Over the last few weeks and months we have been doing some work on our house. This has involved countless trips to IKEA, B and Q and the like – all at a time when I have resolved to consume less, to make more with my own hands, to produce more of my own food and to live more simply. All those middle class contradictions are getting to me again- particularly when in the middle of it all I read this;
…Even in the much-publicized rebellion of the young against the materialism of the affluent society, the consumer mentality is too often still intact: the standards of behavior are still those of kind and quantity, the security sought is still the security of numbers, and the chief motive is still the consumer’s anxiety that he is missing out on what is “in.”
In this state of total consumerism – which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves – all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken.
We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
Ouch- I thought as I gathered up the cardboard wrappings of yet another flat packed piece of furniture.
All this stuff we accumulate as we go through life- endless cycles of gathering and clearing out. Journalist Mark Hudson proposed four stages in our relationship with stuff;
- Wanting it all- life is about seeing stuff, wanting it, collecting it, playing with it, wanting the stuff other people have that is better than ours.
- Getting rid of it all- As we head out into the world, we no longer need all those treasures of our childhood- we put it in bags, lofts and dustbins. Experiences become more important
- Buying it all back again- We crave the stuff we used to have, and the feeling of security, pleasure and fulfilment we get from surrounding ourselves with walls of stuff.
- Getting rid of it all again. As we get older, we become more discerning about the stuff we want to hold on to. And we begin to worry about all the sorting out our kids will have to do.
Standing in the middle of my freshly made room, I find myself asking again how on earth can we do it differently- how can we make a better way of being? Is it really possible to exist within this consumer driven culture of ours and not to be consumed by consuming?
Time for another quote;
“We have to create culture! Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR.
Create your own road show The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y.
This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’
And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
I don’t know much about this bloke- I think he was a bit of a Hippie ‘herbalist’, but I find myself in (albeit passive) agreement.
Many of us are longing for life that does not conform to the same tired, self destructive, addictive patterns. Perhaps this year is going to be our year of new beginning.
Let the wild rumpus begin…