The Gospel of Consumption

Photograph: Brian Ulrich
Photograph: Brian Ulrich

PRIVATE CARS WERE RELATIVELY SCARCE in 1919 and horse-drawn conveyances were still common. In residential districts, electric streetlights had not yet replaced many of the old gaslights. And within the home, electricity remained largely a luxury item for the wealthy.

Just ten years later things looked very different. Cars dominated the streets and most urban homes had electric lights, electric flat irons, and vacuum cleaners. In upper-middle-class houses, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, curling irons, percolators, heating pads, and popcorn poppers were becoming commonplace. And although the first commercial radio station didn’t begin broadcasting until 1920, the American public, with an adult population of about 122 million people, bought 4,438,000 radios in the year 1929 alone.

But despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.

It was this latter concern that led Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a 1929 magazine article called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” He wasn’t suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products. Along with many of his corporate cohorts, he was defining a strategic shift for American industry — from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones.

In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called “need saturation.” Davis noted that “the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year” and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, “It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three days’ work a week.”

Business leaders were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of a society no longer centered on the production of goods. For them, the new “labor-saving” machinery presented not a vision of liberation but a threat to their position at the center of power. John E. Edgerton, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, typified their response when he declared: “I am for everything that will make work happier but against everything that will further subordinate its importance. The emphasis should be put on work — more work and better work.” “Nothing,” he claimed, “breeds radicalism more than unhappiness unless it is leisure.”

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption” — the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

Today “work and more work” is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but “higher productivity” — and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce.

FROM THE EARLIEST DAYS of the Age of Consumerism there were critics. One of the most influential was Arthur Dahlberg, whose 1932 book Jobs, Machines, and Capitalism was well known to policymakers and elected officials in Washington. Dahlberg declared that “failure to shorten the length of the working day . . . is the primary cause of our rationing of opportunity, our excess industrial plant, our enormous wastes of competition, our high pressure advertising, [and] our economic imperialism.” Since much of what industry produced was no longer aimed at satisfying human physical needs, a four-hour workday, he claimed, was necessary to prevent society from becoming disastrously materialistic. “By not shortening the working day when all the wood is in,” he suggested, the profit motive becomes “both the creator and satisfier of spiritual needs.” For when the profit motive can turn nowhere else, “it wraps our soap in pretty boxes and tries to convince us that that is solace to our souls.”

There was, for a time, a visionary alternative. In 1930 Kellogg Company, the world’s leading producer of ready-to-eat cereal, announced that all of its nearly fifteen hundred workers would move from an eight-hour to a six-hour workday. Company president Lewis Brown and owner W. K. Kellogg noted that if the company ran “four six-hour shifts . . . instead of three eight-hour shifts, this will give work and paychecks to the heads of three hundred more families in Battle Creek.”

This was welcome news to workers at a time when the country was rapidly descending into the Great Depression. But as Benjamin Hunnicutt explains in his book Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day, Brown and Kellogg wanted to do more than save jobs. They hoped to show that the “free exchange of goods, services, and labor in the free market would not have to mean mindless consumerism or eternal exploitation of people and natural resources.” Instead “workers would be liberated by increasingly higher wages and shorter hours for the final freedom promised by the Declaration of Independence — the pursuit of happiness.”

To be sure, Kellogg did not intend to stop making a profit. But the company leaders argued that men and women would work more efficiently on shorter shifts, and with more people employed, the overall purchasing power of the community would increase, thus allowing for more purchases of goods, including cereals.

A shorter workday did entail a cut in overall pay for workers. But Kellogg raised the hourly rate to partially offset the loss and provided for production bonuses to encourage people to work hard. The company eliminated time off for lunch, assuming that workers would rather work their shorter shift and leave as soon as possible. In a “personal letter” to employees, Brown pointed to the “mental income” of “the enjoyment of the surroundings of your home, the place you work, your neighbors, the other pleasures you have [that are] harder to translate into dollars and cents.” Greater leisure, he hoped, would lead to “higher standards in school and civic . . . life” that would benefit the company by allowing it to “draw its workers from a community where good homes predominate.”

It was an attractive vision, and it worked. Not only did Kellogg prosper, but journalists from magazines such as Forbes and BusinessWeek reported that the great majority of company employees embraced the shorter workday. One reporter described “a lot of gardening and community beautification, athletics and hobbies . . . libraries well patronized and the mental background of these fortunate workers . . . becoming richer.”

A U.S. Department of Labor survey taken at the time, as well as interviews Hunnicutt conducted with former workers, confirm this picture. The government interviewers noted that “little dissatisfaction with lower earnings resulting from the decrease in hours was expressed, although in the majority of cases very real decreases had resulted.” One man spoke of “more time at home with the family.” Another remembered: “I could go home and have time to work in my garden.” A woman noted that the six-hour shift allowed her husband to “be with 4 boys at ages it was important.”

Those extra hours away from work also enabled some people to accomplish things that they might never have been able to do otherwise. Hunnicutt describes how at the end of her interview an eighty-year-old woman began talking about ping-pong. “We’d get together. We had a ping-pong table and all my relatives would come for dinner and things and we’d all play ping-pong by the hour.” Eventually she went on to win the state championship.

Many women used the extra time for housework. But even then, they often chose work that drew in the entire family, such as canning. One recalled how canning food at home became “a family project” that “we all enjoyed,” including her sons, who “opened up to talk freely.” As Hunnicutt puts it, canning became the “medium for something more important than preserving food. Stories, jokes, teasing, quarreling, practical instruction, songs, griefs, and problems were shared. The modern discipline of alienated work was left behind for an older . . . more convivial kind of working together.”

This was the stuff of a human ecology in which thousands of small, almost invisible, interactions between family members, friends, and neighbors create an intricate structure that supports social life in much the same way as topsoil supports our biological existence. When we allow either one to become impoverished, whether out of greed or intemperance, we put our long-term survival at risk.

Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods — the big stuff such as cars and appliances — was thirty-two times higher. Meanwhile, by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.

Yet we could work and spend a lot less and still live quite comfortably. By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day — or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.

Rather than realizing the enriched social life that Kellogg’s vision offered us, we have impoverished our human communities with a form of materialism that leaves us in relative isolation from family, friends, and neighbors. We simply don’t have time for them. Unlike our great-grandparents who passed the time, we spend it. An outside observer might conclude that we are in the grip of some strange curse, like a modern-day King Midas whose touch turns everything into a product built around a microchip.

Of course not everybody has been able to take part in the buying spree on equal terms. Millions of Americans work long hours at poverty wages while many others can find no work at all. However, as advertisers well know, poverty does not render one immune to the gospel of consumption.

Meanwhile, the influence of the gospel has spread far beyond the land of its origin. Most of the clothes, video players, furniture, toys, and other goods Americans buy today are made in distant countries, often by underpaid people working in sweatshop conditions. The raw material for many of those products comes from clearcutting or strip mining or other disastrous means of extraction. Here at home, business activity is centered on designing those products, financing their manufacture, marketing them — and counting the profits.

KELLOGG’S VISION, DESPITE ITS POPULARITY with his employees, had little support among his fellow business leaders. But Dahlberg’s book had a major influence on Senator (and future Supreme Court justice) Hugo Black who, in 1933, introduced legislation requiring a thirty-hour workweek. Although Roosevelt at first appeared to support Black’s bill, he soon sided with the majority of businessmen who opposed it. Instead, Roosevelt went on to launch a series of policy initiatives that led to the forty-hour standard that we more or less observe today.

By the time the Black bill came before Congress, the prophets of the gospel of consumption had been developing their tactics and techniques for at least a decade. However, as the Great Depression deepened, the public mood was uncertain, at best, about the proper role of the large corporation. Labor unions were gaining in both public support and legal legitimacy, and the Roosevelt administration, under its New Deal program, was implementing government regulation of industry on an unprecedented scale. Many corporate leaders saw the New Deal as a serious threat. James A. Emery, general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), issued a “call to arms” against the “shackles of irrational regulation” and the “back-breaking burdens of taxation,” characterizing the New Deal doctrines as “alien invaders of our national thought.”

In response, the industrial elite represented by NAM, including General Motors, the big steel companies, General Foods, DuPont, and others, decided to create their own propaganda. An internal NAM memo called for “re-selling all of the individual Joe Doakes on the advantages and benefits he enjoys under a competitive economy.” NAM launched a massive public relations campaign it called the “American Way.” As the minutes of a NAM meeting described it, the purpose of the campaign was to link “free enterprise in the public consciousness with free speech, free press and free religion as integral parts of democracy.”

Consumption was not only the linchpin of the campaign; it was also recast in political terms. A campaign booklet put out by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency told readers that under “private capitalism, the Consumer, the Citizen is boss,” and “he doesn’t have to wait for election day to vote or for the Court to convene before handing down his verdict. The consumer ‘votes’ each time he buys one article and rejects another.”

According to Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the field of public relations and a principal architect of the American Way, the choices available in the polling booth are akin to those at the department store; both should consist of a limited set of offerings that are carefully determined by what Bernays called an “invisible government” of public-relations experts and advertisers working on behalf of business leaders. Bernays claimed that in a “democratic society” we are and should be “governed, our minds . . . molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

NAM formed a national network of groups to ensure that the booklet from J. Walter Thompson and similar material appeared in libraries and school curricula across the country. The campaign also placed favorable articles in newspapers (often citing “independent” scholars who were paid secretly) and created popular magazines and film shorts directed to children and adults with such titles as “Building Better Americans,” “The Business of America’s People Is Selling,” and “America Marching On.”

Perhaps the biggest public relations success for the American Way campaign was the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The fair’s director of public relations called it “the greatest public relations program in industrial history,” one that would battle what he called the “New Deal propaganda.” The fair’s motto was “Building the World of Tomorrow,” and it was indeed a forum in which American corporations literally modeled the future they were determined to create. The most famous of the exhibits was General Motors’ 35,000-square-foot Futurama, where visitors toured Democracity, a metropolis of multilane highways that took its citizens from their countryside homes to their jobs in the skyscraper-packed central city.

For all of its intensity and spectacle, the campaign for the American Way did not create immediate, widespread, enthusiastic support for American corporations or the corporate vision of the future. But it did lay the ideological groundwork for changes that came after the Second World War, changes that established what is still commonly called our post-war society.

The war had put people back to work in numbers that the New Deal had never approached, and there was considerable fear that unemployment would return when the war ended. Kellogg workers had been working forty-eight-hour weeks during the war and the majority of them were ready to return to a six-hour day and thirty-hour week. Most of them were able to do so, for a while. But W. K. Kellogg and Lewis Brown had turned the company over to new managers in 1937.

The new managers saw only costs and no benefits to the six-hour day, and almost immediately after the end of the war they began a campaign to undermine shorter hours. Management offered workers a tempting set of financial incentives if they would accept an eight-hour day. Yet in a vote taken in 1946, 77 percent of the men and 87 percent of the women wanted to return to a thirty-hour week rather than a forty-hour one. In making that choice, they also chose a fairly dramatic drop in earnings from artificially high wartime levels.

The company responded with a strategy of attrition, offering special deals on a department-by-department basis where eight hours had pockets of support, typically among highly skilled male workers. In the culture of a post-war, post-Depression U.S., that strategy was largely successful. But not everyone went along. Within Kellogg there was a substantial, albeit slowly dwindling group of people Hunnicutt calls the “mavericks,” who resisted longer work hours. They clustered in a few departments that had managed to preserve the six-hour day until the company eliminated it once and for all in 1985.

The mavericks rejected the claims made by the company, the union, and many of their co-workers that the extra money they could earn on an eight-hour shift was worth it. Despite the enormous difference in societal wealth between the 1930s and the 1980s, the language the mavericks used to explain their preference for a six-hour workday was almost identical to that used by Kellogg workers fifty years earlier. One woman, worried about the long hours worked by her son, said, “He has no time to live, to visit and spend time with his family, and to do the other things he really loves to do.”

Several people commented on the link between longer work hours and consumerism. One man said, “I was getting along real good, so there was no use in me working any more time than I had to.” He added, “Everybody thought they were going to get rich when they got that eight-hour deal and it really didn’t make a big difference. . . . Some went out and bought automobiles right quick and they didn’t gain much on that because the car took the extra money they had.”

The mavericks, well aware that longer work hours meant fewer jobs, called those who wanted eight-hour shifts plus overtime “work hogs.” “Kellogg’s was laying off people,” one woman commented, “while some of the men were working really fantastic amounts of overtime — that’s just not fair.” Another quoted the historian Arnold Toynbee, who said, “We will either share the work, or take care of people who don’t have work.”

PEOPLE IN THE DEPRESSION-WRACKED 1930s, with what seems to us today to be a very low level of material goods, readily chose fewer work hours for the same reasons as some of their children and grandchildren did in the 1980s: to have more time for themselves and their families. We could, as a society, make a similar choice today.

But we cannot do it as individuals. The mavericks at Kellogg held out against company and social pressure for years, but in the end the marketplace didn’t offer them a choice to work less and consume less. The reason is simple: that choice is at odds with the foundations of the marketplace itself — at least as it is currently constructed. The men and women who masterminded the creation of the consumerist society understood that theirs was a political undertaking, and it will take a powerful political movement to change course today.

Bernays’s version of a “democratic society,” in which political decisions are marketed to consumers, has many modern proponents. Consider a comment by Andrew Card, George W. Bush’s former chief of staff. When asked why the administration waited several months before making its case for war against Iraq, Card replied, “You don’t roll out a new product in August.” And in 2004, one of the leading legal theorists in the United States, federal judge Richard Posner, declared that “representative democracy . . . involves a division between rulers and ruled,” with the former being “a governing class,” and the rest of us exercising a form of “consumer sovereignty” in the political sphere with “the power not to buy a particular product, a power to choose though not to create.”

Sometimes an even more blatant antidemocratic stance appears in the working papers of elite think tanks. One such example is the prominent Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington’s 1975 contribution to a Trilateral Commission report on “The Crisis of Democracy.” Huntington warns against an “excess of democracy,” declaring that “a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Huntington notes that “marginal social groups, as in the case of the blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political system” and thus present the “danger of overloading the political system” and undermining its authority.

According to this elite view, the people are too unstable and ignorant for self-rule. “Commoners,” who are viewed as factors of production at work and as consumers at home, must adhere to their proper roles in order to maintain social stability. Posner, for example, disparaged a proposal for a national day of deliberation as “a small but not trivial reduction in the amount of productive work.” Thus he appears to be an ideological descendant of the business leader who warned that relaxing the imperative for “more work and better work” breeds “radicalism.”

As far back as 1835, Boston workingmen striking for shorter hours declared that they needed time away from work to be good citizens: “We have rights, and we have duties to perform as American citizens and members of society.” As those workers well understood, any meaningful democracy requires citizens who are empowered to create and re-create their government, rather than a mass of marginalized voters who merely choose from what is offered by an “invisible” government. Citizenship requires a commitment of time and attention, a commitment people cannot make if they are lost to themselves in an ever-accelerating cycle of work and consumption.

We can break that cycle by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need. Doing so will give us an opportunity to re-create the kind of healthy communities that were beginning to emerge with Kellogg’s six-hour day, communities in which human welfare is the overriding concern rather than subservience to machines and those who own them. We can create a society where people have time to play together as well as work together, time to act politically in their common interests, and time even to argue over what those common interests might be. That fertile mix of human relationships is necessary for healthy human societies, which in turn are necessary for sustaining a healthy planet.

If we want to save the Earth, we must also save ourselves from ourselves. We can start by sharing the work and the wealth. We may just find that there is plenty of both to go around.

This article, along with other landmark Orion essays about transformative action, are collected in a new anthology, Change Everything Now. Order your copy here.

Jeffrey Kaplan has long been an activist in the Bay Area. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Yes! and the Chicago Tribune.

Comments

  1. I always tell people that the most embarrassing thing in my life is that I have a degree in business administration. I say that for two reasons. First, the marketing courses are courses in psychological warfare. It is know how to get people to buy things they don’t want or need. The second is tied to the first. The economic courses taught a false “linear system”, which didn’t value the resource until it was mined, milled, manufactured and sold. There was then no accountability for the waste. They now call these “externalities”, the cost that can be passed on to others.

  2. This history of consumerism should be required reading in 6th grade, and again in 10th! This sums up nicely (though sadly) what underlies our worship of growth everlasting. Today’s economic headlines trumpet the hope that a stimulus package will convince consumers to spend and jump-start the economy. And too few realize that creates more problems than it solves.

    We are on the hamster-wheel and we cannot get off. Have you noticed they don’t even call us “citizens” anymore? We are referred to as “consumers.” That is our role in the collective.

    Dave Gardner
    Producer/Director
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    http://www.growthbusters.com

  3. This is an article to share with others. Remember to watch the http://www.storyofstuff.com too. This is a continuing groundswell of wake up that we need in order to ensure the protection of our wild areas, including those in our heart.Talk with your neighbours, walk, plant a garden, smile with children and older folkes. I may be simple…but I have to get back to work.

  4. This is an outstanding piece of writing, and I am going to incorporate it into my freshman English classes. It is a side of the story that needs to be told, if nothing else to counter this fashionable libertarian ideology that is breeding more rats for the rat race. I appreciate the fact that Orion Magazine continues to beat this drum with articles from visionary thinkers like James Howard Kuntsler and this article by Kaplan.

  5. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to appeal to the locals who don’t turn out to support activities for the Bear River Narrows near Preston, Idaho, where a canal company is proposing construction of a shallow, ruinous dam. I think Kaplan addresses the main problem in the community: People no longer have time to talk with each other in an empathetic manner. They don’t share a concern for the landscape because they don’t get out to enjoy it with each other. They collapse in front of the TV, where they hear only about the economy, as if it were something that will sustain us. In the mean time, the people who profit from dam-building (in the name of “energy” and “jobs”) lull the locals into complacency. How do we help when we face such despair?

  6. It is a strange experience to realize (again and again and again) that our society’s misfortunes can be attributed to the greed of a few and how far-reaching a handful of events, conversations, meetings, etc. can be in establishing a widespread, mostly-unquestioned paradigm. Kudos to the author for presenting this information in an approachable manner that will hopefully encourage a few of us hamsters to question the wheel and, perhaps, begin devising a way to step outside of the cage.

  7. This article aptly describes the seemingly inextricable trap into which we Americans, have fallen. But the trap is not inextricable. Conscious decisions, on a personal level, regarding saving and spending, working and time off, can free each one of us, individually. One glaring omission in the article is the now-commonplace fact of the two-earner household. This phenomenon alone has contributed to much of what the article bemoans, and much of what it omitted, such as the problem of latchkey kids and the rise of juvenile crime. Once again, this can be remedied by personal choice on a family by family basis. Note that the woman in the article who celebrated her husband’s shortened workweek by claiming it was important for him to spend time with his 4 boys, was probably already at home with them.

  8. Do you want to engage in a immediate action to open people up to consumerism??..check out http://www.greenslowmovingvehicle.com. This grassroot’s action has been on the ground since 2006 and can be found throughout the U.S.. It’s simple, basically free, and effective. Just a small step but in the right direction. DRIVE EASY

  9. Excellent article whose message needs to be continually heard. It’s funny, but the comments I added last month to Mike Tidwell’s article on global warming are probably more apt here, so I’ll add them to the discussion after first saying: Henry David Thoreau spotted this insidious pattern to consumerism over a century and a half ago… why isn’t he considered the epitome of a Real American and why don’t we have a national holiday in his honor?… Obviously another holiday would cut that much more into production. (Note also that holidays under this consumerist model are primarily diverted away from their original purposes to become functioning units of economic stimulus, the most obvious example being Christmas. Likewise with education, which has little or nothing to do with the enlightenment and liberation of the individual; rather, education is now mostly functioning as nothing but a subservient arm of the economy.)

    The writer [Mike Tidwell] makes the usually rare point in environmental arguments that to confront this problem [of global warming] would mean that humans would have had to pass through a spiritual catharsis. This suggests that the problem is not just physical/technological, that somehow our spiritual “wrong-headedness” is at the root of the problem. “Spiritual” suggests concerns not just for physical survival, our “means,” but also the “ends,” i.e. identifying a purpose for life once our physical needs have been met. But we have been functioning under an extreme consumerist model that holds as its rewards such concepts as “luxury” or “the American Dream”… in other words, in lieu of identifying any purpose beyond physical comfort and pleasure, we have asked double-duty of our means, that they also function as life-goals (e.g. bigger house, faster or more comfortable car, etc… a pattern with no end in sight).
    How does this comment help with the problem? Maybe it doesn’t, since we seem to be at such a desparate point. But at least let’s not kid ourselves that spraying the atmosphere with sulfer, or painting everything white, is anything more than treating symptoms. If we could somehow solve global warming with giant mirrors only to support more gluttonous consumption, that’s precisely the type of unenlightened society not worth saving. So let’s hope that what the writer implies will come to pass: as we save the planet, we find (and save) ourselves.

  10. This is a terrific article and says in wonderful form what the organization I represent, TAKE BACK YOUR TIME (Ben Hunnicutt of the Kellogg’s Six Hour Day is on our board) has been working for for the past six years. Check out our Web site at: http://www.timeday.org Thanks for writing this Jeffrey–would love to discuss these issues with you sometime! TAKE BACK YOUR TIME is currently championing a national paid vacation law and the theme of trading productivity for time instead of stuff–to improve our health, quality of life and environment. best, John de Graaf
    Executive Director, TAKE BACK YOUR TIME.

  11. I wonder sometimes how consumers who butt against logic (buying gas guzzlers like large SUVs at a time when global warming is devastating our earth and United States) can be so narrow minded (downright uncaring) about the obvious disaster. Then I feel no pity.
    Business men are in th business to make money and they rewards those who bring in more sales. Well we provided them the opportunity to mine our kids. Long live consumerism.

  12. This article was my first insight into the idea that consumerism wasn’t always the basis for the American economy. I’m not ignorant enough to have thought that things have always been the same as today, but I never realized that our economy was devised by politics and businessmen and then lobbied/campaigned for. In standard history courses, we don’t learn about political sway when it comes to our “consumerism” and in economics classes we are only taught how to live in the economy as it is, as though it is a stagnant entity. The history of consumerism should be taught everywhere, with an emphasis oh how it was created, giving fuel to those who are faced with the conquest of how to change it and start something new. The age of the consumer needs to end.

  13. After 9/11 George W. Bush urged American to go shopping. John McCain and Hillary Clinton want a vacation on the gasoline tax credit so we will mindlessly consume the fuel we should be conserving. It is not about facing reality and making the necessary adjustments to deal with serious socio-economic and environmental issues, it is about propping up an archaic and burdensome economic system that needs to collapse and will. The longer we wait the harder will be the impacts and adjustments.

  14. Congratulations to Jeffrey Kaplan for skillfully illuminating the sad fact that our modern mass-consumption economy was deliberately engineered as a way to keep the profit-making machinery of mass production from choking to death on its own output. For those just becoming aware of this sordid truth, I offer another revealing quote, from post-war retail analyst Victor LeBow: “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and selling of goods into rituals. …We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever increasing rate.” Growing up in a small town in the 60s, I had no idea how this short-sighted agenda was transforming the quieter, saner life of my parents’ day into the frantic, insecure life of today.

    As a student nearing completion of a master’s degree in environmental studies, I read this article as a means of procrastinating work on an already-late paper for an environmental policy class. The paper concerns the dry policy-theory concepts of problem definition and agenda-setting, as applied to the growing political awareness of climate change as a serious issue. It seems, however, that all roads lead me to where I’m supposed to be, because this article is closely related to the subject of my work: Do we define climate change as an emissions problem—essentially just another kind of pollution—to be solved by typical technical and regulatory means? Do we see it as an efficiency problem, to be solved by hybrid cars, compact fluorescent bulbs, and living closer to our jobs? Or do we define it as a fundamental flaw in an economic paradigm based on the ideas of limitless production, limitless consumption and endless, unlimited growth? More importantly, what are the consequences of the way we frame the discussion?

    We may, of course, need all of the above perspectives to avert the calamity we’ve called down upon our children’s heads. But if we think our salvation lies in technology and incremental changes that leave our present practices substantially intact, we may find that our best efforts have been swamped by relentless growth, that we have merely slowed the stampede without turning its course. Kaplan shows that time and community are the real luxuries in human culture; if we pursue them with half the zeal of our current religious devotion to money and possessions, we can have not only a healthier society, but a healthier planet as well.

  15. Missing from this article and the Kelloggs 6 hour day is the concept of multi-stakeholder participation investment in each business and industry. First Nation Production Societies pre-invasion were structures of progressive ownership for workere growing from apprenticeship to elder (master) status and always having a responsible say. A Gospel of Consumption occurs because of is missing counterpart of intelligent responsible participation in both production and consumption. Indigenous peoples of the world were able to work shorter days because they cultivated the massive productivity of the multilevel orchard, typically oak (acorn), butternut, chestnut, hazelnut etc mixed with fruit trees, berries, grapevines, mushrooms, and much more. This three dimension food production for all species held water in its roots, pumped water, minerals and nutrients deep from the roots into the substrate, harvested some 95% of solar energy and condensed moist ocean winds onto the leaf surfaces. Weather is drawn by the cold energy vacuum of photosynthesis’ conversion of solar energy.

    We have manufactured scarcity in our ‘agri’ (L = ‘field’) cultural removal of the indigenous orchards. Agriculture supplants 2 dimensional production at 1% of the 3 dimensional production of multi-level orchard production. We have lost the abundance of nature’s engine. We are the earth speaking, so one can understand that the wisdom of nature is to be found in the interactive choir of our collective effort and voices. Our role as passive workers, suppliers or consumers is not particularly relevent.

  16. What is missing from your essay is what people my age have been shunted into since becoming adults: debt.

    I remember after high school, that if your parent or scholarships didn’t appear you aquired a government loan for college. A high school counselor told our class that “if you go to college you will earn a million dollars”. Of course I neglected to ask if that was net or gross.

    This time period included the rapid cost increase of college tuition, price of a car, rents, real estate well beyond inflation. Coupled with wage stagnation you can see a whole generation shakled to work that unless you declare bankruptcy and throw it off, you won’t be agitating for unions or shorter work hours any time soon.

  17. The religious left and the secular / green left should be working together:
    http://www.sabbatheconomics.org/content/index.php

    These issues aren’t new: the Bible has a lot to say about exploitation of workers and the burden of debt. Consumerism is a newer phenomenon, made possible by industrialization, although it’s really just another form of idolatry (spiritual redemption through material artifacts), another thing the Bible attacks.

  18. Great article. Some of the same ground about Bernays and commercial propaganda is covered in the various UK documentary series made by Adam Curtis, principally “The Century of Self”.

    As a general point though, this article’s data about ordinary people spending huge multiples on consumer goods compared to the past seems to contradict the work of bankrupcy expert Elizabeth Warren who is eager to prove that it is the rise in the cost of basic things like (not very much bigger) houses, education, medical bills, and child care since 1970 that are pushing most Americans over the edge, not consumer goods like flat screen tvs, brand label clothes, or eating out. According to Warren’s data, spending on consumer goods has actually fallen. To back up Yankee’s comment above, Warren’s data also shows that median male income has been stagnant for over thirty years.

  19. Training people how to buck the system and go right-on for happiness, health, well-being, integral community, ecological sustainability and local self-reliance:

    punpunthailand.org

    Join us for a great time in northern Thailand this Nov – Jan doing natural building projects, organic farming, seed saving and biodiversity conservation, and a lot more!

  20. Great read! I’m an undergrad student currently writing about this very topic. Does the author recommend any additional books detailing the evangelism that our consumer economy is dependent on? Thanks in advance.

  21. Thank you for this. I don’t think that the connection between environmental protection and labor rights is clear very many people, but this article draws a clear, bright line to connect them.

  22. The thing is, the whole econmic system has mutated to the point that it is *ABSOLUTELY* dependent on continuous economic growth. Now that the growth as stopped, there are cries of “recession! recession” coming from all corners.

    Why should it be so? Where I live (Québec), we are economically punished for not willingly assimilating in the anglo-saxon “norm” of North America, so we experience regular economic downturns. A side effect is that we have seen the emergence of a distinct class of entrepreneurs that are able to frugally weather economic hard-times without having to rely on “old-boy’s” business “rescue” networks. So when our entrepreneur rise above the rest, they really kick ass (one can think of Bombardier, who in 35 years, from next to nothing, became the third largest aircraft manufacturer, and the world’s largest manufacturer of passenger railroad rolling stock, even putting to shame mighty Alstom [maker of the world’s fastest train] in it’s own backyard!).

    Another positive aspect of economic downturns is the affordability of goods and services. For example, housing is quite cheap here compared to similar urban areas elsewhere in North-America. People are less concerned with housing problems and thus can live well on a lower salary, thus helping to prevent inflationary outbursts.

    Frequent economic downturns make people leery of mindless, gluttonous consumption; the net result is that the bourgeois are less wealthy and do not enjoy a disparate political influence, so the government is more compelled to do what has to be done, rather than what short-term panaceas to the problème-du-jour the wealthy are able to distract the government with to profit from.

  23. Edward Bernays was actually Freud’s nephew. He played a massive role in the shift towards consumerism as a way of life, using his uncle’s ideas.

    There’s a brilliant documentary on this called The Century of the Self from the BBC. You can watch it on Google Video last I checked.
    It is not to be missed.

  24. What a great article. We’ve diverted so much of the gains in productivity into the pockets of investors and executives, rather than into an increased standard-of-living for all. Now the consequences are becoming clear – power (money is a form of power) really does corrupt.

  25. So basically you want a form of quasi socialism or fascism.

    People buy stuff because they want stuff, they aren’t brainwashed and the companies arent forcing them to buy stuff. The fact is that people dont want to work less because they dont want to make less money. Because they want to spend money on things they want. They value the money they can earn and the things they can buy with it more than the time they would be spending outside of work.

    Kellogg: this was during the great depression, it was either work less and take less money or some of you will lose your job. Oh yeah they took measures so that their income wouldnt be completely halfed by killing their lunch hour etc, but this article weighs far too heavily on trying to compromise the current market with this example that doesnt apply to current conditions. This was during the great depression! It was a good model at the time and that is why it was praised because it allowed more people to have jobs and still get by.

    I agree that materialism is not the highest virtue of mankind, but it is what drives the market, it is what people want. You cant come in and have the government force people to work less because you think they should not value materialism so much. That is fascism and hasnt ever worked out too well if we look to history. You are subjecting other people to your subjective views on what is best for other people.

    “We can create a society”: this is a fascist statement. No, this means, we can force society to do something. If you want to make a difference you shouldnt do it through government and force you should do it through persuasion and rhetoric. We can ENCOURAGE a society that follows your selected virtues, but force we should not. If you want to have more freetime then you can take a less demanding job and get paid less. You cant have the same pay and work less, it just doesnt pan out.

  26. Chris Janselor, you have been duped. Do you think our current society was shaped entirely by ‘natural’ forces? Did you even read the article, in which it was made very clear that some rich and powerful people have had a significant influence on our current way of life?

    We have choices in our society. There is no such thing as the “free market.” It is warped beyond recognition by vested interests, and this will not change.

  27. 1) free market, of course it doesnt exist in perfection, never said it did. If anything warps it, it is the government more than ‘vested interests.’ People that usually point to the market being skewed by corporations etc, dont realize it is usually through governmental means.

    2)natural forces. The article didnt really point to any factual instances of people showing significant control over the lives of the individuals. It referenced “business and political elite,” who are influencing us ‘By advertising and other promotional devices.’ Doesnt look like they are forcing consumerism on us too much, they are advertising products, thats what companies do.

    It then referenced companies reacting to FDR’s New Deal and tried to link the defense against this as a defense of the gospel of consumption. Actually they were just trying to defend their business autonomy from the government’s prying hands, thats pretty natural considering the profit incentives of companies and the governments interfering with those.

    I love how the third paragraph of the article is totally conjecture without any backing and which then becomes the premise of the entire paper. He then tries to link this to the idea of creating “new needs” by the big corporations and that this is furthering their evil ends of consumerism. No actually it’s called innovation and that’s why we have computers to type on. yeah creating new desires for products is what drives the market, but there is no force involved.

    All Im saying is that if you want you can live like they did in 1915 without a computer, or a car, etc, and Im sure you get by just fine without working many hours, but people have come to enjoy the “necessities” that have been created by this evil consumption drive.

  28. Chris – the real question is *why* does the government warp the market? The answer is, in answer to bribes (called campaign contributions) and other perqs such as a revolving door between industry and goverment.

  29. Oh I agree with you. Government is controlled to a large extent by private interests and their respective lobbying. But I think the answer is to limit government rather than using government to limit how much we can work or what we can buy.

  30. I think that it is interesting that the belief of voluntary simplicity, or any move towards a simple life is immediately called socialist. It is not right or left it is just different. We need to wrap our heads around an idea that is new. More does not equal better, in fact it may be the total opposite.

  31. The brainwashing is real. It starts at a very young age, and it follows us around through our entire lives. As a mental exercise, try counting the number of ads you see in one day – billboards, commercials, print advertisements, banner ads – all of it goes into your subconscious mind, even if you’re not always aware of it. If your day is anything like mine, you’ll lose count by mid-morning.

    For every hour of network broadcasting, twenty minutes consists of advertising, not counting product placements and all those popups that come up during the middle of shows. Even PBS is riddled with advertising – in the form of “enhanced underwriter acknowledgments”, mind you. Kid’s shows themselves are largely advertisements for toys or movies.

    As the parent of a two year old, I find myself paying much more attention to the ubiquity of advertising in modern America than I used to. I can’t shield her from it entirely, but maybe I can limit its influence on her.

  32. I have tried to shield my children from consumerist tendencies. I home school, with out tv and limit internet. They read a lot of books.

    All in all however, I found this article interesting. I never knew about the six hour work week. For my family this would be ideal provided we lived with in biking distance to work. The two hours extra spent working usually pays for gas each day, so really it would be the same income with less expense.

  33. How can one limit their consumption?

    Is it feasible to grow a portion of ones diet in a small garden? Even if it is possible how can a small garden be incorporated into an urban setting where space is limited? Even when space is available it’s usually covered in concrete.

    I do my best to work as little hours as possible, spend as many hours outdoors as possible and engage in meaningful conversation or just enjoy the silence instead of watching television.
    Yet, the income I do live on comes directly from an industry that would not exist without this wonderful consumerist economy.

    On another note: In his essay “Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer,” Robert Reich notes that the only industries that are truly sustainable in the current economic climate are in-person servers, and symbolic analysts (not that production jobs aren’t necessary, there just aren’t as many available). This system of over-production and “innovation” no longer offers the stability of having enough jobs to go around (were there ever? forgive my ignorance).

    Seems to me that where there aren’t enough jobs to support people you can find a bunch of McDonald’s paying minimum wage, gifting their employees with just enough cash to afford people living in this urban sprawl to feast upon the righteous dollar menu.

  34. We’re living in what I call “plutopia”–a society almost entirely grounded in the notion that material wealth is the ultimate good. Never mind how we satisfy our many wants (as opposed to our real needs, which are relatively few). If we want to change (and I’m not sure the majority of us actually do), we must re-educate our desires, identify means with ends, and stop seeing Americans as the measure of all that is good in the universe.

    To recognize the problems and to seek solutions is not by nature fascist, although it tends to be socialist (as opposed to capitalist), nor does it require draconian rules or acts of congress. If people became aware (through articles like this one) of how our everyday actions impact a much larger context, it might be relatively simple to change some minds. But, alas, most folks don’t read Orion, and judging by most of the comments in this discussion, those who do are already members of the choir.

  35. As a part of my political activism I did a little rewrite of the opening of the Declaration of Independence and inserted a balance point. “Inherent in our inalienable rights are undeniable responsibilities.” I also changed pursuit of happiness to pursuit of joy and contentment. It is a matter of choosing, but to choose wisely one needs all the cards laid on the table.

  36. Unfortunately for this excellent article the comment section is not very conducive to productive conversation…

  37. This is fine and good for a paper but it won’t work in a living culture (at least on Earth) you can be sure about that.

    It’s very interesting how these sorts of ideologies almost always come from people who they would adversely affect the least whereas you never hear of a starving or poor person using such arguments.

  38. How can we be sure that what the article suggests could not happen? There is a movement, albeit small, but a movement to focus on happiness as opposed to economic growth.

    I can cite several examples in the town I live in. Several NGOs offer European like schedules, good time off, sabbaticals and the such. The real decisions are up to us as individuals to commit to a life that focuses on our community (by working less) and not chasing the almighty dollar.

    It sounds like many of us in this discussion are on the same page. Another excellent read on this matter is Bill McKibben’s book Deep Economy. A lot of the same thoughts, but with examples of how change is being made around the world. Check it out.

  39. Hasn’t this model already been tried in Europe? Hasn’t this model been shown to be a complete failure? Can somebody explain why we should adopt this model when almost all of Europe is in the process of rejecting it?

  40. Jawnybnsc is welcome to his own opinion but not his own facts. If Europe was a failure why would the EURO be riding so high versus the dollar. why would americans firms be flooding europe with investments and making big profits in firms that by law have to provide 4 or more weeks vacation and other generous time perks. why would Germany still be the most effective manufactuing economy with double the exports of China. Europeans laugh when they hear these ridiculous comments. Ignorance seems to be bliss in the US. Moreover, the European countries produce only half the pollution per capita that we do, their ecological footprint is only half ours, in every measure of health they do better than we do. If that’s failure. we could use a little of it. I would expect a bit more thought from Orion readers. I’m curious as to whether jawnyybnsc (real names, please!!!–they should be required) has ever been to Europe. As the US economy tanks the europeans now don’t only have the time, they have the money too. their savings rate is 10% while ours is minus 2%. Facts please!!!

  41. There is a movment for responsibility represented by Participatory businesses around the world which welcome the investment of their Founder, Worker, Supplier and Consumer members for a whole cycle of economy (derived from the Latin meaning care and nurture or management of the household.

    Each form associations to group specific contributions of labour-money-resources, labour, goods-services and money-patronage respectively. When we inclusively plan for the livelihoods of each other, we open up enormous strengths.

    Complementation (mutually beneficial relationship) is stronger than competition because it unites otherwize isolated resources into whole cycles and connects our intelligence in order to plan for the complexity that ecology and ecology represent.

  42. Sometimes people ask questions when they don’t know the answers. I appreciate the responses.

    Notwithstanding the dimensions that John de Graaf alludes to, can anyone share with me an explanation of the apparent change in political direction in Europe? If it is not connected in any way to the model we are discussing, then I would like to understand why you believe it is not. Further, if you believe there is not a relationship, then perhaps you’d care to posit your own theory.

    If you would, please grant me the courtesy of assuming that my inquiries are made in earnest this time.

  43. I think it’s also a bit disingenuous to hold up Germany as the model of Europe when it is readily apparent that Germany is the exception in Europe and not the rule.

  44. And then by neo government decree my telivisions are to be destroyed by the forced digital conversion to” alien” technologies and i and my lands imprisoned to health insurance un regulatable costs companies, which strangely at my age and health would be a financial boon………….if i trusted corp drug companies or the paychecks they give to doctors and thus if i trusted doctors in this age of the non generak practiconer…which i maybe can not spell due to the fading memories of what may have been sensible medical practices

  45. I appreciate your inquriy jawnybnsc. I’m just not sure where you get this idea the Europe is abandoning its social contract. there are occasional calls for more business flexibility (eg Denmark, Finland) and some tightening of welfare due to the influx of immigrants, but virtually no european political party, Left or right, calls for going the US model–Europeans are appalled by such an idea. One Dutch conservative party leader I spoke with told me his party is the party of the right in Holland but their views are far to the Left of US Democrats. German is no exception to the rules. Germans work among the fewest hours in Europe–350 less than we do. they get 30 days of vacation and generous other perks. Denmark, with 30 days vacation, is rated as having the best business climate in the world and the Nordic countries are all considered as competitive as the US in the world economy. We don’t have to work people to death and ruin their health. europe has proven that. If its policies were such a failure why would American investors invest far more each year in Holland than in china and more in Belgium than in India? It’s the European elite that spreads these myths (along with corporate America) not the average European. the elites wish they could make 400 times what the average worker makes like US CEOs do, instead of the 40 times as much they do make. You can find all these comparision in the 2007 OECD Fact book and from many other sources.

  46. The thrust of my argument has less to do with Europe’s policies and more to do with Europe’s politics. Clearly there is a shift taking place. Just as clearly, that shift has some basis in the attitudes and desires of the European electorate. I’ll grant everything you say about Europe’s policies and about current European economic dimensions. What I do still wonder about is a changing political vector that, in my mind at least, raises doubts about Kaplan’s thesis. My argument is not about the merits, per se. My presumption was that the electorate was choosing a different path because they felt that they were on the wrong course.

  47. This is a terrific article. Thank you for digging through the history and the statistics.

    I’ve posted a link to this article on my blog, Dangerous Intersection, where I periodically post on issues relating to rampant out-of-control consumerism. See, for example, “We are drowning in material goods, yet we crave ever more stuff.”

    http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=737

  48. jawnybnsc: it’s true there has been some push back, particularly to the 35 hour work week and people are disatisfied with certain aspects of life, but there is simply no call out there by any party to get rid of the long vacations, the shorter workweeks, the paid family leave, the oppotunities to work part-time without losing benefits. these aspects of the social contract, plus health insurance, free higher ed, etc. What does receive more support is Sarkozy’s call to increase the age of retirement. All the european countries know they must do this because they don’t have the demographics to support people for 30 years of retirement; there aren”t enough young people in the workforce. therefore they are experimenting with raising the retirement age (below 60 in some countries) and phasing in retirement. this is why Sarkozy took this on first with his attack on the pensions of the transport workers. With the 35 week, he hasn’t cut that out only given workers who want to the right to work 39 hours instead. No European leader is advocating the US system, not even Sarkozy. the British Tories published a Blueprint for a Green Economy last September that advocates far more free time for people as a key plank. I’m not saying everything you mentioned is wrong, only that calling Europe a failure is far too broad a statement.

  49. I walked back a bit from that one. I meant that the model was a failure, not Europe. Further, I’ll agree with you that it’s a strong statement. What I really wanted to get at was a discussion of the political trend in Europe and you’ve accommodated.

  50. It doesn’t make so much difference what we want, but what given the current state of things what we can have. With 6 billion people heading toward 9, we are going to have to deal with some pretty heavy issues. We can wake up a change our modus operandi or we can hit the wall.

  51. Euope is only a failure to those who fail to appreciate that not all cultures are puritanically adverse to pleasure and enjoyment of life as it is.

  52. Fantastic article.

    For our family, the burden of the 40 hour work week is directly tied to health insurance. If there were another way to get reasonable health insurance for our family, my husband and I would each work 20-hour weeks and have more time together as a family. (yes there are private insurance options out there but we’ve been down that road and they suck.)

  53. Best article on economics I’ve read since Schumacher’s wonderful little book, Small is Beautiful–Economics as if People Mattered. Now you have to admit, just on a commonsense basic level, an economy that depends on everyone being chronically dissatisfied is nuts! If enough people decided that, well, what I’ve got is enough, its good enough. I’m satisfied with my current computer, cell phone, refrigerator, TV etc. The economy would die. That kind of system is just insane.

  54. For more, watch Adam Curtis documentaries. You can search for them on Google Video.

  55. Having people dissatisfied is not all that bad! What better motive for progress and change there is than people not being 100% contended with their conditions of existence?

    The thing is, that motive for change has to be used for better things than lining up the pockets of salesmen…

  56. I agree with Bill Chisholm that our enormous population is going to create a whole mess of problems (well, it already is).

    Pre-industrial revolution most, if not all, of the energy consumed by the earths population was that which came from the sun. Industrialization made it possible for us to work past capacity. Increased production means a huge boom in population. Do a google search for “graph of world population” and you can see that since the 1800’s there has been a 600% increase in the global population!

    The most important thing that every human being needs is food. We are animals after all and all of our actions should in one way or another secure that need. Seems we’ve gotten a bit sidetracked, eh?

    It’s unfortunate that the climate has gone to shit at the same time we’ve recognized that getting ourselves off oil is a top priority. We’ve been working past what I will call “natural capacity” (please let me know if there’s a better term) for over a hundred years. Our immediate goal should be how much can we preserve in the wake of the necessary undoing. (??)

    One of the things that gets me here in America is how many pursue the perfect lawn. Couldn’t that space be used for something else? Imagine Kellog’s idea of a 6 hour work day followed by a mandatory couple of hours spent in the garden. I don’t know about you but besides rent the greatest pull on my income is feeding myself.

    Just a few thoughts before I get to work…

    Goodday!

  57. A truly excellent read in regard to a more “organic economy” is Helena Norberg-Hodge’s Ancient Future about Ladakh. We aren’t just talking about economics here, we are also talking about culture and human satisfaction. As a former wilderness survival instructor, I can say that I felt the most complete as a human being when I had the least of the modern world and was relying on my own knowledge, work and imagination. The more you do for yourself, the more engaged in life you feel.

  58. I’m encouraged by the the sheer numbers and tenor of the responses to Jeffrey Kaplan’s article. It seems that many of us are concerned about the same things, and are (for the most part) thinking along the same lines.

    Many posters have made resource suggestions I plan to pursue, and I’m especially grateful to Erich Vieth for the link to his timely blog post. I’ll add Dangerous Intersection to my own blog roll, as well as a link to “The Gospel of Consumption” in my related post, “Surviving Plutopia” on Owl’s Farm (http://owlfarmer.blogspot.com). I am not by nature a sanguine person, but this discussion has been helpful–and reassuring.

  59. We will need to end direct “competition” between slave labor (people not allowed to form a union) from China, India, etc and free men and women that have fought for their basic rights. It is only the business owners that want us to lower our salaries to the level set by pointing a gun to the head of labor and dictating terms.

  60. ED: That’s very simply done: just levy import or export tariffs to equalize the cost of manufacturing widgets between disparate countries.

    Export duties would be kept by the originating countries if it is not willing to force it’s employers to raise the standard of living of their workers, or if a country would not do anything about it, import duties would be levied by the receiving countries.

    Now that would “plainly level the playing field”…

    In any case, this would spell the end of the crazy shipments of anything halfway around the world.

  61. The decision for a longer hour work day as well as the movement to force the Mothers to work too makes perfect sense. (Double the taxes too). Especially if the goal is to raise a child who has less influence from its parents and more from The State. Obedient consumers mesmerized by Pharmaceuticals, TV and Government Shock Doctrine.
    They took the history away from the youth and now they have no future as well. Network programming replaced the Oral Tradition. Each Generation
    a shadow of the next. Much was lost for none who live remember it. Until Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness means nothing more than getting the next Iphone. Eager to live in a WiFi saturated nightmare warping and humming 24/7.
    Totally lost, distorted and expendable.

  62. @David – You could call this ‘creeping normalcy’ eh?

    What a Brave New World we live in. The part that disturbs me the most is that it was recognized that the system we have built would lead to mindless consumption and lethargy.

    I’ve been following this post for the past couple of days and it’s been most interesting. I’m interested in what else I may uncover in the Orion archives.

    For anyone interested I have created a flow chart of what is my understanding of our current food shortage (perhaps the largest problem that’s been created as a result of our consumption and over production?).
    You can find it @ http://shorthandlogic.com/2008/food-shortage-flowchart/

    Any input would be appreciated and you’re contributions will be noted. :)

  63. This article seems to give credibility to my conspiracy theory regarding our society.

  64. Kaplan clearly shows how the long workday serves as a means of enforcing apathy among “the ruled” and defusing democracy. It’s not just about lost time to spend with the family or on non-work hobbies (which is important in itself), it’s about limiting the time people spend thinking about their situations and wondering why the haves have and the have-nots don’t.

  65. Just a couple of points

    1) Socialism is what one finds in Denmark, Sweden, Finland as an example. It does not equal communism which is commenly done in the US.

    2) The power of advertisment needs to be better understood by ALL to truely understand what it does and can do. Only after reading a few books about this and what Bernays did, did I fully appreciate the problem.

    3) When I watch TV I turn off the sound when the commercials come on. It is one way to limit their influence. Do you recall cable TV’s original selling line, “We are commercial free”, well no more !!!! :-)

  66. Thanks John de Graaf for bringing in the detailed information of how the working man situation in Europe looks like. Those observations should be eye openers for US people who in most cases can only dream of one month vacations.

  67. Overall the whole idea of this
    has went way overboard with all
    the problems this society is having
    from this.
    I can say that black’s in america
    are seriously messed up and misguilded in relation to this
    syndrome. Even black youth are
    off track.
    I don’t know how exactly this will
    be solved.
    But I will say it need’s to solved
    ASAP.

  68. Bleak future may await our children

    http://www.chapelhillnews.com/opinion/letters/story/14447.html

    Humankind inhabits a tiny celestial orb that is miraculously set among of sea of stars. As far as we know, life as we know it exists nowhere else in the universe. Perhaps we of the human family have the responsibility of assuring the security for the future of life in our planetary home.

    April 22 was Earth Day. Our many Earth Day celebrations focus attention on the pressing need for human beings to protect and preserve the finite resources of Earth and its frangible ecosystems. If we fail to achieve this goal, then an unimaginably bleak future awaits our children.

    If 6-plus billion human beings live on Earth now and 9-plus billion are expected to populate our small planet by 2050, then we simply cannot keep doing what we are doing now because the Earth has limited resources. Without adequate resources and ecosystem system services of Earth, life as we know it and human institutions would collapse.

    Some portion of the world’s human population conspicuously over-consumes the resources of our planetary home. Other people, in charge of huge multinational conglomerations, are doing business in a way that recklessly dissipates natural resources. Still others in the human family are overpopulating the planet. The leviathan-like scale and rapid growth of global human consumption, production and propagation activities are putting the Earth, life as we know it, and the human community in grave, clear and present danger.

    Since Chapel Hillians live in the overdeveloped world, we are among the people who are ravenously over-consuming Earth’s resources. We could choose to consume less. People in the developing could choose to limit overproduction of unnecessary things and contain industrial pollution. People in the underdeveloped world could limit their number of offspring. Perhaps these are ways the family of humanity begins to respond ably to the human-induced global challenges that loom so ominously.

    – Steven Earl Salmony, Chapel Hill

  69. Uhh… Thanks Peter, I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into this thread. This whole idea really is “way overboard”.

    :

  70. Outstanding article–with one exception: it assumes that even a 40-hour paycheck is enough today. Kaplan’s advocacy of a shorter work week is obviously a poor alternative for those of us whose wages barely cover the essentials. We need every paid hour we can get. Indeed, many employers today are all too happy to reduce hours. Their employees, however, are not nearly so gleeful about the corresponding cutbacks in food, medicine, and other necessities. Needless gewgaws are not even on our radar screen.

  71. D. Johnson–

    If you’re still looking for further reading, I *highly* recommend Land of Desire by William Leach. (As it happens, “evangelicism” is a very apt description….)

  72. Just wanted to say thank you for all the great suggestions.

  73. No time like the present for needed change……..

    Is the tiptop of the human construction we call the global political economy a place from which leadership can gain a reality-oriented view of what is happening on the surface of the Earth? Perhaps those of us at the top of the global economic pyramid are living in a secluded, unmaintainable material world of our own making and are willfully refusing to accept the limitations of the natural world in which the rest of the family of humanity lives.
    If it turns out that the conspicuous consumption and relentless hoarding of the rich, the famous and the powerful are evidence of unsustainable lifestyles, what is the human community to do differently? Perhaps necessary change is in the offing.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  74. I appreciated this article a lot. It’s come at a time in my life, when I’ve got time to contemplate things a little rather than slave for the man as I have done for too much of life. I really believe we have a lot of gear-shifting to do on this planet and a shorter work week would be a great start on many levels. Thanks for reminding me of this fact and I highly recommend Adbusters both as a magazine and website for those interested in this kind of thinking.

  75. I do not believe in global warming – It’s not real.. just like man bear pig.

  76. After having cleaned out my mother-in-law’s home after her death last year, my husband and I are adamant about not accumulating too much crap! After having read Kaplan’s article, I now feel better about our decision. It is difficult in this age of “stuff” to refuse purchasing items that you really think you need… but I think if more people would do that, it would make a world of difference. Thank you for the great article Orion!

  77. It’s funny and crazy how people
    in this country keep on buying
    all this cheap,slave labor made
    junk and then not knowing what to
    do with it,after they by it.
    Why don’t they just stop
    and use the money to help people
    in this country and world wide.
    Instead of buying more material
    junk.People need to get back to
    knowing each other for real.
    This is why kid’s are messed up
    today.
    Peace

  78. I enjoy life at 79 years old. I am prepared to die, but am not anxious to die because life is good.

    Come to think of it, I never did work: I always did things I enjoyed doing.

    We have 24 hour days for about 70 years on an average. We are free to choose our occupations. Learn to make independent choices of what is important and you will avoid living a life of ‘quiet desperation’.

  79. In “The Gospel of Consumption,” Jeffrey Kaplan channels the Sandwichman, arguing that if we want to save the earth we can start by sharing the work and the wealth. I just want to add that the connection between the National Association of Manufacturers and the abandonment of shorter hours goes deeper than the American Way campaign. Beginning in 1903, the NAM was the source of a steady stream of propaganda against shorter hours. The NAM virtually wrote the economics textbooks claiming the drive for shorter hours was based on a “dangerous fallacy.”

  80. This is a fantastic and well-crafted article! People fear the thought of a stagnant lifestyle as though its advance will assail them, as if it would mirror their worst nightmares about poverty. “It is possible that people fear a lifestyle where they have time to look around them and see what they have been missing and where they really are,” my friend explains to me in conversation frequently.

  81. Going back to Peter’s comments about the idea that kids are messed up because of the great God of consumerism. I would be inclined to agree and disagree. Yes, I think much of today’s youth suffer from too much stuff and not enough time with the people who they really care about. However, I would also say that this situation is not new. I remember competing with kids at school 30 odd years ago on who was wearing the most expensive “fashions.” Most of which were items made in foreign sweatshops, even then! I do not think this is a new situation but I think that we have definitely become more of a throw-away society compared to my grandmother’s generation. That may be where the fault is. What do you think?

  82. All parents regardless of race need to start
    throwing out all this electronic stuff
    before it’s to late to save their kid’s
    state of mind.
    I kid you not
    I am talking about bad music,games
    and whatever else.
    I see it as electronic brainwashing for sure.

  83. How berserk life has become where I live:

    a government swept into power using regional politics; in particular, one key region was represented by a star candidate whose reputation as a consumer rights lawyer (promising to overturn no-fault car insurance) was unimpeachable. In power, he was promptly stiffed, quit the cabinet and vanished (I tried desperately to contact him after being rear-ended by an irresponsible young lady who, even after the crash did not stop talking on the cell phone. The real world simply does not exist for her, and her mother later claimed I caused the crash – I was standing still, signaling a left turn. Rude passersby told me to stop blocking traffic.).

  84. Much of this article is a bit of a retread, as there have been strong critiques of advertising since at least the 50’s. However, I loved some of the juicy bits. Is there any source on the quoted “gospel of consumption” phrase? Something more specific than “One industial consultant”?

    Also, one can hardly blame companies for promoting consumption. They are legally chartered to ever-increase their prophets by any legal means. This is the set-up that creates the rampant materialism, not the other way around.

  85. As a philosophical/theological follow up:
    “..
    “..Modern techno-industrial society is a product of the ‘enlightenment project’ and is deeply rooted in what philosophers refer to as ‘Cartesian dualism.’ This perspective sees humans as somehow separate from the biophysical world, assumes we are masters of nature and enables
    us to act as if society is not subject to serious ecological
    constraints…”
    http://www.scarp.ubc.ca/faculty%20profiles/rees.htm
    George/Yuri

  86. As I read some of other comments
    it’s good to see a lot of people
    really aware of this madness.

    But being a black person in this
    country I really see the bad
    effects it has on poor black
    people trying to keep up
    and then the so-called black
    middle class trying to keep up,
    when in reality black people
    don’t control their own means of
    production.
    This is in relation to all
    this excessive consumption
    going on all over this country.
    We have all this sickness from
    large #’s of black people
    overeating,drinking and just
    going crazy being misled down
    the wrong path.

  87. This is a superb article….not only is it well written it is thought provoking and needs to be shared!

    I have always said that we are slaves to the corporate advertising machine. It is rare for any one individual to have a unique thought with the constant manipulation of information by corporations and the media.

    Happiness is excluded in the corporate equation!

  88. Excellent article. Excellent comments. I’ve added quite a few of your blogs to my Links list today. ;)

    I have been working very hard to reduce my own consumption, and I am having a lot of fun with it. As I own a home (which I happen to love,) I AM still tied into the system, but beyond meeting my basic needs, I really do limit my consumption.

    I no longer have television service. I got sick of feeding a monopoly. When a commercial comes on the radio in the car, I switch over to a CD. I use Freecycle heavily, and I am exploring freeganism (not for food, at this point, however.) I shop local at every opportunity, and I am working hard to get my side projects up and running.

    I want out of the system so badly, and I’m learning a lot from reading and talking with others of a like mind, but more experience/expertise.

    Thank you, Orion, and thank you, fellow “Awakened Folk.” ;)

    JM

  89. People in general seem to be locked
    into a lot of stupidness.
    That is the only thing I can say
    as I continue to see this madness
    goes down.

  90. Exhilarating article. Thank you Orion. I’ve ordered a subscription. Thanks all for the many fine contributions in this discussion. It warms one to see still so much intelligence in this land despite the century-long attempt by today’s form of the mass-manipulative Imperialism of all the ancient and medieval DARK Ages — commerce (industry colonized), to “dumb down” our populace.

    If you want irrefutable vindication of this so fine Jeffrey Kaplan piece, including extremely pertinent and chilling aspects Jeffrey did not include, I believe you will be as riveted and enlightened as I was by the scholarly researched, fabulous 1996 book, “The End of Work” by Jeremy Rifkin, in which, for example, he points out, and amply documents the fact that, we have to begin NOW to shorten the work week, for as the book’s title states, the number of available jobs will continue to plummet as technology does more and more of the work, ironically just as our population — the number of People needing jobs — is soaring.

    As recall, you will also, fortunately, learn that a 30-hour workweek — the ideal first step, and natural next step in Human industrial evolution, absolutely need not involve any reduction in pay, benefits or job conditions.

    Judging by the intelligence I have observed in this thread, I venture to promise you will hugely value Rifkin’s book, and it will vastly more than repay you in insights and invaluably broadened perspective, vision, and hope.

    Finally, as some have already implied, the irrefutable mandate for ending a psychotically hyper-productive, hyper-consumptive way of life is the environment, which belongs to our children, heeding the decades-long warnings of not just global atmospheric destruction, but worldwide fresh water depletion, topsoil depletion, ocean pollution, horrifying species extinctions (33,00/year as of 2000), now disappearing produce-pollinating bees, and the bizarrely seldom mentioned deforestation of this wonderful oasis in cold, dark, heartless space called Earth, all these and so many more terrifyingly expanding dangers rarely on the radar screen of our mass media of supposed information and communication, radio and TV, turned into a cultural sewer of nitwittery and irrelevance perfect for keeping the masses attentions focused on buying and selling — marketplace economics, which, as Robert Reich indicated is supposed to support life, not the other way around, or as my own coinage says it, LIFE IS NOT A MARKETPLACE!

  91. A very nice article. I forwarded it onto my pastor, as he had inspired us several years ago with his Simplicity 101 sermon series.

    The Kellogg example was new and interesting.

    Keep it up!

  92. The situation in America looks bleak especially when you factor in race, class and cultural differences. The question is how to get everyone on the same page? America no longer produces tangible items since most of our manafacturing industry has been outsource abroad. We produce information and services which in my opinion, don’t require longer work weeks especially in this age of computer technology. We should be working from home!

  93. My solution to this problem
    we are having right now is for
    all people to stop wasting resources.
    I say a national energy emergency
    needs to be declared period.

    That would reduce the demand
    and the cost would have to drop.

    All these electronic gadgets
    need to be disconnected.
    All this cable stuff needs to be
    shut down.

    We have way to many people who
    are greedy,and are just gluttons
    when it comes to energy usage.
    Poor people of all races don’t have
    enough as it is.
    So there is no way they are unable
    to keep up with the people who
    have more resources $$$ than
    them.
    Look what happen when katrina hit ?
    The people who had more money and
    resources left town in hurry.
    The poor people got left behind.
    It’s time to stop the madness
    I think.
    That is just one area that needs
    some major adjustment now.
    Peace

  94. Dear Wayne,

    You report,

    “Vaclav Havel never did choose to stand up and pull the ’stop’ cord on the train!”

    But, Wayne, the colossal train is adding cars and accelerating its speed as it proceeds down the track. There is no engineer on the train. Everyone has gone below to stoke the furnace so that the train goes faster and faster. Where it will stop, or how, nobody knows. Conventional wisdom indicates the track is clear ahead and without an endpoint. Widely shared and consensually validated thinking assures everyone on board this train that we can add more and more cars to the train and continuously stoke its furnace with fossil fuels so that the train can keep going at an increasing speed as long as we have fuel to keep the train going. There are no limits to the speed the train can achieve, no limits to the number of cars the engine can pull, and no end to the railroad track. Everything is going as planned and will continue without interruption indefinitely.

    Wayne, if this train is a metaphor for the ever manmade global political economy, could you help us understand how magical thinking, arrogance, pyramid-type schemes and greed are governing the seemingly endless growth of the global economy and how the unbridled increase of the leviathan-like global economy cannot be sustained much longer by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably frangible planet with the size and make-up of Earth?

    And what of the ’stop’ cord on the train, Wayne? I can see it, but cannot yet see how pulling it will do any good because there is no engineer in control. Do you think Vaclav Havel could see that the engine room must have been empty for a long time?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

  95. Excellent article whose message needs to be continually heard. wonder sometimes how consumers who butt against logic (buying gas guzzlers like large SUVs at a time when global warming is devastating our earth and United States) can be so narrow minded about the obvious disaster.

    Dan http://www.supergassavers.net

  96. It is a strange experience to realize (again and again and again) that our society’s misfortunes can be attributed to the greed of a few and how far-reaching a handful of events, conversations, meetings, etc. can be in establishing a widespread, mostly-unquestioned paradigm. Kudos to the author for presenting this information in an approachable manner that will hopefully encourage a few of us hamsters to question the wheel and, perhaps, begin devising a way to step outside of the cage.

  97. I think now is the time to destuff
    as much as possible and reduce
    your carbon footprint as much
    as possible.
    It would help in the long run

  98. I have noticed this shift as well. I termed the change “post-capitalism”: the shift from “Find a need and fill it.” to “Create a need and fill it.” We have become completely possessed by our possessions, we “need” more as much as we feel a need to create it. It is a vicious cycle that will only get worse unless public sentiment changes. I say that public sentiment must change because I do not believe what the article seems to assert about the reason behind this shift being due to a small group of people. Instead, we ourselves have both lain and fallen into this trap and therefore it is up to us, the citizens, and not the government or the corporate heads to get us out.

  99. The matrix is alive and well in
    this country for sure.
    Spread the word and start to destuff why you still can.
    Get rid of anything that is junk
    and just laying around your house.
    A lot of this junk will be the death of a lot of people .
    Remember the people from katrina
    trying to save and take some of
    that junk with them.
    I remember seeing people pushing
    tv’s in baskets.

  100. I wonder if James A. Emery would agree that forced conversion to HD TV is one of those insidious links in the “shackles of irrational regulation”. Even in our consumer based economy, the pump apparently still needs to be primed by forcing the purchase of ultimately useless stuff.

  101. People need to disconnect from
    the matrix before it’s to late.
    Do not connect a tv at all.

    Get a portable radio with batteries
    and tune into the BBC.

  102. Isn’t Edward Bernays the nephew of Sigmund Froid? Using his theories to control the needs/wants of consumers and leading the way for our impoverished self worth today? Excellent article and I would love to see more of this kind. I sought a degree in Business Administration because I seek to undo some of the mind bending and getting inside the culture of excess is the best way. Professors scoffed at my ideas of anti marketing and teaching consumers that value of an item is based solely on its worth to you as consumer.

  103. A cartoon in The Oregonian, a fine newspaper here in Portland, made the connection between the Wall Street furor and Hurricane Ike’s devastation, a ghastly coincidence. If any reader wishes to explore what could be called a prophetic weather forecast, she or he ought to find a copy of AFFLUENZA: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2005, 2nd ed.) by DeGraaf,Wann and Naylor. Global greed and global warming are pathological and, I believe, share a virus in common. At least some individuals will suffer while knowing why! Small comfort.

  104. We are a sheeple who eat what we are fed, and accept it as nutrition.

    “Would you like the red pill or the blue pill?” asks the pharmacist when, in reality, we didn’t even want a pill in the first place.

    I encourage my fellow sheeple to read articles, watch some serious documentaries, and wake up, but sadly, no one has time, and no one wants the responsibility to even acknowledge the issues of today.

    Instead, we elect someone else to make these decisions for us, as these issues give us a nasty feeling in our stomachs, however, nothing that isn’t easily cured by a magic pill that makes everything all better.

    It takes a revolution just to get us in to town…
    but a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

    Let’s keep waking people up out of this somnambulistic way of life.

  105. Even worse than the consumption-driven global financial meltdown we are witnessing is the “fool’s errand” in Iraq………

    “The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people, and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. It is in the nature of things that the progress of reason is slow and no one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”
    ~ Maximilien Robespierre, 1792

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  106. How could one generation go so wrong? Evidently, the leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, increasing per capita consumption, and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors. We religiously promote our widely shared and consensually-validated fantasies of ‘real’ endless economic growth and soon to become unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources and frangible ecosystems upon which the survival of life as we know it and the success of any manmade economy depend. My not-so-great generation appears to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves.

    Never in the course of human events have so few members of a single generation stolen, consumed and hoarded so much wealth at the expense of so many other people. We have mortgaged the future of our own children. We are the “what’s in it for me generation”. We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the vital understanding that humans are no more or less than magnificent living beings with “feet of clay”.

    Perhaps my not-so-great does live in unsustainable ways in our planetary home; but we are proud of it nonetheless. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it, too.” We own fleets of cars, fly around in thousands of private jets, live in McMansions, exchange secret handshakes, frequent exclusive clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. We will live long, large and free. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. Remember, silence is golden. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold the much of the world’s wealth and the extraordinary power great wealth purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our ‘inalienable rights’ to outrageously consume Earth’s limited resources; to recklessly expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; and to carelessly consent to the unbridled global growth of human numbers so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire. We never lie but also never tell the truth as we see it. The “thing” that matters most of all to us is “the only game in town”. We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We enjoy freedom and living without limits; of course, we adamantly eschew any talk of the personal responsibilities that come with the exercise of personal freedoms and any discussion of the existence of biophysical limitations a finite planet naturally imposes.

    We deny the existence of human limits and Earth’s limitations. Please understand that we do not want anyone presenting us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making….a manmade world filling up with gigantic enterprises, virtual mountains of material possessions, and boundless amounts of filthy lucre. Most of our top rank experts appear not to have found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the rapacious dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet’s environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at breakneck speed toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global political economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed. Who knows, perhaps we can realistically and hopefully hold onto the expectation that behavioral changes in the direction of sustainable production, per human consumption, and propagation are in the offing…..changes that save the global economy, life as we know it and Earth’s body.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php

  107. I think Steven broke it real good
    overall.
    Peace

  108. I think Kaplan addresses the main problem in the community: People no longer have time to talk with each other in an empathetic manner. They don’t share a concern for the landscape because they don’t get out to enjoy it with each other. They collapse in front of the TV, where they hear only about the economy, as if it were something that will sustain us.

  109. Myself,I am seeing everyday
    all the board the bad effects
    of to much tv and sitting around
    being lazy and pathetic.
    It’s a form of brainwashing for
    sure and a lot of people are under
    some type of spell related to
    all this consumerism and matrialism.So I think females or
    parents who are single,they need
    to start throwing and out and
    getting all this excessive
    electronic madness out of their
    house and start to buy lo tech
    toys for their children.
    That will save a a few,but a lot
    will keep on doing the same thing
    which will keep being exploited
    overall by some of these companies.

  110. The greedy people in dark, pin striped suits who have pillaged the capitalist system and ruined humanity’s political economy by turning it into a gambling casino and stealing its wealth for themselves and their minions are the same people who are now warning honorable people not to dismantle the global economy. What is wrong with this picture?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176

  111. Billions in bonuses and bailouts for the “wonder boys” on Wall Street.

    Precisely what have these self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe been doing for billion dollar year-end paydays?

    Yesterday we found out.

    In recent years “the brightest and best” have perfected the rule-making governing the manipulation of ‘free’ markets and the institutionalization of fraudulent financial instruments and business models.

    What still mystifies me is this: What have these heirs of Ozymandias done in 2008 to merit this self-enrichment? More manipulation and more fraud for more ill-gotten gains, I suppose.

  112. wow! I am on the other side of the world in Australia and I these sentiments express my thoughts and beliefs exactly!

    Let’s aim for shorter working weeks, so we can build our families into healthy ones, and our realationships and communities into valuing, caring and ethical ones!

    I have already left a lucrative profession recently to do this and have seen the benefit to myself, family, relationships with friends and communities!

  113. Well written piece and it truly sums up our quandry in America. We have allowed the system to rob us of our productivity gains to the extent that inflation adjusted wages have not increased in 35 years. Meanwhile in the last 20 we’ve increased productivity by 40% per labor-hour. This is ludicrous and is tantamount to theft by these unethical free-wheeling corporations that threaten our very nation. Our financial system, our energy system, now our automotive and manufacturing systems, have been mismanaged and downright looted by treasonous good-old-boy networks of inhumance greedy individuals for which no expletive is damning enough. Their febrile ethics and limitless greed has us all caught in a cycle of pissing away our lives in a pathetic attempt to “get ahead” on a hamster wheel leading to nowhere. Meanwhile the lack of meaningful family and community time is destroying our youth, causing pandemic stress and lifestyle diseases, and captivating our minds, gluing them to the most base level of existence, the end result of which is the inability to recognize the horror we are perpetrating on the world. Were we to limit our consumption, and really be paid for our production, we might easily survive working four hours a day, or for those who wish, have one partner stay home. What a concept! A wage that supports a family. How did we get duped into thinking that equal opportunity for women meant a third the pay (in purchasing power terms) for everyone? It’s as if work is the goal itself, rather than the means to a life. Work to live, don’t live to work, and by god don’t live to buy. We should all spend five years boycotting this consumer model and buy nothing more than the means of subsistence. While consumers are individually weak, if we acted in concert we could bring this twisted hell of a system to it’s knees and rebuild it as a true democracy where the employee and citizen is the true benefactor of our nations wealth, not the cold-hearted shrouded aristocracy that now runs our shadow government. Burn them down I say. Nationalize their ill-gotten gains and begin again with some morals for crying out loud.

  114. This system will soon fail. We can only survive if we do share the work and the wealth. The failing of the system will painfully purge.

  115. The idolatry of consumption {and unbridled economic growth}.

    Many too many economic powerbrokers have been playing “the only game in town” the way everyone “in the know” has been participating in the construction of a global, leviathan-like “house of cards” called the global political economy.

    Can we share an understanding of the many attacks on Earth and climate scientists by saying loudly and clearly that their assailants’ activities are venal efforts to spread garbage and junk science, based upon nothing more or less than the duplicitous promulgation of ideological idiocy?

    The many arrogant and hostile efforts toward Earth and climate scientists are for the sole purpose of shoring-up and building trust in a con game; supporting the most colossal pyramid scheme in human history…..a modern version of the ancient Tower of Babel. Only this modern ‘edifice’ is an Economic Colossus, one not made of stone but rather built out of filthy lucre as a house of playing cards. The entire game is a patently unsustainable, gigantic ruse perpetrated by a tiny, greedy minority of outrageously conspicuous consumers who are recklessly consolidating and relentlessly hoarding great wealth and power. For these self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe and their worshiping minions, nothing else matters.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001

  116. When it comes to CON-sumerism
    and black people in this country.
    We are witnessing another form of
    updated 21st century slavery going
    down.
    Now is the time to disconnect
    from the matrix of exploitation.

  117. The dangerous devotion of so many leaders to a “business as usual” status quo as well as to unbridled global economic growth and outrageous per capita overconsumption could prove to be lethal for our children also to worship because these forms of idolatry could soon become patently unsustainable on a relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet like the planetary home which God has blessed us to inhabit……and not to ravage as the leading elders in my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” have been advocating so religiously and doing so recklessly in these early years of Century XXI.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176

  118. Attending to “CON-fidence” games, Ponzi schemes and other financial vehicles for funneling, accumulating and CON-centrating billions in unearned wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of people who comprise the top of the global economy.

    There are many minions who “spread the word” of these schemes. CON-men operate pyramid schemes. They assure “plausible deniability” and “legal cover” for all that is said and done.

    Only a telling of the truth is forbidden in their speech and actions. That is the one and only thing that is forbidden. Do not break their vow of silence by telling what is true about their schemes {ie, the only games in town, so they say}, because the “houses of cards” out of which the modern Tower of Babel is built immediately is exposed. These pyramidal CON-structions can withstand any force except that which is presented by speaking out loudly and clearly about what is somehow true. As soon as light of what is true was shed on Bernie’s scheme, the house of cards he had constructed fell.

    Bernard Madoff may be the first of my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation’s” kingpins to find that his “house of cards” has collapsed; but I dare say, Bernie will not be the last. There are other kingpins and many too many minions ready, willing and able to play along in what looks like the greatest self-enrichment scam in human history.

    Why not say that greed is not good? Why not assign value to personal honesty, accountability and transparency?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  119. My goodness, I stumbled upon this article by accident and was amazed by its message and content! This has to be one of the most inspired and inspiring articles I’ve read, thank you for an informative, thoughtful, researched and motivating message! It has truly made a difference in my life and has given me more reason to continue the changes I’ve been making in my and my family’s life!

  120. It appears that hundreds of billions of dollars, now amounting to trillions of dollars, and every available tool of governance and human enterprise, are being put into service for the sake of rescuing the global economy, but precious little money and scant tools are used to address the larger and much more forbidding, human-driven global challenges posed to the family of humanity by unbridled per-capita resource overconsumption and runaway climate change?

    Are the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe who organize and manage the global economy refusing to recognize that there can be no such thing as a viable global economy on Earth if the planet’s limited resources continue to be recklessly dissipated and its frangible environment relentlessly degraded?

    Who knows, perhaps necessary change from a soon to become patently unsustainable leviathan construction to a sustainable global human economy, one that benefits a democratic majority of the human community, is in the offing.

  121. Back in the pre-bubble times of the early ’90’s, I used to jokingly argue that, “American capitalists would sell the death of American capitalism if it sold, and guess what? It does.”

    After reading this article, I feel like I should dust that bumper sticker off and try it out again in these diminished and exhausted times.

    What I was originally thinking about when I coined that question / phrase was the dumbing-down and crassness of so much American cultural “product.” I was wondering how a culture that celebrated and sold a prideful ignorance could sustain itself over the long haul?

    No pun intended, but I have to admit that I later found myself “buying into” the tech boom ethic that so many of my fellow Austinites embraced. We competed to out work and out busy one another – bragging about our caffeine dependence. In fact, hey! I still work 50 hour weeks!

    So, reading this excellent article helped me remember a few things…
    like shared meals, and daylight hours in my garden, and recreation. There’s an interesting word: re creation.

    Hmmm. I am glad I took some time off today to stop by the Orion site.

  122. How do we calculate the environmental “sins of omission” and the economic “sins of commission” that have been foisted upon the Earth and the family of humanity in the first eight years of Century XXI? How will our children and history view this brief period of time at the outset of the new millennium when arrogant and greedy, self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe willfully and recklessly chose to “pad their own pockets” and, by their fraudulent efforts, take life as we know it and the living Earth down a descending, primrose path into darkness and to some colossal wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has witnessed.

    If the human community keeps doing precisely what we are doing now and not choose to make necessary changes, then a sense of foreboding overtakes me because the shameless Masters of the Universe will have ’successfully’ perpetrated a gigantic financial sham and left our children with a world – both ecologically and economically – in shambles.

  123. These people need to be exposed
    and dealt with as time moves
    on.
    Peace

  124. The production and intake of goods in this country should have a drastic change, and this change should come in the way of production that is necessary for a good life but not production that is over the needs of any person. That just means cutting back on what we take in and not producing items that will not sell. I work at an electronics store in which every week we rifle though every DVD and send back hundreds of them to the production company because the DVD’s are not selling. Once we send back the DVD’s to the company what I presume is the companies more than likely just throw away the unsold discs. This wastefulness of unsold products is just deplorable, this is why, maybe companies should just go to a system where more items that are known to not sell very well are special ordered so that the, material for the disc, or whatever material the product is made of, is not just a wasted pice of plastic, or any material. Wasted products get sent back to the manufacture every day, who I’m sure don’t recycle there products. Even if production went only to main selling items there would be less waste in this country.

  125. As consumers our mission is to buy as many things as possible. Up front, this situation isn’t bad. It means we get everything we ever wanted or needed, right? Wrong. Public Relations believe that we as a whole are unable to know what we want. What’s odd though is that they are right. As consumers it isn’t our role in life to attempt to understand why we NEED and WANT things. We have been told what to think and how to think for so long we no longer have control of our thoughts. In this article, it talks of topsoil. To me it is an analogy speaking of how once we run out of topsoil we no longer have any. There is no way to make some more. The same is applies to friendships with people of societies across the globe. Once we have completely demolished society there is no coming back. Sadly, the demolition of ethic values is happening right now and there is no cure.

  126. It’s like the mindless masses of
    people have so brainwashed and
    programmed to keep this ship
    afloat.
    I think it’s crazy and we are seeing the end result of this madness.
    There has to be a better way to
    live for everybody on the planet.

  127. I wish more people could read this
    I have always felt we need more family time. This is what are children need not more things. The most important thing we can give is our time and love. We do not have to believe in all the ads and buy things just because they tell us we need them and our neighbors have them. Carole

  128. The preservation of Earth’s body and environs, and its maintenance as a fit place for human habitation, could be initiated so simply, sensibly and responsibly by following “Ten Commandments” for immediate economic reform.

    http://www.ft.com

    Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world
    By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    Published: April 7 2009 20:02 | Last updated: April 7 2009 20:02

    1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

    2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

    3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

    4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

    5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

    6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning . Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

    7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

    8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

    9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

    10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

    Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

    In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

    The writer is a veteran trader, a distinguished professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

  129. Dear Friends,

    Wonderful discussion. The ideas generated here appear vital to me. While I agree with everyone who says no one can predict the future, I also believe we can likely agree that if the human community keep doing precisely what we are doing now, we will keep getting what we are getting now.

    One indication of faulty reasoning and extreme foolishness, I suppose, would be for us to believe that we can keep overconsuming, overproducing and overpopulating as we are doing now and somehow achieve different results from the ones in existence now.

    If, for example, by doing “more of the same business-as-usual activities” that we are doing now, we could be leading our children down a “primrose path” to a recognizably horrendous fate of some unknowable kind, would reason and common sense not suggest a change in behavior?

    We have self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us who are recommending to the children that all of us can live large and long; that we can conspicuously consume limited resources, pollute the frangible environment, overpopulate the finite planet and ravage the Earth……just the way they are insisting all of us do now. These arrogant and avaricious leaders are living examples of patently unsustainable lives and, yes, they take pride in their gigantic ecological ‘footprints’ and lifestyles based upon excessive consumption and unbridled hoarding. If our children were to keep doing what my not-so-great generation of elders are adamantly advocating and doing now, what is likely to become of them?

    My growing sense of frustration results from a realization that remarkably clear, intellectually honest and morally courageous reports from so many responsible and duty-bound scientists show us that the Masters of the Universe are determined to deny what could somehow be real and not to speak publicly about what they believe to be true regarding the predicament in which the family of humanity finds itself in these early years of Century XXI. Even worse, their minions with leadership responsibilities and duties in environmental organizations have collusively been enjoined from speaking about whatsoever they believe to be true. As a consequence, a conspiracy of silence has been established among all these leaders and the absurdly enriched talking heads in the mass media who eschew intellectual honesty and moral courage in favor of reporting repetitively about whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable and religiously tolerated.

    The silence of so many leaders is deafening, while the duplicitous, disinformational chatter of the talking heads is morally outrageous. What is much worse, sad to say, is that the determination of these leaders and the talking heads to live large and long in such stupendously unsustainable ways — come what may for the children — is not only grossly irresponsible, it is a profound dereliction of their duty to warn, I believe.

    Perhaps change is in the offing.

    Sincerely yours,

    Steve

  130. As I read all the other comments
    on this subject.
    Being a black male and seeing the
    self destruction and self hate
    and destruction of inner city
    communities all across this country
    that are related to this overall
    mass CON-sumerism problem.
    Poor black people continue to be
    the main one caught up in this
    excessive materialistic non-sense.
    It seem’s like to me that the so-called black middle class that
    made it during the 60’s 70’s
    civil right’s movement have gotten
    so caught up in chasing after this
    madness.
    Then people wonder why prison
    rates are so high for black males
    and why so much dope is being
    sold and bought within the hood
    of some of these areas.
    Peace

  131. I trust I am mistaken about the concern that besets me this morning: One day our children will look back in anger at those in my generation who had the chance at least to try and mitigate the fully expected damages of climate change but abjectly failed because we “played around the edges” and refused to take demonstrably responsible action. Sacrifices of ‘sacred cows’ often associated with making necessary changes were too damn hard for so soft, satisfied and selfish a generation of leading elders, I suppose.

  132. Dear Friends,

    Perhaps you can assist me. There must be something wrong with the “picture” I am about to draw, but no one with wealth, power, status, and privileges to conspicuously consume and endlessly hoard has said anything. Their bought-and-paid-for politicians and absurdly enriched minions in the mass media are also silent.

    Picture this:

    A remarkably tiny group of conniving, deceitful, ostentatiously greedy, patently fraudulent financial schemers on what is left of Wall Street in the remaining investment houses and the major {stress-tested} banks that are described as “too big to fail” are at one and the same time being given hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, racking up billions of dollars in profits, and paying themselves millions of dollars in bonuses. All the while, millions of people are losing their livelihoods, homes, pensions, etc. The children of these less fortunate people are going hungry.

    What is wrong with this picture?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  133. This whole scene is out of control
    and I wonder will people snap
    out of it and wake up from destroying the planet with all
    this excessive materialism
    and consumerism.

  134. One day our children will look back in anger at those in my generation who had the chance at least to try and mitigate the fully expected damages of climate change but abjectly failed because we “played around the edges” and refused to take demonstrably responsible action.
    Many of us already are. The so called “me” generation is aptly named in for their egregious navel gazing and self absorption. Your generation (as a whole, exceptions exist) has single-handedly brought about the decline of the nuclear family, the decline of financial stability, the decline of the environment and the decline of America’s power through your endless pursuit of material wealth and opulent lifestyles that could only be afforded through cheap credit. As a young man, I have little expectation of a quality of life of anything approaching yours. I am college educated, hard working and smarter than the average bear, yet your generation’s mismanagement of your own finances means I can never expect you to pass the torch in the work world (who’s going to retire now?). Consequently I look forward to a life in which a home is unattainable, a family could only be raised in impoverished conditions, and education and health care costs have inflated so astronomically that I only hope my commitment to healthy diet and exercise will preempt my need for medical care and I’d never be able to pay for college for kids, should I have them without some dramatic change in personal income. American jobs today have no future. You can’t expect to be loyal and climb the ladder, as corporations will cut your legs out from under you and the first sign of a decline in earnings. Our culture has become one of celebrating celebrity and superficial beauty and there is no longer any place for male utility. I boycott marriage and reproduction in a society in which the only means to do so is to commit to a life of indentured servitude to corporate masters. What happened to your values and ideals? In your youth, there was hope for real change as you rejected the establishment that eventually consumed you. What a dismal failure of principle. The way we’ve been living we deserve to disintegrate as a culture. It is unsustainable to pass enormous debt to your children and who would want such a heritage. For shame. You still collectively hold the reins of this leviathan and it is up to you, who have the money and influence to finally sacrifice and right the wrongs if you would hope to have any chance at a respectable eulogy when you pass on. Start by willingly paying your taxes, paying off your debt, and holding the politicians accountable. Demand transparency in lobbying, take back the power of the megalithic corporate monstrosities that are “too big to fail.” Our real power to change the picture is to stop enriching our elite paymasters and to cease giving our production away for the same paltry sum we did when I was born in the seventies despite increases in productivity of about 50% in that time frame, and inflation absurdly understated. Make no mistake, the ostensible 3% inflation excludes the costly increases in necessities like food and energy, and the hopeless expansion of our debt and money supply. If this were not the case, a single blue-collar salary would still afford us our own home, car, appliances, education, health care and leisure time. These are now luxuries for most of the population even in two income families. This is the real situation our politicians would have you ignore. It’s time to shed the fat and open our eyes before it’s too late (I sincerely hope it is not already, but the cancer of individual gain at all cost has rooted deeply in America).

  135. If the family of humanity chooses to keep doing the very things we are doing now by maximally growing the global economy in the noticeably finite world we inhabit, something horrendous will occur eventually. What concerns me most is that current gigantic scale and anticipated growth rate of the global economy will precipitate, sooner rather than later, an unimaginable wreckage of human civilization and/or the catastrophic collapse of the ecology of the planetary home we are blessed to inhabit.

    Ten years ago, I worried about my grandchildren facing such an awful set of circumstances. Then a few years ago, it appeared our children would be put at risk after my generation had completed a fool’s errand in which a few million fortunate individuals took so many resources for themselves and left billions of unfortunate children with a ravaged Earth. Such a possibility troubled me because self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe leading my not-so-great, avaricious and arrogant generation — a single generation on a mission — have adamantly advocated that we commandeer, consume and hoard a “lion’s share” of Earth limited resources and, in that process, have perversely condoned the relentless degradation of Earth’s environs and the reckless dissipation of the planet’s scarce resources….come what may for the children, coming generations, biodiversity, Earth’s body and its environs.

    Real hope is connected to doing things differently from the way we are doing things now by making ecology primary and economy secondary.

    False hope is associated with keeping the global economy primary and Earth’s ecology secondary; with doing things just the way they have always been done while fully expecting things to turn out differently from the way they have uniformly occurred in past experience.

  136. The Gospel of consumption and the issue of over work in America and the world is a serious and growing problem. There are many things that people have tried and are trying to do: shorter workdays, more time off, less work days, so that people can spend more time with their families and doing the liesurely activities that they enjoy doing. But to me it seems like this is a problem that we have been fighting about for over 100 years and almost as if we have taken a step back in our progress. i am currently reading A Peoples HIstory Of the U.S. by Howard Zinn and he describes in great detail the AFL and the IWW which were worker organizations and unions that fought for shorter work days and better working conditions in the early 1900’s. they were temporaraly successful having shorter workdays and better conditions for a short period of time but were not able to maintain that level of intense protest and finally the dominant corporations prevailed; as they often do. it seems to me like we have taken a step backward over the years as we are continually growing more unhappy with our jobs and with the lack of leisure time we have. Lately i have been thinking though that it might also be a problem of attitude about the job. I am 17 years old and over the summer for four months i work forty hours a week and then during the school year i work about 20-25 hours a week while also attending school. i have no problem with working 40 hours a week because i enjoy my job. i work at a golf course and i am an avid golfer. i cant envision myself doing anything else. I enjoy my job greatly and because of that my attitude is fantastic which makes working 40 hour weeks an enjoyable situation. If everybody enjoyed their job was doing what they in their heart knew what they enjoyed then working so much wouldn’t be at all a problem. This leads me to the issue of prioritizing ones life and their endeveours. I work forty hours a week and still get to play golf everyday. i am an avid golfer so that is a top priority for me. I think people involve themselves in way to many different activities and that is why they feel they have no time for liesure because they are trying to do so many things instead of picking the activities that they know they love doing; for me it is golf, and i get to play golf everyday and still have time to spend time with friends and family and since my attitude is good about my work i dont feel as if i am wasting my time and as if i have a shortage of time. If we can prioritize our lives into the things that make us happy, try and have a job that you dont mind going to and having a good attitude about what you are doing than working so much wont seem as bad, not saying that working less is bad, i think working less would benefit everybody greatly but i do not think that we as a country and as a society will ever reach a point where every party is satisfied with the hours of work and the hours of liesure. Prioritizing activities and having a good attitude about these activities: work, liesure, relaxation, is key to enjoying life Because attitude can be the difference.

  137. I am not an economist. But the economists I hear about in the news keep telling us we need to consume more goods, especially new cars, to get the economy back on its feet. Surely there is another way for our country, our world to survive and thrive. What is the other model? What if we all conserved and used only what we needed? We were fine before we became totally focused on consumerism. What is wrong with no growth? We could have stability as our mantra rather than growth, which is unsustainable. What would this world look like and how would it function? I would love to have a discussion of this.

  138. in the year-plus i’ve known about this article, i’ve told dozens of people about it. almost to a person, the response has been positive. the more we push back against those bent on this control of our society, the more we see their evil, single-minded intent: to enslave, coerce and manipulate. we are not bound by their design. opt out.

  139. Two questions for all of us to contemplate, I suppose, are these.

    How are billions of people to sensibly organize to respond ably to the destruction of the Earth that is now being perpetrated by those few million people who possess a lion’s share of the world’s wealth and the power it purchases?

    When are the super-rich to be held to account for having self-righteously institutionalized the ‘goodness’ of pathological arrogance, conspicuous consumption and excessive hoarding for the benefit of none others than themselves and their minions?

  140. Steven took it further, and he’s right: to merely opt out, my words, is to allow the insanity to continue, is to further burden our children and heirs with misery. To speak out, to form responses to the current construct, requires a greater commitment to change. We must define the need for change as no less than an imperative, resolve to be unyielding, and promulgate awareness of this sharp polarization as standing in opposition to pretty much every tenet built into the existing society.

  141. Perhaps it is time for many of us, starting now, to look not only to deploy these words from Mohandas Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, but also to live out this great man’s example of principled, non-violent, civil disobedience.

    Perhaps constructive personal action and necessary social change are in the offing.

  142. If the leaders of the global political economy continue to recklessly expand the large-scale production of food to feed an already rapidly growing population, then absolute global human population numbers will continue to skyrocket as they are now. The relentless effort to increase the world’s food supply appears to be a primary precipitant of a global human population explosion. A billion people are hungry on Earth in our time. More poor people live in our planetary home today than existed on Earth in the year of my birth.

    Why not end large-scale agricultural production and everywhere encourage an increase in sustainable farming practices? Why not fairly and equitably distribute the world’s abundant food harvests so that the starving can fed? We have hundreds of millions of people who are starving as well as many too many millions of people who suffer from the ravages of gluttony. The human family could move toward more healthful living standards for all by redistributing available food resources.

    The family of humanity is going to have to stop sleepwalking through life and immediately awaken, however difficult that may be, to the human-driven global challenges threatening human wellbeing and environmental health in our time.

    Perhaps necessary change is in the offing because its occurrence must come soon.

    Otherwise, I fear, the human community could reap the Biblical whirlwind, a storm blast of epic proportions, that gives rise to some kind of unimaginably huge and destructive global ecological wreckage.

  143. This is latest post from my blog. I’m putting it here because I think it is so relevant to the discussion.

    In the United States steel industry between 1982 and the year 2002 production rose from 77 million tons a year to 120 million tons. At the same time the number of workers employed in the industry went from 289,000 down to 74,000.

    This is not an isolated occurrence. Similar statistics can be found in most industries in all industrialized countries. The reason is not complicated – better machines and greater efficiency means an increasing ability to produce more with less labor.

    Surely this is a good thing. The only question is what do we do with it. How do we best realize the great gift our technology is offering us. For example, if the statistics for steel were more or less representational of productivity increases in all industries, that would mean we could sustain 1982 living standards on a 10 hour work week. I know it’s not as simple as that: there are many post 1982 developments that we would not want to do without and some industries have not had the productivity increases that steel production has (though some have had more). I’m just using this example to indicate the scale of what is happening.

    We are not even coming close to taking full advantage of the possibilities that technology opens up. While our great productivity has resulted in large increases in living standards, it has also helped to cause two of our biggest problems. On the one hand we generate unemployment, turning the machine freed workers into the out of work. On the other hand we desperately start producing more and more stuff to create work for the unemployed to do. We have created the twin problem of unemployment and a global and personal smothering in excess stuff, when we could just be having more and more free time.

    And please, not free time to drink more beer and watch more television. But free time to give our lives more meaning and transform the world.

  144. Mr. Kaplan’s well written article ties together several historical threads to make an important point. “We can break that cycle”, he concludes, ”by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need.”
    But, we haven’t and it is unclear when or if we will.
    Mr. Kaplan begs the question of why the ruling elite are able to persuade the masses to act against their own best interests. How do we counter the marketing strategies of Edward Bernays’ intellectual descendants? Critics railed against the gospel of consumption from the outset as Mr. Kaplan does in this essay. Shortly after Kettering, Davis, Edgerton, et al articulated the tenants of the gospel of consumption critics appeared. As Mr. Kaplan references Arthur Dahlberg’s book (Jobs, Machines, and Capitalism) which appeared in 1932.
    Clearly pointing out the risks and calling attention to the costs of the gospel of consumption was and is insufficient. Until we address this question, until we find an effective means to counter the gospel of consumerism, the nation will continue on its present course.
    Drawing inferences from Easter Island’s (Rapa Nui’s) collapse, Jared Diamond (Easter Island’s End, Discover, 1995) wrote that within modern, industrial societies “Corrective action is blocked by vested interests, by well-intentioned political and business leaders, and by their electorates…” Seemingly oblivious to the risk, we, like Easter Islanders, appear to be on a disastrous path.
    Based on more recent archaeological work Dr. Chris Stevenson (Easter Island’s Controversial Collapse, Science Daily, 2009) wrote that “Societies don’t just go into a tailspin and self-destruct,” but adapt. True, but the inhabitants of Rapa Nui deforested the island and killed off most of the original plants, animals, and insects! In short, adaptation followed an ecological disaster when there was little choice – adapt or die.
    So, what short of a disaster is required to convince us to turn off our machines when we have created enough? Or, will our descendants struggle to adapt to life on a nearly barren planet?

  145. Perhaps the philosophy of the Native American is right……

    Summed up in two statements…

    “You are imprisoned by everything you own”

    and……..

    “When you cut down the last tree…..poisoining the last stream…..only then will you realize that you can’t eat your money”

    Not only as a species do we refuse to acknowledge nature………..we go beyond even ignoring it to the point of manipulation at the sure risk of our own peril……..

    Economically speaking we are a very clever society that either lacks or refuses to acknowledge any wisdom in our judgements.

  146. The Gospel of Consumption, is a terrific article; we do need to slow down a so called need for just about everything shown on TV. My grandchildren have an appetite for more and more electronics. After their interest is drained from one product, which is quite fast, they are ready for the next. Vdeos are their main conversation and amusement parks are next. Poor parents.

  147. Science is being savagely undermined, and the family of humanity intentionally confused, by the pernicious rhetorical shenanigans of arrogant ideological idiots and religious fanatics ‘fueled’ by obscene amounts of wealth obtained from the most greedy rulers of the world in our time.

  148. A lot of people at the bottom
    have no clue as to what is happening and how it is going down.
    People are being ate alive with
    all the social madness going down.
    This business of religion solving
    everything is okay to a point.
    Only problem,people don’t know
    how to make the religion work in a more realistic way.

  149. If the gigantic size of global human population could be a primary driver of the global ecological challenges that loom so ominously on the horizon before humanity, when can the leaders of the human family be expected to focus upon this leviathan? It appears as if the skyrocketing growth of human numbers is, in and of itself, a clear and present danger to the human community. Billions more human beings, who strive the way the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us do so recklessly now to conspicuously overconsume and relentlessly hoard Earth’s limited resources, could soon ruin our planetary home and its environs as a fit place for human habitation by the children and coming generations. If the leaders of the family of humanity willfully refuse to acknowledge this primary threat to human wellbeing and environmental health in our time, how can human beings with feet of clay be expected to address and overcome the challenges?

    If sensible discussions of what looks like the proverbial ‘mother’ of all global threats to the future of children everywhere and coming generations cannot be openly and honestly held in Copenhagen, would Mexico in 2010 be a better place and time?

    If not here-now, if not next year in Mexico, then when?

  150. I think it’s mad joke on the
    population for allowing themselves
    to be set up and done in by the type of non-sense that is happening
    now.
    Myself,I would leave the planet and let all these racist elist’s who started this madness stay here on the planet in their self destruction

  151. All the dunderheaded disinformation, deceit, delay, denial and disasterous decisionmaking of the past 8 long dark years are in past. With a little luck people with feet of play will overcome the arrogance, wanton greed and stupidity perpetrated by the Masters of the Universe among us, the most avaricious and self-righteous ones who widely proclaim their greed-mongering is God’s work.

    What mental disorder describes those among us who proclaim themselves Masters of the Universe doing the work of God?

    Years of hard work by people with feet of clay all come down to this week in Copenhagen. The “now or never” week is at hand for the children, global biodiversity, life as we know it, the integrity of Earth and its environs. This week is the moment that the Masters of the Universe cannot avoid any longer; all of the human family are bound in this long-awaited momentous week. The time for action has come, finally. The opportunity held in this blessed moment must not be missed.

    If anyone thinks of something that I can do to assist any of you to reasonably, sensibly, responsibly and humanely realize the goals of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, please send word to me.

    Steve Salmony
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina

  152. Peace and I hope it’s not to late
    because these nuts might be
    trying to stay in power at any cost to the masses.
    Right now,black america is paying
    a heavy cost daily in the hood
    with all this violence.

  153. People are not speaking out loudly and clearly about the colossal threat that is posed to humanity by the skyrocketing growth of human population numbers on Earth.

    Despite the unfortunate, inhumane ways a “ONE CHILD PER FAMILY” policy was implemented in China, the policy could be vital for the future of humankind and life as we know it in our planetary home. The immediate, free, universal and compassionate implementation of a voluntary “one child per family” policy could decisively limit adverse, human-driven impacts on Earth’s body and its environs, and do so more powerfully than any other conceivable human intervention.

    Given the already visible, converging global threats to human wellbeing and environmental health that are presented to the family of humanity in our time, the humane implementation of one child per family could be an indispensible centerpiece of a set of adequately designed, actionable programs that serve to actually rescue a good enough future for the children and coming generations.

    If a root cause of the global threats on humanity’s horizon now is the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers, our willful denial of this primary cause could make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the children to reasonably address and sensibly overcome these threats. Then the children are likely being directed down a “primrose path” to confront some unimaginable kind of ecological wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has seen. The children will not understand why the catastrophe is occurring. Because their elders refused to acknowledge the best available scientific evidence of human population dynamics and, therewith, adequately “diagnose” the distinctly human-induced global predicament all of us face now, the children will not know what hit them, why it is happening, and what is required of them so as not to commit the same mistakes made by the elders.

    This is only a guess but please note the likelihood that history will not be kind to the woefully inadequate leaders in my not-so-great generation of arrogant, extremely foolish and avaricious elders.

  154. This should tell us,that no one idea by any group is supreme.
    I am talking about the
    republican party and their
    non-sense that came up with all
    this global greed,global exspansion.

  155. Dear Peter D. Slaughter,

    Some day soon, I hope you and other splendid commentators in the Orion community will find adequate ways to directly acknowledge the global challenges of our times by helping us “connect the dots” between human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities on one hand and climate destabilization, natural resource dissipation and and environmental degradation on the other.

    It seems to me that any “truth” about Earth’s ecology and climate science need to be coupled with the best available science about human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of our planetary home.

    When the moment of ‘throwing out life preservers’ occurs, it will probably be too late for human action to do anything meaningful about the human-forced global threats that once loomed ominously before the human family. Time will have been wasted. We will have been fiddlin’ while Earth’s environs were destroyed for human habitation and its resources were being recklessly depleted. Father Greed will have effectively ravaged Mother Nature. Although global threats had called out to leaders for global interventions, there were no transformational leaders (except Barack Obama) and international institutions (including the United Nations) empowered with adequate authority to promote necessary change.

    At bottom, while there was still time to make a difference, many too many leading environmentalists, politicians, economic powerbrokers, talking heads in the mass media and other public opinion shapers colluded in stony silence and did not speak out loudly and clearly about the colossal threat that is posed to the family of humanity by the gigantic scale and skyrocketing growth of human population numbers now overspreading the surface of Earth.

    Threats to human wellbeing and environmental health cannot be reasonably addressed and sensibly overcome until the root causes of the threats are acknowledged, validated by science, and widely shared in the human community, I suppose.

    Very best regards,

    Steve

  156. As an artist working in precious metals and gems I realized several years ago that the strip mining, degradation of local environments at the source of precious gems was something I could not ignor. Since 2007 I have only created from recycled seaglass (I have hand gathered) and am cutting gems from rough using only water that I have sourced from mine dumps and old collections. I refuse to purchses newly mined materials. As this is Christmas day the gorgathon of consumption, I thought I might mention another way to be a responsible citizen. My boyfriend needs an additional USB key so instead of buying him one I collected mine and consolidated them so I have one to give him. I made cookies for my family and friends. I have cleaned and am giving my grandson his uncles old Legos for Christmas and I’m giving my rat pack holiday cds to some friends who were thrilled to hear them. I am giving my daughter the gift of one month of my time to clean and organize her new life in New Orleans. I am alos giving Irish linen napkins as gifts to replace disposable napkins at the dinner table.I am helping my mother prepare for her party as her gift and for another friend I played server at her Christmas dinner party. I have been able to enjoy myself knowing I am not adding to the landslide of personal consumption, toxic wrapping paper mountains and appreciating what is already here. Until people react to the way industries violate our earth and the people in it, we won’t make much progress. Ask your jeweler how the gems he sells are mined and the conditions of employment. Maybe that diamond won’t look so impressive when you know about the oppression and strip mining. Earth google any major mining activity. I agree the dots must be connected in order to show the huge responsibility of our choices each and everyday. When I was in economics in college I remember arguing with my professor that the ideal of production is to make every last widget for which there is even one cent profit. It doesn’t make sense on so many levels. We have so many products in our midst and yet as Americans we run out and buy new and improved as if once the package is opened on something it is no longer useful or desirable. The one-upmanship of the consumer lifestyle if shameful not hip or cool or da shiz. For those who truly believe in Christmas, remember Jesus didn’t hit the mall for going away gifts for the disciples and he didn’t get a new set of clothes, nor did he travel first class on his Gulfstream. The man had a message about the simple life and its many benefits. Happy recycled year!

  157. Dear Ellen Scott Grable,

    Your way is a way that leads to sustainability, I believe.

    Please, please, do keep going.

    With good cheer and hope for movement toward whatsoever is sustainable in 2010, so that a single generation does not ruin Earth as fit place for the children to inhabit,

    Steve

  158. The human family cannot keep recklessly overproducing unnecessary stuff, hyperconsuming and excessively hoarding limited resources, and overpopulating the planet as the leaders in our not-so-great generation are advocating so adamantly. Everyone in the human community appears to be implicated in the work at hand of finding a different way from the patently unsustainable “primrose path” set out by those who extol the virtue of greed and arrogantly proclaim that their greed-mongering is God’s work. The most dangerous fraud consciously perpetrated in our midst is the widely shared perception that insatiable avarice is an inherent aspect of human nature. Unbridled greed may rule the world in our time but such behavior is contrived ….. a willful, foolish and selfish result of a consensually validated misperception of what is real about the nature of being human, I suppose.

  159. I am seeing that time is running
    out in getting this straight once
    and for all.
    If not the country and the world
    might be in a for a suprise they
    might not like.
    I see some type of high tech
    genocide,population control
    going down.

  160. Dear Peter D. Slaughter,

    Thank you for being here just as you are and for all you are doing to protect life as we know it on Earth from huge human-induced threats. Surely you are probably correct about the formidable challenges to human wellbeing and environmental health that are likely the result of human activities borne of stupidity, arrogance and greed. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of deep sadness and occasional outbreaks of passionate intensity (likely signifying nothing).

    Still I believe in remaining engaged with you in this necessary struggle for the future of life as we know it, a sacred struggle in which so many human beings with feet of clay have been involved for a lifetime. The first fifty years of my life were lived as if in a dream world, the profane one devised by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness a single generation would elect sponsors of powerful, greed-mongering economic powerbrokers who would formulate policies and implement business plans that irreversibly degrade Earth’s environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere. My failures include not realizing that I and my selfish generation were ravaging the Earth and effectively behaving in a way that could lead to the destruction of our planetary home as a fit place for habitation by the children (let alone coming generations). Even though it is discomforting and difficult to responsibly perform our duties to science and humanity, at least we can speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unfortunate circumstances and in the process educate one another as best we can. Like you, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form. Much more problematic, however, is the ruinous determination of many too many experts who have colluded to consciously obstruct open discussion of the best available scientific evidence of “what could somehow be real”. If what could be real about the human condition and the Earth we inhabit is not confronted with intellectual honesty and moral courage, how is the family of humanity to adapt to the practical requirements of “reality” in a reasonable, sensible, sustainable and timely way?

    An ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of experts choosing to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than examining extant science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth. This refusal to respond ably by acknowledging evidence and accepting responsibility for the distinctly human-driven global challenges that have emerged robustly and converged rapidly in our time could be one of the greatest mistakes in human history. After all, what mistake in history could be greater than the ones made in our time that lead humanity inadvertently to precipitate the demise of life as we know it and to put at risk a good enough future for the children?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  161. Given a planet with the size, composition, frangible ecology and finite carrying capacity of Earth, could someone comment on how much longer the global limitations of Earth can be expected to sustain the unsated overconsumption, unbridled overproduction and unregulated overpopulation activities of the human species in our time?

    Despite every effort to appear reasonable and sensible, the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us approach economic and ecologic problems in patently unsustainable ways by adamantly advocating and recklessly pursuing greed-driven schemes based upon the seemingly endless growth of human consumption, production and propagation that will lead humanity to precipitate, however inadvertently and soon, the destruction of life as we know it and the Earth as a fit place for human habitation, I suppose.

    If the human community is in a race against time, even at this late hour when pathological arrogance, greed-mongering and elective mutism rule the world, is it ever too late to speak of what is true to you or to do the right thing, as best we can?

  162. Peace and the responses to this are great.
    But let me add another fast observation about this situtation.
    It seems that this whole idea is even connected with a lot of the
    religous behavior that goes on the
    planet. Some people seem to think that this life is only about being here,consume then die and maybe go
    to some heaven or hell.
    Depending on what a person’s believes. After reading this article and some of the comments.
    I think this whole idea has been
    a great big con job on the masses
    of the people and the people on the planet and all these countries
    need to get hip and change their
    self destruction ways soon.

  163. Dear Peter,

    There are many problems that are associated with “religious” behavior and the harsh dogmas underpinning religions. And yes, I agree that the rankling among those who hold fanatically to one religion and deny the efficacy of others are exemplars and victims of “a great big con job”, as you put it.

    Having said this, let me add that I draw a “line in the sand” between this destructive thought and behavior on one hand, and the thinking and behavior of people who embrace the spirit of God on the other.

    As I see it, one of most colossal mistakes in our time is the perpetration of a consensually validated, false dichotomy by many too many people in science and in the religions The scientists say “god is a delusion and lay claim to the perspective of arrogant, overly educated and evidently deluded atheists. People of the religions deny that science is from God and provides the best available evidence for determining what is real with regard to the biophysical world we inhabit.

    If we imagine for a moment that science is a gift to humanity from God; that science is of God, then science is a guide to human beings. Of course, this idea cannot be construed to mean that people “cherry pick” the attractive scientific evidence which supports ideology. Science is not be deployed for the sake of self-interests and self-aggrandizement. Ideological idiocy is justified in this way.

    Science is to be completely embraced the way one wholeheartedly maintains faith in God.

    The emerging and converging ecological challenges posed to the human family by greed-mongerers who rule the world in these days and produced the current global economic crisis remind me of the following views that were left as instructions for all of us by a person of God, I believe.

    “The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.”

    “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

    Pope John Paul II.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  164. I have long been fascinated by the thought that we are taught in certain belief systems that God is in fact rewarding us in terms of cash and consumables for being “good” and that poverty is somehow related to being “bad.”

    I have a related, but different question to pose on the over consumption which is killing us and our beloved planet. The best answer I can surmise from the data in regards to how quickly this planet will self destruct will occur is sooner than we’d like. Is it possible that the three million people who suffer from hoarding syndrome are in fact victims of the industrial lifestyle and that this is yet another way in which we are dying from over consumption? Everytime I hear of another person being trapped under their belongings and dying I wonder how many others are just another trip to the mall away from a similar fate. Even if they don’t have enough to physically crush them, aren’t they in fact being crushed under the weight of a sick modern lifestyle which says buy more and be more? It seems to me that prior to the industrial revolution hoarding would have been pretty difficult since very few had even enough much less excess. Food for thought.
    I agree “con job” is an appropriate way to describe the lifestyle we have been sold and continues on as I write this.

  165. Two responses:

    Dear Peter,

    Just for the sake of clarity about the widely shared, false dichotomy of science and religion, let me add just a bit more to my previous statements. Perhaps there is a deeply structured harmony between religion and science. And this unity is derived from one source… God.

    Dear Ellen,

    Your perspective is wonderful. It appears our leaders are advocating that we choke ourselves and the living Earth to death. Bloated, bloviating Masters of the Universe among us could share but choose to conspicuously consume and excessively hoard resources as well as, of all things, to profanely proclaim that they are doing “God’s work”. Who knows, maybe these self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe are indeed among the ‘princes’ who need to be named, shamed and seen for the devils they are?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  166. Dear Steve Salmony:
    I was rereading what you posted and what you said was on point
    and applies to a lot of the situtations going on now on the planet.
    Myself,I have had to deal with
    the question of being a believer
    or non-beliver by somebody that might approach me on the street.
    When I have tried to explain that they have me pegged wrong.
    They don’t understand then some
    judgement is passed on me,based
    on bad data/info.
    The reactions to this activity is
    causing a lot of the problems
    and the confusion.

  167. Dear Peter,

    If I understand you well enough, it might be best not to place too much emphasis on convincing other people of your perceptions. Other points of view are to be respectfully considered but, if they conflict with your own perspective, let this difference be just as it is. Discussions of beliefs about human existence and biophysical reality are typically difficult ones that are fraught with ambiquities which lead to many misunderstandings, even when people are trying their best to communicate in intellectually honest and morally courageous ways. Do your part to communicate well as you can and then, as many people might say, “let the chips fall where they may”. It is ok that people disagree.

    Thoughtful people like you, who find themselves in circumstances similar to ones you describe, might value the following reminder: neither seek the confirmation of fools nor suffer them gladly.

    All my best,

    Steve

  168. Dear Peter and Ellen,

    It appears to me as if one certain thing humanity cannot keeping doing much longer is the very same thing we are so adamantly and foolishly doing now as the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us choose to recklessly speed up the ever increasing, seemingly endless growth of the global economy as well as to deceptively manipulate human beings into going along with a conspicuous per-capita overconsumption and unreserved overpopulation agenda.

    If we keep doing what we are doing now and the human community keeps getting what it is getting now, I fear that sooner rather than later everything we are believe we are protecting and preserving will be ruined. In the not-too-distant future a distinct probability could exist that one of two colossal calamities will occur. The wanton dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of Earth’s frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort unless, of course, the world’s ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global political economy (the modern “economic colossus”) continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point humanity’s runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

    Could we talk about the need for a new vision for life on Earth?

    Months ago Andy Revkin of the NYTimes and the Dot Earth community asked the question, “What does humanity do when we grow up?” Dr. Joel Cohen has explained elsewhere how humanity is currently in an adolescent phase of its development and his moving toward maturity. Other experts have suggested that the behavior of people in many places is even more primitive, in the sense of being less grown-up than adolescents and more nearly infantile.

    Perhaps another way of coming up with a new vision would be to ask the question, “What might a human world look like when full grown, mature human beings with feet of clay design, construct and organize a new world order in the future?”

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  169. Thanks to everyone in the Orion community for being here just as you are and for all you are doing to protect life as we know it on Earth from huge human-induced threats. You have probably been correct in your identification of formidable global challenges that are likely the result of human activities borne of foolishness, arrogance and greed. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of sadness and outbreaks of passionate intensity (like this missive).

    I believe in remaining engaged with all of you in the necessary struggle to preserve the future of life as we know it, a sacred struggle in which so many human beings with feet of clay have been deeply involved for a lifetime. The first fifty years of my life were lived as if in a dream world, the profane one devised by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness a single generation would elect sponsors of powerful, greed-mongering economic powerbrokers who would operationalize policies and business plans as well as implement government programs that irreversibly degrade Earth’s environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere. My failures include not responding more ably and also communicating more clearly how I and my selfish generation were ravaging the Earth and behaving in a way that could lead to the destruction of our planetary home as a fit place for habitation by our children. Even though it is discomforting and difficult to responsibly perform all our duties to science and humanity, at least we can speak out loudly and often about these unfortunate circumstances and in the process educate one another as best we can. Like you, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form. Much more problematic, however, is the ruinous determination of many too many perniciously silent experts who have colluded to obstruct open discussion of the best available scientific evidence of “what could somehow be real”. If what could be real about the human condition and the Earth is not confronted with intellectual honesty, the best available science, moral courage and faith in God, how is it possible for the family of humanity to adapt to the practical requirements of “reality” in timely, reasonable, sensible and sustainable ways?

    An ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of experts choosing to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than skillfully examining and objectively reporting on extant science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth (see the scientific research at http://www.panearth.org/ ). The refusal to respond ably by acknowledging evidence and accepting responsibility for the distinctly human-driven global challenges that have emerged robustly and converged rapidly just now could be one of the greatest mistakes in human history. After all, what mistake in history could be greater than the ones made in our time that lead humanity, however inadvertently, to precipitate the demise of life as we know it and to put at risk a good enough future for the children?

  170. Dear Peter D. Slaughter,

    Yes, I agree with virtually everything you are reporting. This dialogue pleases me a lot. Thanks. I have commented in the Orion Blogs on many occasions. Please know that activities such eugenics and attitudes that embrace “cultural imperialism”, social Darwinism, rampant greed, racism are anathema to me.

    We have to have discussions like the one. There is much to report and much more to be done.

    Before we can move forward toward sustainability, I suppose we are going to have to stop doing the reckless things we are doing now: stop relentlessly digging ‘the hole’ we are in deeper. If we are not thoughtful, careful, and responsive to the practical requirements of the biophysical world we inhabit, we may end up digging a colossal hole that is big enough to be the gravesite of the human species.

    Before we can begin anew, we have first to STOP (ie, refuse to dig deeper any longer), take our heads out of the sand, clear our eyes, look up and out, and choose to change direction.

    The future is open. We cannot know it. Who knows what the human family may be capable of accomplishing once we stop the patently unsustainable ‘digging’.

    Thanks to all,

    Steve

    PS: Peter, you, I and many others are among those who “know what they do”. For us, seeking forgiveness is a cop-out. Evidently, we are members of a generation for whom necessary change appears too damn hard at this moment in history. If we do not ever do things differently, perhaps we will be remembered as the worst generation in human history precisely because we have shown ourselves to be too soft, sanctimonious, slippery, stupid and selfish to do the right thing. One day the children may look back in anger and utter disbelief at those in my arrogant and avaricious generation, who had the chance at least to try and mitigate the fully expected damages of rampant large-scale industrialization, too big to fail/too big to succeed corporatism, scandalous per-capita overconsumption and individual hoarding, and unregulated global population growth. We will have abjectly failed because we either ignored or rejected science in favor of self-serving ideological idiocy and chose “to play around the edges” of the predicament before us rather than take responsible action that could plainly be seen and consensually validated as somehow correct. My generation knows better, can do better and one day soon will do so.

  171. There is hope. I am speaking to friends and aquaintances very directly about what they think their part is in this global equation.

    Almost everyone wants to do something so I suggest starting with their buying habits. DON’T. We discuss using things up fully, repairing, and buying used whenever possible. The greenest products are the ones already here and don’t need to be made. We talk about working closer to home or moving to a closer location to reduce fossil fuel usage personal stress and the need to make more repairs on vehicles.

    We spoke of a need to make our representatives accountable as leaders in the new economy of sustainability. My govenor rides a private jet back and forth from home to the capital. Unacceptable.

    Maybe when A&E does a reality show on our dying planet people will tune in or when our icons of capitalist consumption such as oprah get on board and stop telling woment to buy “her favorite things” then we will see some real shift.

    We have to steer the planet into the upcoming sharp curves ahead or risk crashing into the ditch of total destruction. These discussions in person and online serve a real purpose in spreading the word and as an incubator for thoughts on how to put the brakes on to be able to even move to sustainable. I look forward to further discussions.

  172. Yes, there is surely many sources of hope.

    Perhaps the children already possess what is needed to survive. If only their elders could stop making things more difficult for them to be successful by doing what everyone can see is not compatible with a good enough future for life as we know it on Earth.

    We, the elders, could choose to stop doing the things we are doing now as we recklessly plunder Earth’s resources and relentlessly pollute its environs. Damaging overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species could result in the precipitation of a calamitous global ecological wreckage?

    At some point in the near future, before it is too late for humankind to make a difference, reason and common sense are going to be deployed and collective action ably and humanely taken by new leadership within the family of humanity that at least strives to mitigate, if not resolve the colossal, human-driven ecological crisis which looms so ominously before all of us on the horizon.

    Perhaps we can see now how the attractive ideological idiocy and self-serving greediness of some as well as the stony silence of many are what is required to precipitate the ruination of the Earth and its environs as a fit place for habitation by children everywhere.

  173. We are currently saddled with a widely shared, consensually validated and pernicious misperception: that food production must be endlessly increased to feed a growing population. Where are the experts who are reporting that this misconception could be a product of preternatural thought and pseudo-scientific investigation borne mainly of political convenience and economic expedience? Have these experts not noticed that peer-reviewed articles are extant that directly contradict these prevailing mistaken impressions regarding human population dynamics. This is a tragedy in the making. How are people to respond ably to the human-driven threats before humanity if the best available science regarding human population dynamics is rejected?

    From my humble inexpert perspective, the best available science of human population dynamics has been and continues to be willfully ignored by most experts. I would like to make an appeal to the Orion community now. It is not anything new. The entire point of the AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population during the past decade of denial has been to encourage open discussion of the best research on the population dynamics of the human species, population dynamics that have led us to be overpopulating the Earth in a dangerous way. Please, someone with expertise or a group of experts, please comment on the research by David Pimentel and Russell Hopfenberg which indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity that human population numbers could be a function of food supply; that food supply is the independent variable and absolute population numbers of the human species is the dependent variable; that the population dynamics of the human species is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species.

  174. In another life and before the questionable creation of Miami Beach’s “Art Deco District, the City of Miami Beach employed a Kosher meat inspector–the only one south of New York City–named Mr. Brickman. A kindly man, Mr. Brickman’s view of his job came down to one painfully simple conclusion: It wasn’t the trucks at the packing house platforms that concerned him. They were available for inspection. It was the trucks that were not there tht bothered him.

    As I read the ‘conversation,’ it seems to me that it’s the conversation that were not having that should concern us; you know, the one that speaks to the problem of urban expansion at any price, of highway and state marketing budgets that always seem to be funded when other things like education are not.

    How much land do you think I-95 from Miami to New York consumes or I-10 from Jacksonville Florida to Los Angeles or the speedways that eat the soul out of Anytown, USA?

    Just curious. Can I have my town back?

  175. http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/news/1/13157-population-overshoot-is-de

    Population Overshoot Is Determined by Food Overproduction

    Written by Steve Salmony, Monday, 03 May 2010

    Even after more than ten years of trying to raise awareness about certain overlooked research, my focus remains riveted on the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population and scientific evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel that the size of the human population on Earth is a function of food availability. More food for human consumption equals more people; less food for human existence equals less people; and no food, no people. This is to say, the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other living things.

    UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan noted in 1997, “The world has enough food. What it lacks is the political will to ensure that all people have access to this bounty, that all people enjoy food security.”

    Please examine the probability that humans are producing too much, not too little food; that the global predicament humanity faces is the way increasing the global food supply leads to increasing absolute global human population numbers. It is the super-abundance of unsustainable agribusiness harvests that are driving population numbers of the human species to overshoot, or explode beyond, the natural limitations imposed by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably damaged planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth.

    The spectacular success of the Green Revolution over the past 40 years has “produced” an unintended and completely unanticipated global challenge, I suppose: the rapidly increasing supply of food for human consumption has given birth to a human population bomb, which is exploding worldwide before our eyes. The most formidable threat to future human well being and environmental health appears to be caused by the unbridled, corporate overproduction of food on the one hand and the abject failure of the leaders of the human community to insist upon more fair and equitable redistribution of the world’s food supply so that “all people enjoy food security”.

    We need to share (not overconsume and hoard) as well as to build sustainable, human-scale farming practices (not corporate leviathans), I believe.

    For a moment let us reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered in 1970 on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize. He reported, ” Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.”
    Plainly, Norman Bourlaug states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction, but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}. Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food.

    According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is most similar to the population dynamics of other species. Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life as we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic, large-scale overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years.

    Recall Dr. Bourlaug’s prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the “Green Revolution” and to the extraordinary increases in the world’s supply of food. Please consider that the sensational increases in humanity’s food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug’s great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers.

    We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing large-scale food production capabilities (as opposed to small-scale farming practices) on human population numbers worldwide between now and 2050. If we keep doing the “big-business as usual” things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world’s food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the fairly near future.

    It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the large-scale corporate production of food; for providing broad support of small-scale farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present overly abundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for immediately, universally and safely following Dr. Bourlaug’s recommendation to “reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely.”

  176. The etymology of “consume” – to destroy utterly by fire

  177. Happy New Year to you.

    Outrageous per-capita overconsumption and excessive individual hoarding are problems, just as you suggest. On a finite planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth, there can be no reality-oriented doubt of your perspective. As Kenneth Boulding said years ago, “Only madmen and economists think otherwise.”

    While it is necessary to discern this aspect of the global predicament, it is simply not sufficient to focus narrowly on this understandable problem, all while denying other aspects of the human-induced predicament. By doing so, we may win a battle but lose the larger struggle to assure the children a good enough future in a planetary home fit for them to inhabit.

    Now here and in very many other places, many too many so-called experts have consciously and willfully chosen NOT to openly discuss the root cause(s) of the global predicament resulting from human overpopulation of the Earth because they did not think it would be helpful, I suppose. But look at what silence during the last 60 years has wrought. Elective mutism by so many experts regarding outstanding empirical research of certain human population issues, particularly human population dynamics, has effectively and perniciously vanquished science. This outcome could be the most colossal failure of nerve in human history. The consequences of this incredible mistake do not simply threaten a civilization with collapse. Collapses of civilization have occurred before. Sometimes on a smaller scale and other times on a larger one. But at no time in history can I find records of the precipitation of a human-driven collapse with such profound implications not only for a civilization, but also for life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. The ‘brightest and best’, most knowledgeable people, those in positions of much influence and great power, have not spoken out loudly, clearly and often enough.

    When scientific knowledge is deludedly regarded as a threat to human wellbeing, and intellectual honesty, moral courage and personal accountability are everywhere eschewed, how on Earth do we ever give ourselves so much as a chance of mitigating damages, much less “solving” problems for which we bear a large share of responsibility?

    I do not know what the future holds for the children. I am hoping they will find ways to muddle through. If they manage to do so, it will likely not be the result of the efforts of those in my not-so-great generation of elders. We have failed them so far “on our watch” and will continue to do so as long as we continuously choose to keep reckless engaging in the same unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities we adamantly advocate and relentlessly pursue in our time, I suppose.

    Shouting out about human overconsumption of Earth’s limited resources is a good thing; but remaining mute about human overpopulation of the planet appears to be a misguided strategy, one that will not serve the children well.

    Silence will not save anyone from anything, and surely will not save humanity from itself. Perhaps we can agree that the Earth will go on, with or without the human species.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  178. How are we to begin talking about this real issue regarding the human population, much less meaningfully acknowledge the problem posed by skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers, if experts willfully refuse to speak out about either human population dynamics or the unscientific foundation of demographic transition theory. The former is assiduously ignored, even though it appears to explain why human population numbers have been exploding in our time, while the latter has been broadcast ubiquitously during my lifetime, even though the theory of demographic transition could be misleading all of us by giving rise to a false promise that human population growth is somehow about to come benignly to an end soon. The silence with regard to human population science as well as the broadcasts of preternatural pseudoscientific thought regarding the demographic transition theory are significant forces with which we have to reckon, I suppose.

    Let us consider on one hand we have the denial of science and on the other we have steady, relentless broadcasts of what is preternatural thought. Most importantly, we note that desire-driven, ideologically based, logically contrived, unscientific thought is seen and heard everywhere in the mainstream media defending political convenience, economic expediency and the status quo. Is this not the sum and substance of mass media ecology?

    How is it possible for top rank experts with responsibilities to science and duties to humanity to be adamantly advocating for more “food production to feed a growing population” and yet be failing to mention the profound implications of skyrocketing absolute global population numbers? For such a thing to be occurring in 2011 appears preposterous. It is morally outrageous and dangerous both to future human well being and environmental health, I believe, for well established experts to be reporting ubiquitously in high-level discussions and the mass media such things as are directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research of human population dynamics and human overpopulation. Is it possible that population experts are not aware of peer-reviewed, published research in their area of expertise which indicates the food supply is the independent variable and human population numbers is the dependent variable in the relationship between human population numbers and food supply? It appears to me that many too many experts are regularly reporting attractive preternatural theory regarding the human population that is directly contradicted by scientific evidence.

    According to consciously ignored research of Hopfenberg and Pimentel, the food supply is the independent variable not the dependent variable. Human population numbers is the dependent variable not the independent variable. The believers in demographic transition theory and in the idea that “we must increase food production to feed a growing population” could be mistaken. The false promises of the demographic transition theory, that population stabilization will somehow occur benignly and automatically a mere four decades from now as well as the upside down thinking that human population numbers is the independent variable and food supply is the dependent variable, present crucial misunderstandings which are being deployed by self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us for the purpose of protecting their self interests as well as for directing the human community down a patently unsustainable “primrose path” no human being with feet of clay would ever choose to go, much less send unaware and unprepared children.

    The uncontested scientific finding of the relationship between food supply and human population numbers is being obscured and denied by the very experts upon whom the human community relies for guidance and direction. Denial by ‘the brightest and best’ of what appears to be the best available science regarding the relationship between food supply and human population numbers has been occurring for too long a time. This failure of many experts has to be acknowledged and put behind us so that momentum can gather to move the human family in a new direction; so that we can begin making necessary changes toward sustainability.

  179. In his essay, “Boredom,” Siegfried Kracauer writes about “doing nothing” as a kind of space that is distinctly and necessarily separate from the commodification of everyday life implied in Kaplan’s article. Being bored is a good thing, according to Kracauer, because it allows one to still be “in control of one’s existence.” But we’ve been conditioned to avoid boredom, perhaps because it can’t be sold …

  180. People in society today have become so conditioned to work and more work to further their wants and desires when it comes to materialistic things. We continuously want the next best things, instead of being satisfied with the things we do have. We lose sight of what truly matters in life. When people are younger they get interested in hobbies or some sort whether it is scrap-booking or some sort of a collection, how come when we get older and start working we seem to lose all those things that interest us and/or make us happy? I think the fact we lose sight of those things we try to fill the void of having nothing to do with more work. We need to remember what truly matters in life, those around us that we love and the things that make us happy.

  181. This writing does wonderful things to expose the underbelly of american society. The way it examines the inerworkings of american economy brings many things to the table. This should be required reading for everyone in the U.S.

  182. This is a very interesting article. I think that this is an excellent short history lesson of consumption in America. I would say this isn’t a typical anti-consumption rant, it’s a actually pretty good one in my opinion. He discusses how the consumer society has changed in the last century, and how they were created. In 1920s the invention of “labor saving” machines brought led to an idea of shorter work days and more time for people to become better citizens. Rather, industrialists and politicians began to use the magic of advertising therefore leading to more production and even more work.

  183. One key element which the overwhelming majority of the population of human beings, wealthy or in poverty, does not understand is that people will unknowingly purchase uncontrollably without hesitation or concern as to whether or not they can need it or afford it. Corporations have mastered the science behind attracting the consumers; so much so that consumers will give in, no matter what. Everybody wants to have the shiniest shoes and the fastest car. Consumerism is psychological warfare. Corporations will always control consumers if they continue to produce the next best thing. We, as consumers, fight it, but will always lose if we continue to ignore persuing things we actually need, rather than wasting money of the everlasting production of wants which we rationalize into the we need.

  184. Hey, I’m not a native speaker and I don’t really get this part of the article or maybe more why is it even in the article: “Huntington notes that “marginal social groups, as in the case of the blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political system” and thus present the “danger of overloading the political system” and undermining its authority” That sounds pretty racist to me but the author of this article seems to think it’s a good thing. I’m confused cause I really liked the rest of the article. Can anyone please explain, if I am mistaken??

  185. I’d be happy to explain barb, well as best as I understand myself. I think you’re quite correct in what you say except for how the author of the article thinks it’s a good thing. They are merely quoting what Huntington said. To me, the author seems impartial and doesn’t really mention if they think what Huntington said is a good or bad thing.

    I agree with your comment, that what Huntington said is racist, but you must look at when he was quoted saying that – 1975, not a very long time after the civil rights movement in America, and a time when the black community were starting to make a name for themselves in high-status positions such as in government. Obviously at that time a lot of (white) people were still in the mind frame that the black community should remain segregated and as “commoners” in society as written in the article.

    Racist part aside, and in a very broad sense, I think the idea behind using that paragraph in the article was to highlight that there are so many different parties representing so many different ideologies (that being the “overloading the political system” or “excess of democracy”) that when it comes to making an important or decisive decision, authority is in a sense diminished because it has to be consulted with all or most of these parties.

    I’m sort of repeating the next paragraph but that’s when people or should I say the ‘elite thinkers’ such as Huntington want the “marginal social groups such as the blacks” to just stay at home because they are “unstable and ignorant” and for them not get involved because that is what “a democratic system usually requires.”
    I don’t know if I’ve helped you or made you more confused but that was my take on it. and for not being a native speaker, you did well to understand the article ;)

  186. It would be good if this was compulsory reading for senior students in all schools as we continue to destroy the earth and her ‘resources’ which are not resources. Our lives depend on changing our attitudes.

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