What does this stuff called money mean to me? I find
myself sitting with my friends well into the night,
armchair politicians, solving the world's problems and
crying out about the world's greedy and their terrible
impact on the world. If only they did things our way,
we are convinced that the world would be so much fairer
and better run. There can be no doubt in my mind that
the world's greedy are making life difficult for thousands.
And yet, like most people, I have indulged in the odd
fantasy of winning thousands of dollars. And I know
I have sat with these same friends and pondered.. What
would you do if you won a million dollars? Of course,
we all say we'll give it to the charity of our preference.
I wonder, in the excitement of it all, would an otherwise
noble person lose their mind and hoard like crazy? Are
the "haves" in this world really so different in character
to the "have nots," or have they just been swept up
in a crazy but powerful dream? And am I being arrogant
and patronizing in even saying such things? Does not
our economic system play upon this natural tendency
that even the best of us have -- the tendency to think
we need more, more, more?
The theory of our money-based economy works a treat.
It's a very fair system theoretically, and who am I
to say it should be overhauled completely? It seems
fair enough: someone contributes to society, in return
that society looks after their needs for shelter and
food. However, I do believe this system we live in allows
incredible greed to run rampant -- and it's only going
to get worse, in my humble opinion. What to do?
In today's world, in the wealthier countries at least,
we have an abundance of options available to us. We
can thank money and capitalism for this wonderful wealth
that we, the minority, enjoy. There's no denying this.
Our supermarket shelves are packed to the brim with
every kind of food we can think of, and then some. Our
freedom as consumers is immense, and I'm not suggesting
that it should be any other way. We no longer NEED to
eat meat, and to do so is not a necessity, but a choice.
We have an abundance of freedom, but are we abusing
this privilege? It is painfully obvious that this freedom
is coming at a great cost. There can be no doubt that
in our fat little society we have outgrown our NEED
for meat products; there is ample vegetable product
to feed the world, and several alternative products
for clothing and other essentials. Furthermore, as time
goes by, it has been soundly argued that the vegetarian
movement is becoming the ONLY hope of sustaining our
future from a social and eco-LOGICAL point of view.
As veg*ns and supporters, we all know about the clear
felling of forests, poor distribution of food, and unbelievable
cruelty that occurs in these industries. People are
starving while the vast bulk of legumes and grains are
used to fatten the cattle to feed the rich minority.
Forests are clearfelled. Still, animals are intensively
farmed in sheds, slaughtered in their millions, and
McDonalds is paying incentives for farmers to pack increasing
numbers of animals in as tiny space as is possible.
There is no doubt that the most barbaric practices in
the world -- war, slave labour, factory farming, clearfelling
of forests, mining -- are done in the name of money.
It's disgusting. It's evil. It can't go on.
Yet who am I to deny the allure of its promises? Who
am I to even suggest that people even have it in them
to stop their inherent desires for more, more, more
of everything? Is this not an impossible dream? In our
cultural climate, I'm sad to say that I think it is
not possible to ask people to vastly change their quality
of life in the name of a sustainable future. We all
have gotten too used to our electricity, our cars, our
airplanes, our clean blue toilets, etc. to part with
them, although, of course, the world would benefit greatly
if they were no longer used. Few people would be willing
to give these things up! So what are we to do to stop
the terrible side effects of our decadent society?
And it grows. More products that we suddenly "can't
live without" are invented all the time. Where would
we be without the Internet and the mobile phone, for
example? Money can buy magic, advertisers are hell-bent
on convincing us. It is the elixir of youth, beauty,
desirability, and power.
Advertisers remind us thousands of times a year on
a daily basis that we are inadequate as we are, but
to quote media theorist, Berger, they "console us with
the promise of a dream" (provided, of course, that we
first part with our money). As a woman, I am told every
day about the "problem hair" on my body (what exactly
is the problem?) and am reminded that any wrinkles on
my skin are "imperfections." (Is it fear of growing
old and dying they are playing on? I ask myself). Although
I think critically about these issues, I'd be a liar
if I said that I am immune to this social pressure,
for nobody can be an island in this culture in which
I belong. And we all get sucked into the game. The cosmetics
industry is a case in point: 97% of the money spent
on cosmetics is spent on the packaging and marketing
of the product -- less than three percent is spent on
the product itself! All those miracle creams and tonics
that promise to preserve youth and beauty are worth
less than three percent of what I'm paying. I'm largely
paying for the pretty package, for goodness sake!
But still, like everyone else in this crazy part of
the world, I spend. I cannot help but spend. And anyone
who claims to not be sucked into spend on things they
don't really need is lying. I know that advertisers
play upon my fears, but they also flirt with my desires.
And I know I'm as big a sucker as anyone when I see
that "perfect" dress, or the "must have" china set,
or whatever else I suddenly decide I cannot live without.
And I'm not the only one who has had fantasies of winning,
of getting rich quick.
But as a person who is trying to be gentle with the
earth, I do think I must constantly question this system.
I must, in my own life, remind myself that the pretty
dress may well have been made in a sweat shop under
horrific working conditions. I must look at the cosmetic
cream and think: Has an animal suffered here for the
sake of my "beauty"? And if I knowingly buy such a product,
am I truly beautified? In my own life, I am trying to
be mindful, to make my own shampoo and other products,
to cut down on my car and electricity use, to buy ethically
produced goods from caring companies. Could this system
work if people were educated about these issues and
made those crucial choices?
Increasing numbers of people are making these decisions,
and it fills my heart with hope. Surely a balance can
be achieved between consumer freedom and consumer responsibility,
so that our purchases needn't "cost the earth" so to
speak. It would be wonderful if people from the "privileged"
countries exercised their immense and wonderful freedom
and power as consumers and took these matters into consideration
when opening their wallets. I dream of a time when more
people realise that conscious, critical spending and
movements such as veganism are not merely the habits
of cranks and joyless martyrs, but well within anyone's
reach and comfort zone. I believe that if people realise
they can have these things without adversely affecting
their quality of life, they will be more inclined to
take the vital steps away from supporting the unethical
corporate giants such as McDonalds. Maybe then, this
money-based system we live in has a hope of being sustainable
and not so exploitative. How we get this message across
to people is another issue entirely. It is at this point
that this armchair politician furrows her brow, gives
up, then rises from her chair to take the dog for a
e x t e s s a y -
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