Archive for February, 2011

Live long and prosper?

February 26th, 2011

Somehow I don’t think Mr. Spock meant to say “Die old and make loads of money”.

And yet most dictionaries define “prosperity” in terms of rising profits. Politicians and the media seem to bombard us with the notion that aggressive economic growth is our main goal. Economic growth is certainly important in order to avoid stagnation but the popular emphasis seems to have been on an unhealthy type of prosperity, a prosperity that serves only to enable us into consume more.

That leads us in the consumption trap:

We live to work, we work to earn, we earn to consume.

I have friends who work in the retail business and their sales targets are never based on studies of the economic realities that might actually influence sales, such as footfall, or the disposable income of the local community, but on how much money the company directors decide they want to make (I’m convinced unrealistic sales targets are also used as a technique for making sure staff don’t qualify for a bonus).

Prosperity has almost come to be synonymous with greed, but the sad thing is that most people haven’t noticed.

How many people in Ireland bought a big house out in some new development, then spent four hours a day commuting to and from a job which paid them more money than they had ever earned before, only to spend it on things that have a very short life-span: TVs, Smartphones, clothes, 4x4s?

We don’t own out stuff. Our stuff owns us. It’s like a virus that takes over its host, forcing us to spend more time making more money to buy more stuff.

Last year I spent €600 on an iPhone 4. Not with credit. Not on any kind of monthly plan. I paid the full amount up front because I had it. When a colleague asked why I had bought it, I started to think about the functional characteristics of the device, but then I paused and remarked: “Because out of the past five months I have spent only four weekends at home.”

How often we use our prosperity to buy us things to comfort us for the lack of quality of life that very same prosperity costs us.

What values have we been passing on to our children over the past fifteen years?
Greed is good?
You are entitled to stuff?
Economic success is what makes you a decent person?
And the one I hate the most, Burger King’s mantra: Have it your way.

Ireland’s deficit is not just an economic one.

What about the message that it’s better to spend less time earning money in order to spend more time with your family? There is something incredibly warming about the story of the couple who built a working “Angry Birds” birthday cake for their son’s birthday. It took hours to make and it was something the child could enjoy only for a few minutes. On the other hand, an XBox would have taken minutes to buy and the child could have played with it for years. Which would the boy remember fondly in years to come? Which would make him know that his parents truly loved him?

I like the Merriam-Webster definition of prosperity because it uses the phrase “economic well-being”, rather than “wealth” or “rising profits”.

I’m an a-theist, so when I use the word “soul”, I mean it figuratively, but I believe true “prosperity” has to have something for the soul and not just for the pocket.

Here is a lovely article in The Irish Times on the concept of “enough“.

Social networking experiment

February 17th, 2011

I am going to get someone to post the following text on Facebook. I am curious to see how far it goes.

Post this as your status if a family member, or someone close to you, suffers from being an arsehole. Being an arsehole is a debilitating and socially embarrassing afflication. Its effects go largely unnoticed by the afflicted, but it is believed that up to 60% of the population suffers from arseholery all of the time and 100% of the population some of the time. Let’s expose arseholes to the sunlight.

I am also curious to see if “arsehole” gets changed to “asshole”.

Musing #49

February 12th, 2011

Tolerate the tolerant.