Last Name, 1 The Desensitization of North America by Consumerism and its Affect on the Poor Through the always turning cycle of consumption, North Americans are being desensitized of the true state of our global poor populations, leaving a crumbling developing world in the background of our consumeristic first world nations. As affluent, privileged North Americans, and specifically as Christians, our priorities should lay not in accumulating more wealth, but in spreading and distributing our knowledge, technologies and means.
Our modern day society in North America, is based in and around a consumptionoriented state of mind. Don Slater comments on the materialistic lifestyle of our modern day culture, saying that, “the modern world of goods holds domination over the world of men and women, both in the everyday life and in the global processes which structure it” [Slater, 1997, p. 100]. Our labour markets, economies and means of production are targeted to attain and sustain material prosperity for the citizens of privileged nations, with little regard for those who may live in the shadows of our spending and consuming.
Like an addiction, the need to accumulate more material possessions grabs hold of people – at first it seems wrong; however, once you are in the middle of it, you barely feel its grasp on your life. Coming from a Christian standpoint, consumerism is the chief rival to God. Lives consumed by consumption are being exposed to false Gods, and more prominently, people are beginning to live in the world, and also be of the world. Our societies have an extremely unbalance economic life, and only until God’s will is considered, it will continue to remain unhealthy and destructive. Last Name, 2
Desensitization stems off of this domination that material wealth holds on people, specifically when held in regard to our response to the poor of our world. With an abundance of awareness being spread among communities through various means (word of mouth, educational systems, media, institutions), claiming ignorance on the matter of third world despair and need simply cannot be justified. While unfamiliarity may be the justification of some, it is highly unlikely that in a society dominated by education and a desire to achieve greater and bigger degrees, one can merely not know of the situation those are faced with outside of North America.
Rather, a plain disregard for the reality of our world seems to be more plausible excuse for the actions of the materialistic citizens of our societies. The death of the world’s most vulnerable citizens happens so often and so abundantly that those on the receiving end of this news become accustomed to this now considered fact of life. The casualties of consumerism fade away far from the glare of media attention, only to be publicized when there is mass famine, civil war or natural disasters.
Since our world is constantly shown, day after day, cases of mass casualties (terrorism, natural disasters, war) everyday disasters such as the 1200 children who die per hour due to poverty and disease [Van Til, 2007, p 144], become mere misfortunes, or ways of the world. A lack of glamour and media attention distracts people from seeking answers; if there are no special reports done on BBC, or no Film Festival documentary featuring everyday “misfortunes” such as famine, poverty, and disease, one can expect that most citizens will not react or be influenced to change.
This sense of dullness in regards to North American responses to the poor resides directly with the inwardly pull towards accumulating more. Our society has moved into a Last Name, 3 state of “want”, which most often gets misconstrued as “need”. We are a pecuniary culture, revolving around money, “as concerned with ‘having’ to the exclusion of ‘being’, as commodified, as hedonistic, narcissistic or more positively, as a society of choice and consumer sovereignty” [Slater, 1997, p 24]. We are a culture of consumption, our dominant mode of reproduction has been focused on material wealth.
Always in gathering mode, our consuming society has its priorities set on “more”. While generally one would assume that satisfaction would come with having basic human needs met, “consumer culture associates satisfaction with socioeconomic stagnation : there must be no ends to needs” [Slater, 1997, pg 100]. The effect on developed nations is, (although not as destructive as the ramifications on developing nations) becoming considerable when looking at the ways in which North Americas priorities and even moral values are beginning to lay.
Consumption has moved from being a privilege, to a human right to most citizens of developed nations. A sense of freedom comes with the ability to consume abundantly. “Consumerism’s mixture of freedom, individualism… is a potentially explosive and dangerous cocktail of ingredients” [Mortiz, 2000, p 8]. A vast majority of middle and high class citizens find themselves being dragged into the addiction previously mentioned, of consumption. Those who separate themselves (whether by choice or by circumstance) from the consumeristic lifestyle, become repressed instead of liberated by consumerism.
The moral values of our society are being changed, rearranged, and overtaken by consumerism and the lavish lifestyle of consumption. It has become the “healer, the entertainer, the lover, the spiritual, the feeder, and the consolation” [Mortiz, 2000, p 100]. Last Name, 4 Promising security, happiness and satisfaction, consumption instead leads to dependance, obsession and a false sense of freedom. Our massive levels of wealth have led to obscene levels of poverty, exploitation and alienation. Wealth and the world of goods is a place in which we find it hard to be at home (even when consumer culture is loudly promising us all identities and values) over which we have little control” [Slater, 1997, p 100]. The alienation that is found in our wealthy societies is so clearly demonstrated in the sheer and utter boredom that we as North Americans have, and the indifference that we show to all of the new material possessions being upgraded, updated and slightly reconfigured for the sake of ownership.
New technologies are released monthly, drawing consumers in, and leaving the buyer with a sense of freedom and satisfaction; oblivious to the cycle that he or she is trapped in. The toll that our consumeristic society has on those who are repressed by consumption instead of liberated by it, are the ones who have the most significant ties to the consequences of North American and other wealthy nations’ actions. North America is home to the largest economy in the entire world – the United States is the richest in the entire world, and its economy is nearly three times the size of the next largest economy.
Citizens in the United States are on an individual level, more wealthy than entire countries [Bourke, 2007, p 16]. Living in such a privileged nation, one tends to believe that we as middle class and high class citizens are the majority, since for the most part, we are surrounded by those who spend, consume and live a consumeristic lifestyle. The reality is that by no means are the wealthy the majority; although we consume as though we are. Almost half of the world (over three billion people) live on less than two dollars per day, and almost 80% of humanity
Last Name, 5 lives with only ten dollars per day. The poorest forty percent of the world’s population accounts for five percent of global income, while the richest twenty percent accounts for three-quarters of the world’s income [Shah, 2010]. North America accounts for only five percent of the world’s population, yet we consume thirty percent of the entire globe’s natural resources [Seitz, 2001]. We have used up one third of our natural resources in ten years, and forty percent of our water has now been declared “undrinkable” [Leonard, 2007].
Westerners are contaminating, destroying, and using up resources at a pace that is much quicker than the speed the earth can replenish and restore what we have used. There is a linear system that is in use in our society of production, consumption and disposal, but we live on an indefinite planet – one that cannot, and will not continually provide us with the resources that we need to keep up with the lifestyles that we are living, now in modern day.
Since North Americans are the largest factor of the destruction and eradication of the third world, the environment, natural resources, and our planet, one would assume that the primary duty of such a privileged nation would be to make a combined effort with developing nations to aid in repairing what has been destroyed and ignored for so long. While there are efforts that have been made by governments, non government organizations and private citizens, the outcome of our efforts are proving to be trivial.
Our global priorities are absolutely disgraceful, as Canadians, Americans and as North American citizens. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are petty and inconsiderable, and suggests taking a “go-slow approach” that is talked about in Pogge’s article on the UNMDG’s. By taking the slower route, as suggested by the United Nations’ goals in taking four years to solve this problem of poverty, is essentially allowing the murder of billions of Last Name, 6 people through the greedy and selfish act of consumerism. The present go-slow approach against world poverty may actually be morally worse than the hypothetical go-slow approach against the Nazi concentration camps : it is for the sake of small gains that the world’s affluent elites are refusing to take a much more substantial push against world poverty” [Pogge, 2007, p 31]. To first see the grandeur of the problem that is the third world and its poverty, we must look at what it will take to bring the citizens of the developing world up to the minimal poverty line.
The total cost per year to end extreme poverty would come to approximately $175 billion. This figure represents less than one percent of the combined income of the richest three countries in the world [Harack, 2011]. While this may seem like an astronomical figure, it becomes almost insignificant when comparing the spending habits of only one of these three previously mentioned wealthy nations – the United States of America. In 2011 alone, the United States government will spend about 3. 4 trillion dollars, with 1. 30-1. 415 trillion of that being spent on military funding. Ending world poverty would require the United States to give up about five percent of its annual spending. Furthermore, the annual military budget for the United States is about four times as much money that is needed to eradicate world poverty around the entire world, for good [Harack, 2011]. The question lies not in the numerical resources – we have plenty of that. Money is not an issue when dealing with the problem of world poverty.
The issue lies in the ways our money is being spent, and the reasons it is being used the way it is. Minds are being shaped through media bombardment, telling us that our identity as North American citizens is in consuming. What we contribute to our society is seen through the things we buy, the clothes Last Name, 7 we wear, the cars we drive, and the technological devices that we use; our material possessions is how our values are measured. We are being tantalized and bribed into a corner by consumption and the idea that what we own determines who we are.
In order to continue this never-ending cycle of desire and greed, planned and perceived obsolescence is used to change the way we see our material things. Items are designed to break down easier, and media is construed to make people believe that the things they own are not good enough, simply by changing the outer design of products. By being seen with the outdated version of an item, our value in society decreases, as it is a visible sign that we have stopped in our contribution to society [Leonard, 2011].
In order to escape from the vicious cycle of consumerism, and to begin to see the ways in which our priorities are misconstrued, we must bring our focus out of determining our value through material goods, and begin to see our worth through the lens of the author of all creation. The desensitization of society stems from a stance that only through material goods will you find your security, value, and ultimate freedom. Once our scale of value is brought back to a healthy, sustainable light, will we be able to make a difference for those who desperately need it.
Then, and only then, will “the greatest crime against all humanity” be ended [Pogge, 2007, p 31]. Last Name, 8 Works Cited Bourke, Dale. The Skeptic’s Guide to Global Poverty. Colorado Springs : Authentic Publishing, 2007. Print. Brown, Douglas. Insatiable is Not Sustainable. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1947. Print. Harack, Ben. “Visions of Earth. ” USA Spending. Visions of Earth Ltd, 2010. Web. 19 Nov 2011. Leonard, Annie. “The Story of Stuff. ” Tides Foundation. Founders Wordgroup for Sustainable Consumption, 2007. Video. 19 Nov 2011. Mortiz, Thorsten. Christ and Consumerism.
Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Publishing, 2000. Print. Pogge, Tomas. “Two Reflections on the First United Nations Millennium Development Goal. ” Social Ethics: Mortally and Social Policy. 7th ed. Ed. Thomas A. Mappes and Jane S. Zembaty. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill 2007. 456-464. Shah, Anup. “Poverty. ” Global Issues. N. p. , 20 Sept 2010. Web. 23 Nov 2011. Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1997. Print. Van Til, Kent. Less Than Two Dollars a Day : A Christian View of Poverty and the Free Market. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdsman Publishing Co. , 2007. Print. Last Name, 9