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Over-consumption: a definition

January 18, 2010

Writing in the Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg wrote a thoughtful piece about greed (US cult of greed is now a global environmental threat, report warns), placing it in the context of a mindset that prevents meaningful change – something I agree with very much. Of course, there were attempts to build straw-men out of her work…

Hmm , so when developing nations develop , all of a sudden its “greed” ..can you define what you mean by “greed ” please Suzanne? Where you see greed i only see the attempt to have a decent standard of living

It’s clearly hyperbolic to equate development with greed, and Goldenberg made no such association. But let’s define ‘greed’ in what is certain to be a vain attempt to deflate your hysteria.

In the context in which this article was written, greed is synonymous with the following: excess; waste; over-consumption. The thrust of the article is an accurate evocation of how people in the west have been conditioned to measure the quality of their lives: by how much we can consume, by how much we can own, by how much we can dispose of. Happiness is, for many, defined by consumerist values, not by the spiritual qualities that endure and make us stronger. Instead, we are unhappy when we are denied the right to consume more than we need to sustain us, and we do so in the full knowledge that our over-consumption is maintained at the expense of billions who live in comparative poverty.

The key issue here is over-consumption. To give just one example, the amount of food we throw away should be a scandal that shames us all. How can this excess be material to our happiness when it ends up in the bin? How can we claim to need new mobile phones when the old one works perfectly well? The west routinely throws away perfectly good durables, white goods, furniture, cars, TVs, computers and the like, because we are constantly targeted by advertising propaganda whose purpose is to ensure we keep consuming, even though we really don’t need much of what we consume and much of what we buy is an expression of our ability to purchase rather than a need to do so.

And does any of this make us happy? I don’t believe it does, but if I am wrong then there is something deeply flawed in a culture that finds its measure of reward in the ability to consume in excess, at the peril of others and of the ecosystem itself. While the west continues to export to the developing world the mantra of consumerism as the earthly manifestation of paradise, we are on a course whose outcome is not only predictable, but disastrous.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. markhb permalink
    February 14, 2010 11:24 am

    sadly consumerism does make many people happy (my wife for one)….and i agree with you Graham, we need to change course …but how?

  2. gpwayne permalink*
    February 16, 2010 10:24 am

    “we need to change course …but how?”

    By finding something else to make us happy – a trite answer I know, but right now many of us (and I’m not including your wife in this, mate – boy is that a no-win situation – probably for both of us!) conflate consumption with satisfaction. This actually crosses over with a comment you made regarding ‘The Other: Science as enemy’ so I’ll try to expand on the point there.

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