning to ingratiate as many people as she can find so that she feels wanted and liked. She learned from experience that nobody is interested in her or likes her. Being of the older generation her values clash with the younger and she cannot stop criticizing people for their bad ways one way or another. In return they ostracize her and she finds herself even more isolated. As those who know her locally will not look at her she each day has to go farther and farther away to make first time acquaintances in the hope that some will stick. She offers free help to stall holders in market places, to charity shops and other elderly like driving them to their appointments. Only some accept her unsolicited offers, receive her free services and chase her off as her nagging and criticizing habits begin to alienate them. She then turns to animals in desperation. She collects throwaway food with which she feeds local foxes, squirrels, birds etc but this time neighbours turn on her for messing their greens and pathways with rotting food remnants etc etc. Hers is a life of constant unnecessary activities leading to need for more unnecessary activities as the former activities cause problems.
Today’s consumer societies are like this. Devoid of values and better things to do with themselves people run to newer and newer fads and thrills which revs up and proliferates the already excessive economic activity. A recent TV documentary was showing British spending £250 million a year on cosmetic surgery just to look younger or by somebody they fancied. One young woman spent a fortune on some 25 operations in order to look like a queen of ancient
Another example of this values crisis leading to unnecessary economic activity is the rapidly changing fashion. Blue jeans are made and then ground and torn here and there to look like tramps wear and youths wearing them walk the pavements proudly exposing a knee here and a buttock there. One fears that the days may not be far away when they walk with mud or paint daubed all over their heads, hands and bare feet just too look like tired third world labourers returning from farm work. I am not blaming the youths but their seniors who are so busy with their excessive economic activities that their children, left to their own devices much like the lonely old lady have to invent interests and activities to satisfy those interests as best as they can. Even these must have been insufficient to fill and kill their time and hard drugs and too much too irresponsible sex had to fill the gap. We see something similar in a classroom where an incompetent teacher can neither provide pupils with adequate work nor inspire the motivation to do the work supplied. The children get bored and begin to resort to all sorts of silly and even dangerous acts like throwing about rulers or rubbers, hitting at each other or even running away from the classroom. All the desperate silly acts of the modern western youth must be seen in this light of lack of guidance and moral care by their elders and their desperate attempts to fill and kill their surplus time by silly interests and their sillier methods of satisfaction.