Writing this weblog, I have worried that people will take what they read the wrong way. How so? Well, someone could think I’m disrespecting poverty, or their own struggle, or saying that everyone should be like me. None of those things are true. In a way, I’ve been waiting for someone to play devil’s advocate, so that I can think about my responses to criticisms and take them into account when writing.
The right opportunity came along after a friend and I went on a day trip to London and happened upon “M&M World” – a terrifying 4 floors of M&Ms and M&M related products. The store took merchandising to new levels and was the most horrific example of extreme consumerism that I have ever witnessed. After exploring every corner of this morgue, as driving techno pumped through a surround sound system, we went outside to literally have a lie down in Leicester Square to recover.
We then discussed the methods that M&Ms were using to get people to buy absolutely useless, cheaply made tat with their branding on it. Each M&M was made into a character, so that collectible ranges of mugs, clothes, bags etc could be made, in which people identified with the personalities each M&M. Bags of sweets and other items could be personalised or your message put on them. Items branded with “M&Ms London” would attract tourists wanting a souvenir.
I was appalled that even as global awareness of environmental issues is higher than ever, a business is still willing to make so much useless crap and then encourage people to buy it. Worse still, people are falling for it – they are buying it! I realised over-consumerism is going strong (even stronger than I thought) and that it is the enemy. Repelled, I vowed to redouble my efforts to fight it.
My friend’s reaction was quite a surprise. They too were appalled by M&M World, but didn’t share my activist spirits. It all started when I said something like “If people didn’t consume more than they needed then we’d have more to go around”. My friend said “You do realise that if everyone suddenly stopped consuming, the economy would collapse. It would be like the Wall Street Crash or Black Friday. I think you’re naïve and that you don’t realise that people could suffer and die because of your philosophy”. I was shocked but intrigued. I can’t see how anyone could die because of my philosophy, but I’m not an expert on economics or business, so I was willing to be proved wrong. I asked “What do you actually think my philosophy is?”. My friend replied, “I think that you believe that money is unnecessary and that we’d all be better off without it. You believe that the west is wasteful and it should stop wasting. But have you thought about the fact that if everyone stopped using plastic for example, businesses would collapse and consequences would be terrible?”
It was a strange moment.
I could see that my friend was working on the erroneous assumption that just because I am throwing out many of my attachments to money and possessions, I obviously think everyone should be just like me. They also believed me to be of the opinion that if everyone woke up tomorrow & stopped over-consuming the world would be brilliant.
First of all, of course that wouldn’t work because there would be no alternative systems in place. Secondly, I don’t think we’re in danger of that sort of thing happening – not unless everyone in the 1st world reads this paragraph today and make a big decision in the morning as a result. Yes, it would be great if I woke up tomorrow in a world without over-consumption, but that would be a fantasy world in which a less wasteful system was already up and running. If change is going to happen, the key is to build those alternative systems slowly until they become mainstream. I don’t know how to do that because I know very little about economics – that’s up to those of you who are have different skills to me and who are inspired to take up that cause. My part in the picture is simply to hope that this weblog goes some way towards inspiring you.
I don’t hold the extreme views that my friend stated above. This is what I DO believe:
- The world will change for the better if each person on the planet is committed to changing it for the better. A commitment is really all that’s needed because then each person will take every opportunity to help make the world a better place, including the most difficult step: finding out HOW they can help. The information age actually makes it very difficult to find out the truth, so how can we know what to do? Which charity is the best cause? How do I buy food ethically? Should I join some activists? These are difficult questions, but I think that once someone’s desire to improve the world has become a driving force in their life then they will be devoted to seeking out the truth so that they know how to best help. One person might go to the 3rd world and build hospitals, another might simply decide to be kind to each person they meet, another might be in a position of power and decide to use it for the greater good. All these roles hold validity.
- The money system has become very perverse, especially in the west. I don’t believe that everyone should just give up money, but I do believe that everyone in the first world would benefit from re-examining their personal relationship with money.
- I’m not saying it will work for everyone but I do actually think that more people should try setting themselves challenges. Setting challenges for myself is my way of making sure I’m not blindly following the crowd. If I’m doing something that isn’t working for me me, even if everyone else is doing it too, then I’ll challenge myself to give it up. It’s scary but it’s worked so well for me. I can cut right through to the center of a problem and face it head on.