Table of Contents
The chapter presents an accurate and ironic summation of the media-driven craze of mindless consuming that characterises modern life in the ‘globalised’ 21st Century. The days have never been finer for those whose views of happiness are based on having a profusion of material possessions.
It is rather surprising how many people purchase a bewildering amount of items, that are more often than not absolutely unessential to human health and happiness. The fact that companies selling coloured, sweetened water with more damage-causing properties than nutritive ones are earning billions, would have shocked our ancestors. And yet, Pepsi and Coca-Cola are sold even in the remotest corners of the world. The writer highlights that the largest and most influential thought-control endeavor ever attempted is advertising.
Some statistics reveal the true extent of this phenomenon. The fast-food giant McDonald’s spends more than 1.4 bn dollars annually on advertising. Ridiculous amounts are spent to attract people to purchase stuff they do not even need thus turning them into buying machines. Shopping is no longer a need but a form of entertainment, an obsessive compulsion that people have little control over.
An American survey presents that most Americans spend half their leisure time watching television and the other half, shopping. Very recently, Indians have been introduced to the concept of “choice”. Indians are finally getting the kind of choices that people in the West have enjoyed for a long time. The high-consumption lifestyles of their First World counterparts are now well within reach of India’s upper-middle classes and they’re loving every minute of it.
The Tragic Comedy of “Development”
While pockets of private riches grow, public resources continue to deteriorate. Thus an astonishing range of sleek new cars are available to select from, but the cities’ roads are in poor shape and are worsening. Even the most basic services are increasingly being pushed into the private sector so that some firm can profit from them. The impoverished are forced into becoming consumers of increasingly expensive goods and utilities as a result of this process. Advertisers are working hard to turn rural areas into markets of mass exploitation where it will be easier to get a bottle of Coke rather than tender coconut or buttermilk. Consequently, plastic pollution is increasing in rural areas at an alarming rate.
While enthusiasts are longing for the day when India turns into America, sadly it will occur when our plastic waste equals America’s. When this occurs, we will no longer be looked down on as a “developing” country, but as the “advanced West”. It is to actualize this vision that millions of our youth are rushing to get their MBA degrees.
The Only Way Out
The worldly practicality of this vision with regards to available resources is terribly inadequate and in order to make it possible, one would require at least three more planets. This consumer paradise would prove to be an ecological holocaust. Businessmen can’t be trusted to have the wisdom to consider the well-being of humanity, let alone the health of the planet. That is not part of their education. They are primarily taught to maximize profits for the companies that employ them.
The only way to salvage sanity is for local communities, civil societies, and democratic governments to reclaim the autonomy that they surrendered to multinational corporations. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the earth has enough for every man’s need but not enough for every man’s greed. In order for life to be truly meaningful and sustainable, one must make a spiritual and philosophical shift from materialistic gains to the ‘commodities’ of the spirit – the arts, culture, community life.
Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century American philosopher, observed, “superfluous wealth can buy only superfluities… Money is not required to buy even one necessity of the soul.”
Rather than purchasing from these huge multinational companies, we must promote small local businesses. One can only hope that humanity will be able to summon enough soul force to limit the damage caused by uncontrolled materialism, if we truly shop until we drop, we leave nothing significant left on our precious Mother Earth.