I’m not talking about the Romantic disease, here. I’m talking about the consumption of stuff by human beings. Ecologically, human beings are consumers. So are mice, dogs, cats, lions, crabs, ants, and bacteria. Some of the radicals of the world talk as though we should cease to be “consumers”. This will never happen.
However, we can regulate our consumption, can we not? And we can make something other than “consumer” our primary identity.
When a mouse consumes, it eats plant matter of some sort and carries on as usual. Humans consume more than food, however. We consume other physical needs such as clothing and hygiene products. We also consume technological goods that make life easier — shovels, cars, gasoline, laptops, iPhones, bicycles, walking sticks. Our consumption also includes goods we require or think we require for our jobs, such as specific clothing, staplers, pens, paper, printers, ink, and so forth. On top of these goods, we also consume things for our own entertainment and leisure time — DVD’s, CD’s, books, movie tickets, junk food, Nintendos, iPods. A certain degree of consumption in all these areas will be necessary, I reckon, for a balanced human life.
However, we consume other things as well. We don’t just consume books as goods to purchase, but we tear through them like cheap hookers, toss them aside and read the next book on the list indiscriminately. We do not have love affairs with books. We consume them. We consume all art, in fact. To a degree, this is inevitable, for art is to some extent entertainment. We consume plays, we consume paintings, sculptures, and conceptual pieces. We consume operas, symphonies, rock songs, and hip hop. Art is a commodity and we devour it like potato chips.
We can also consume relationships. We can eat people and how they relate to us in a metaphysical way, destroying them and ourselves in the process. We consume friends, family, co-workers, people at church, teammates. We consume employees, sucking as many hours and as much productivity out of them so that they have little energy and drive left for the rest of their lives. We consume spouses, ensuring that they are required to be at home during all hours of spare time and contributing to the household and our own petty needs. We consume children in the same way. We consume church members by thrusting them onto committees and “plugging them in” to small groups, Bible studies, extra church services, ministries on Sunday morning, and making them feel guilty as though they aren’t real believers if they aren’t that “devoted” to the local congregation to do all these things. We consume teammates by criticising their plays endlessly, by yelling at the other team, by only ever talking about the sport with them, by seeking endless practices for the “big game” morning, noon, and night.
The consumption of stuff can surely be regulated. Buy less. Eat less. Spend less time watching TV and on the Internet. Watch fewer films. Spend more time nurturing the books you read. Contemplate the art in the gallery — surely a few paintings observed well and fully are preferable to gorging yourself on a whole gallery in an hour? Fewer video games, less junk food, and so forth. Drive less so you spend less on gasoline and repairs. Resist the marketing that makes you think you need a Blackberry or an iPhone or an iPod or a new computer.
When we spend less time and money on the selfish, self-aggrandizing things, we can spend more time on healthy, whole relationships. Sit quietly together reading books, exchanging meaningful book-related comments. Spend time in museums and art galleries rather than mute in a movie theatre or before the boob tube or shopping. Talk at dinnertime. Go for walks — most cities have scenic areas.
When we spend less time and money on the selfish, self-aggrandizing things, we can spend more time and money on giving of ourselves. We will have more time for volunteering and helping the poor. More time for activism if you’re into that sort of thing. More money for helping the poor and the sick and helpless and the hopeless. We will have more time to learn about the great sorrows of the world, and thus more accuracy in how we give of our time and money.
When we spend less money on junk food and other unhealthy eating habits, we’ll have more money to spend on fresh ingredients. And thus we’ll be healthier. When we spend less time watching television, we’ll have more time to exercise. And thus we’ll be healthier. When we’re healthier, we’ll be happier.
A day spent eating chips and chocolate, drinking pop, and watching TV or surfing the web sounds like a dream and maybe is nice sometimes. But once you’ve lived through it, you realise that a day spent in the company of friends, nature, or art is much more meaningful. Time spent outside in the sun or the gloom is good for us.
Let us all regulate our consumption and seek the things that truly matter. Save yourself time and money by cutting out Slurpees, coffees, Dr. Peppers, bad movies, comments on news items on the Web, the purchase of books you’ll only read once, and all the many unnecessaries that clutter up our lives day in and day out. Then we’ll have time and money for what really matters.