Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trauma and materialism

I am part of the second (or third depending on how you define generation) generation after the great Baby Boom.  I, like everyone else in this group in the West, especially the United States, have been traumatized since birth by consumerism.  Whole industries and social sciences have sprung from the coordinated and conscious war against us. There is no aspect of your life that has not been examined to determine whether it could be used to get you to buy something that is advertised to you.  It's not just you, or I, its everyone, everywhere.

My life is full of intrusions into my psyche from advertisers, sales people, and manufacturers.  They target me, personally, in many ways that are both insidious and pervasive.  They know how to tug my heart strings, how to make me doubt myself. They accuse me of being a bad wife, a terrible mother, and ogress of a daughter if I don't do what they tell me, and they have been doing this since before I was born.  As I have not had tons of money throughout my life, I have been judged as inadequate and unworthy.  To the people who perpetuate these violences against me, I am not good enough.

I, like many of you, have been damaged by a culture that puts things above ideas, above people even.  I'm tired of throwing things away; I'm exhausted by the constant litany of "new", "improved", "essential", "must have", and "buy me now".  I am frustrated by the ever changing, and yet incredibly shallow world of disposable and materialistic.  

It's one thing to buy new jeans because your old ones are in danger of leaving you exposed, but it's quite another to buy new ones because the pair you bought in the spring aren't trendy enough.  Buy a new vehicle if that's what you need, but what is the point of buying a new one every year, or even every four years?  I don't buy a new coat every winter, but I see people around me who not only do, but they keep the past ten years worth of coats.  Many people shop because they are hunting for themselves or happiness or the thrill of finding, but no matter how much money is spent, not matter how much advertising we give into, it won't fill the emptiness in us, especially if we can't stop and ask ourselves why do I want this?

I have very few ideas about how to heal this trauma in myself, much less the world.  First education about how advertising works has made me more sensitive to understanding when I'm being manipulated.  There are thousands of psychological and sociological articles that center on how and why advertising works.  Knowledge is power, especially in this case.  Second, I try to be mindful of what I buy.  DO I need to buy more toilet paper when I run out? Yes, of course.  Do I need the toilet paper storage container to hold all of the toilet paper that's not in use? NO, that's why there is a hall closet, and the cabinet in the bathroom.  Buying a toilet paper roll hiding container is just silly.  Why should embarrassed about having extra rolls of toilet paper?  Do I need name brands?  That depends.  My household cleaning products and detergent are name brand, partially because I like what the company stands for and partially because they're local and do quite a bit to give back to the Bay Area.  I buy certain brands of mayonnaise and ketchup because I like the flavor. Do I buy name brand socks?  If those are the ones with the best price, yes.  If not, the store brand is perfectly fine.  Do I need a new computer, or can we update the old one?  We update.  Parts transfer from one computer to the next. If my husband didn't repair our computers, we would have in the last ten years, purchased three times as many as we have (if you total up the parts that have been purchased over the years, we have bought two whole computers in the last decade plus about another half). Used books, in good condition are just as good as new ones and much less expensive.  A reputable used music store sells only good quality, playable music at very reasonable prices.  I've been searching Craigslist for a used treadmill (I'd love it my husband could set it up as a generator so that I had to walk to keep the lights on to read or watch tv- I'd get way more exercise  and save on my power bill), because I don't need a brand new one, especially when around here, you'll see 30-40 of them listed per day.  

I'm fighting back against the trauma of consumerism, and you can too.  Repair things (can your vacuum be repaired rather than replaced?), replace judiciously (Those sheets have had, re-purpose the material and buy a new set), recondition unsightly but still serviceable items around the house (a coat of paint could make that old dresser look brand new).  Consumption, for the sake of consumption is hurting not only us, but the entire planet.  We can't keep mindlessly consuming (food, goods, or resources) because, eventually, everything runs out.  If we feel empty, no amount of Stuff will change that, because what we are empty of isn't a tangible thing.  It never is.

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