Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Keep It Simple, or Make It So

I finished "Does Canada Matter?" and it had quite a rousing conclusion. It nailed very well what I believe to be the main fault of our materialistic culture, in which he quotes Rick Salutin, "Individuals 'don't make ethical or political choices' but 'shopping choices,' where "life comes down to acquiring money and going shopping with the proceeds'" (Bolt, p.188, Salutin, "A Plea For Canada" Maclean's, 1 July, 1995)

Speaking about my own life, I came from a good Catholic family. We weren't poor, none of us ever recall having to skip any meals, but we started out with little, and my parents worked terribly hard raising me, my brother, and my sister. Dad, in short, never attained any executive position, and basically "worked for a living", but earned tremendous respect at work and some seniority. My parents, as the saying goes, "scrimped and saved" and almost never spent too much at once (in spite of Mom's love for shopping), and today have a deservedly comfortable retirement in what I believe to be a middle-middle class condominium, considering the standard of living here in Canada (in most parts of the world, they would probably be considered living like millionaires). But there are times that I get overwhelmed by how much "stuff" my parents have, even though their condo has room for it all.

I can still remember a time when our lives seemed so much simpler, but maybe it is just my child's eye view of the time. It was during the 1970s and 1980s which I believe to have been a socially less tense time than the 1960s. It was before the Information Revolution and the mass overload of "stuff" from all over the world that we have to choose from now because of globalization, which results in the loss of uniqueness of our individual selves and regions, not taking into acccount political boundaries at the moment, but just the distinctive flavours of the places we call home. As hard as our parents' lives were, did they have to deal with so many decisions and so much confusion? Also, does our national affluence mean that everyone here is having their basic needs met? And what's more, where do you think that most of the stuff we use comes from, our cars, computers, cell phones, satellite television and such? Most of the raw materials come from abroad, from regimes who are friendly to transnationals and enslave their own people. One way or another, it just can't go on for too much longer, and I dare anyone to tell me that it can. What irks me about the neo-con revolution and George W. Bush in particular is that they basically condone shopping as the answer to threats to their "way of life". You have to ask yourself how much longer we can keep up with the latest things, particularly since none of us are getting any younger.

I feel a bit hypocritical saying all that, considering that I have most of those things I was talking about (except a car, I don't know if I'll ever own one) but still, I'm trying to simplify my life as much as possible, shopping for little more than I consider necessary, and fighting my own small battles with Big Business (for example, I try to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart). Back to the book though, it should be interesting to note that this book was published in 1999, so naturally the political climate here and abroad today is radically different. If Mr. Bolt were writing the conclusion today, he would probably say that Canada would be in a unique position as a fairly wealthy Western nation to buck the trend of total free-market liberalism, and start trying to live simpler lives more centered around home and family, without so much choice and other baggage that many of us carry around at the present time. Of course, we have no hope of doing that under the present Liberal administration, and probably less under Harper's Tories. Even the NDP came out in support of bank mergers today, and people wonder why I don't support them. With certain conditions, but one can only conclude that they are willing participants in globalization as anyone. I think it's disappointing.

Lastly though, I believe it's a good idea that we can somehow free up more time to do the things that we should be doing, to think less about what we are going to get that we really don't need, to think more about how to improve our relationships with the people who matter most to us (and with other people in general), why we were put in this life, how we can prepare for the future, and how we are going to clean up the mess we have made of the planet. This prescription for our sick world does seem to be quite radical since it calls for a change of our collective lifestyle, but for our emotional and spiritual well-being, I can't see any other way. We need to revisit some values that most of us seem quaint and old-fashioned, a sort of return to collective innocence.


The Tiger said...

My $0.02: fine, live simpler. I am working on that, too.

But why use the coercive power of the state to compell simpler lives on the rest of the populace?

Under free market liberalism, people are perfectly free to choose to live simpler, more fulfilling lives. No-one's cramming that Big Mac down their throats, and no-one's forcing them to buy that extra shirt made in Guatemalan sweatshops.

Choose not to shop at Wal-Mart, that's great. (They're kinda tacky, anyway.) But don't try to shut down Wal-Mart for those who can't afford their goods at other stores' prices.

Looney Canuck said...

Perhaps I was a bit unclear as to my meaning just after suggesting that our government buck the trend of free-market liberalism. What I meant to say was that the people should do their part of centreing their lives around home and family, and the government should not encourage consumerism so much (like Martin probably does and Bush certainly does) and stand passively by while people are overwhelmed with choices, and basically allow our regions and our home towns to become unique and distinct again.

You're right as far as not wanting the government to try to make people adapt to this way of life against their will. It's one of those things that should get started at the grassroots level. It's a long shot, but I can only hope that enough people hear this message and heed it, then some of those people can change the government as a last step. There is a difference between a government that allows consumer choice (within reason of course) to one that actually bends over backwards to allow the manufacturing and importing of consumer widgets that ultimately do little or no good for anyone.

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