This looks to me like it is the premise, the basic understanding, on which our economy is built, and by which it continues to survive; and within its own terms of success, continues to thrive.
The choice we appear to be being given is to live as did our ancestors, and make things last, and reuse all worn out things where possible, and live in a state deprived of convenience and of choice and of free time and so on. Or else we are being offered to keep up the buying as a pastime, a hobby, a habit, a mania, a choice, a fixation, or whatever; so that the engines of wealth and prosperity continue to roll.
Inevitably our National Health Service (NHS) here in the UK is brought in here. The argument says that our massive and continuous spending supplies tax revenues to the government which help fund the NHS. The argument sometimes goes wider. It includes sometimes the bogey of the need for our economy to do well – us spending and buying – so that tax revenues are available to fund all sorts of items in British life today. From the arts to the academics and universities, from medicine to scientific research and development; and were we to stop funding these items – us not spending and buying – then Britain will fall behind in the world’s pecking order for these specialisms, and not just our wealth would suffer but our reputation for expertise.
The major thrust of all these arguments is simple. We have to keep going so as not to fall behind. More – we have to accelerate our spending and buying incrementally, if we are to keep up with the other nations in the world, and maybe lead in a few areas of endeavour.
The pressure you notice is all one way; basically the line is: More and Better; ever More and Better; but better only within the scope of the term as it is allowed by our public opinion formers.
This is the dogma then which is handed down from the established church of retail and government and from their apologists as an encouragement to us to shop and buy and a justification for our shopping and buying. Shopping and buying becomes a good in itself; it is we are told, that thing which will continue our prosperity and income security.
The implication is surely that were we to manufacture less and provide services less and we as shoppers began to buy less and to spend less; then everything will fall apart and we should soon go so far downhill as to be back in cottars’ cottages and sowing and ploughing so as to keep body and soul united.
As is so often the way in the choices we as citizens are presented; there is a massive either/or choice; which is loaded basically, and accordingly, as you are on one side of one fence or the other, it is always the case that the situation can be represented as being: four legs bad; two legs good.
Everything I have written so far here is representative of the treatment of us by our so-called betters – our governors and the big business men and women – and it is a treatment of us which presumes we can think no thought more developed than can be grasped by a junior school child. In our public political debates the level of presentation is at levels which just twenty or thirty years ago ordinary people here used to scoff at when seen in US presidential campaigns. I recall Obama getting in on a ticket of ‘change’; what kind of change was hardly expanded upon; but ‘change’ was enough and it got him elected. We have Trump today attempting his ticket to the White House with pie-in-the-sky grand schemes which resonate with Hansel and Gretel and Humpty Dumpty; but are wholly impracticable and even politically and economically undesirable.
But here in UK we did try to speak the arguments a bit more deeply. Our public discussion is at now a low for more people here in UK than I have ever known it to be; even in days passed when university education was a fraction of the young population’s privilege than today’s; and in times gone by when kids of eleven were sent to Secondary Modern schools where they learned a trade because they had been deemed not bright enough to do white collar work.
Now more than ever too many of us merely take what we are offered for our opinions. Mostly these are gift wrapped and with our names on them; and when unwrapped inside and disguised as a new toy or a gift voucher is a back-handed gift which accrues always and only to the giver. Like the little boy who bought his dad jelly babies and fizzy pop for Father’s Day. Excepting there is no transparent and delightful puerile knowingness in these Indian givers; who know all too well and calculatedly what they are doing.
If we stopped buying and spending; or rather decelerated our spending and buying; and in the course of doing so we were to demand more durable and more healthy and more robust and more waste-saving items to purchase, we should be doing the world a service and setting an example everyone ought to and would want to follow once the results began to kick in from us demanding these things.
Instead of that can opener which stalls halfway round the rim after a few weeks usage; and instead of that cheap plastic sheet sold at Poundland as a wear-once raincoat which you dashed in and bought when suddenly you were caught in a downpour; and instead of that 50 pence throwaway cigarette lighter you throwaway (in the gutter?) the first time is gives you a little hassle; instead of these items, which are temptations in one’s way which collectively lead to many of our present problems as a race which is economically active; why not invest in an upmarket can opener, which in fact is only a can opener made to the standards you would have expected to buy before the days of helter-skelter consumerism cheapened the quality of everything.
Why not buy a durable fold-away-in-coat-pocket reusable rain sheet; and keep it with you for eventualities? Why not buy a durable refillable cigarette lighter; and a buy a refill can of gas or fuel which lasts a year maybe?
But this is where the insidiousness, the teaching of ignorance and the nurture of bad habits strikes home. We all have so much clutter, so much junk, that when we look for a durable cigarette lighter we have bought it is buried under useless can openers and old throwaway rain sheets and stuffs which we have around us in numbers so as to just pick up as we dash out.
The average person has several wristwatches, some people dozens –just to be able to have one around when it is needed. Most of them are creatures-of-a-day and are bought for this occasion or than event in one’s life only and disregarded more of less after that time has passed. Many items we have are fancies which we just took a shine to and then went off of a little later after being seen out with it several times.
In short we have been taught and led by the ears by these governors and these business gurus to be prodigal and to squander; to go for the many items, the items well within reach, and to buy many iterations of them and treat them as of little or no value, because we know, or we believe we know, that the line of cheap supply will never halt; but in fact will grow more varied and more abundant.
Were we to stop buying and be selective and go for lasting and solid wares and services; we should reclaim ourselves from this crazy Wurlitzer which is taking us as a race and a species for a ride – over a cliff eventually.
We would be happier. We would be masters and mistresses of ourselves more so. We would recover our discretion for quality and for discrimination somewhat. We would expect better in terms more substantive than we do right now. And most importantly, we should not be the glove puppets of the men in grey suits who sit in cabinets and chairs of office or in boardrooms and on Monterey luxury yachts; all at our expense and to our debasement and shaming.
There is a scene in a play by Arnold Wesker called ‘Chips with Everything’ where a private soldier is called up to the stage in the Officers’ Mess to entertain the officers. The private soldier takes a stance like Elvis and sings a miserable rendition of ‘Hound Dog’. The officers laugh and ridicule him. They knew they could expect something debasing of himself from an ‘other ranks’ soldier.
There’s another private soldier in the Mess. When he sees the ridicule and scorn poured on the working class conscripted private soldier, and it being enjoyed so much by the officers; he blazes with anger and jumps on the stage and recites (he is a Scot) Robert Burns’ ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’.
Burns was a working man, who knew scorn and ridicule from higher social classes. Burns’ poem is a reply and a rebuff and a confrontation to that kind of mindless derisory looking-down-on from above.
We, we ourselves, want to be chanting ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’ and not singing ‘Hound Dog’ before these guys in government and on corporation boards; guys who pride themselves on themselves only; like the Pharisees who condemned Jesus Christ and who thanked God that they were not born into the lower classes of dross and sin.
Regain your respect; from those who took it from you; and who manipulate you still as if you were idiots; and do so by the fact that they have deprived you of a right to be informed and so become educated. As things are, in their eyes you are part of the economic line of production and nothing more. You are necessary fodder who buys the stuff that affords them lifestyles you will never come near to. They can stuff their money and their power. This is the issue – we don’t need them – they need us. And presently they have us where they want us – in mind-forged manacles – and they think they only hold the keys that keep us there. It is a Christian tenet that each unconstrained person has a duty and a responsibility and an ability to own responsibility for what they are, for what they do and for what they fail to do. It is in your hands, your own freedom of action. Don’t allow those others, those jerks, use of it for their ends and their ends only.
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