July 29, 2008

Affluenza

Posted in Life tagged , , at 11:50 pm by Andrew McMillen

Umair‘s article got me thinking.

We’re not just addicted to cheap oil, as Tom Friedman and Al Gore have eloquently argued. There’s a deeper economic truth at work here.

We’re addicted to consumption.

My mind is drawn to a book that I read in 2006 named Affluenza, by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. The authors posit that increasing rates of stress, depression, and obesity directly correlate to the “consumption binge” that many Australians happily indulge in.

Umair continues:

It’s not just cheap oil we’re addicted to: it’s cheap everything. And the world we’re entering isn’t really of Peak Oil as it is one of Peak Consumption.

[Do we] continue to hawk stuff that “satisfies” largely artificial needs? Or does [we] choose to do something authentic, meaningful, and purposive – something that makes us all radically better off than we were before?

Affluenza is by no means a new concept. Conscious or not, much of the Western world is afflicted. Success measured by financial success and material possessions. This is life as many of us know it. And it’s fucking sad.

From a business perspective, it’s a matter of considering the short-term gratification against the long-term gain. Umair uses an example:

Do we need razors with ten blades – or a single blade that never dulls?

This discussion is centred around strategic mobility. If you’ve built your business on disposable razor blades – if thousands of employees rely on your product to support themselves and, in turn, your business – it’s a huge deal to turn the ship around. To refocus your business objectives. To diversify, collaborate and reinvent. To acknowledge that although you’re satisfying a perceived need in the marketplace, maybe things could be done better.

This is not an easy conversation to have. Businesses like our figurative disposable razor blade manufacturer – they’re established. Their ship slowly and steadily sails across the economy’s surface, satisfying a perceived need in the marketplace. Hands over eyes. Asleep at the wheel. Sailing blind, and too myopic (or unwilling) to divert the course of their impending – inevitable – wreckage.

Though I’d like to think that I’m a conscientious consumer, I cringe a little when considering my weekly waste output. Torn packaging. Empty bottles. Spoiled food. Though my expenditure is more often invested in knowledge and self-improvement than petty, depreciating assets, I acknowledge that, again, turning the ship around isn’t easy.

I just bid on a copy of Affluenza on eBay, and I expect to write about the subject more in the future.

Isn’t that funny, though? I’m paying someone else for the knowledge that they’ve consumed and deemed unworthy of possession. That knowledge will arrive in recyclable packaging, which I’ll discard. Once I’ve consumed the knowledge, I’ll likely pass it onto a friend.

And so the cycle continues.

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2 Comments

  1. Thoughtful post. But don’t discard the packaging that your new book comes in. Reuse it when you sell something on ebay. Or ship it to me, and I’ll reuse it. =)

  2. globalized said,

    You’re completely right in identifying that reducing consumption isn’t nearly as simple as carrying re-usable cloth bags at the grocery store or refilling the same water bottle day in and day out — that’s a start, but curing affluenza is going to require a paradigm shift of enormous proportions… a literally world-changing movement.

    Talking about being concerned with the implications of shipping goods, though… Brady Dale just recently discussed Better World Books (http://www.betterworld.com/), a carbon-neutral socially-conscience business format which may help ease some consumer guilt. I’m definitely looking into them for my next book order. It’s based in America (land of the mega-consumers!), but ships worldwide for just $2.97 an order.


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