As a group, we Americans have a pretty unbalanced relationship with stuff. We have a collective sense that it is our divine right, our patriotic obligation to accumulate more stuff, better stuff, faster stuff, newer stuff, thinner screens, faster processors, and so forth.
This glorification of accumulation has become such a cultural norm that even in the throes of the greatest crisis of our generation, our minds turned to spending. Right after 9/11 when the president was standing on the rubble and speaking to the nation, it was a significant moment. It was a time to rally a wounded people in the face of great tragedy, to steel ourselves for the rebuilding before us. Our leader’s job at that moment was to galvanize our sense of being a people, and help us move forward.
By all accounts, the president rose to the challenge, and his popularity rose higher than ever before or after. At this critical moment, what was our collective ethos? “Let’s show them we will not be defeated. Let’s go to the mall and start buying stuff!”
At the time, that seemed reasonable. We wanted to support our businesses, our jobs, our way of life. So yes, going to the mall struck a chord in our hearts. But if we stand back, and assess from a distance, that just seems crazy! How is it we have such a distorted view of buying, possessing, and accumulating that it becomes our first line of defense against adversity? How is it we have come to make this our first response to global, religious, cultural, geo-political, and economic? How did it become patriotic to buy a new car, or put a big-screen TV on the credit card?
Recently we’ve had an economic meltdown, and who knows how long it will last. But perhaps this provides us a window of opportunity; a chance to not simply look through the stuff-crazed lenses we wear as Americans, but to look at them. Perhaps we have a chance in these economically uncertain times to examine the stuff-crazed instincts that drive us.
The following series of articles will overview a historical shift that capitalism has taken in the last 50 years, and will examine the implications of that shift for culture, and more pointedly for our spiritual well-being.