Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Biting Off a Thick Chunk of Obvious.

Indulgence is a strange thing. It has addictive properties that sneak up on you, especially if you grow up with means in the United States. In third world nations citizens rarely get to indulge themselves- so it's likely such a practice would be entirely a conscious decision. You'd have to save up for weeks for something that we in America take for granted. Certainly you wouldn't have to worry about becoming addicted. To actually get addicted to one of the things we use too much of, it would require effort similar to holding down a full-time job. The problem is that much of the world's population already has to work overtime just to acquire the basic necessities. Even then they often fall short.

So what sort of things do our citizens overindulge in? Well, we definitely use more than our share of the world's nonrenewable energy resources. If you spend five minutes on the net, you can find some reasonable estimates. We make up about 3% of the Earth's population, and use about 25% of the energy. That shouldn't be a surprise. Take a jaunt on the US Highway system, and head out to the exurbs. You'll see that a majority of the vehicles on the road are minivans and SUV's. Many of these drivers will justify their extravagance by explaining that they want to keep their kids safe. Even if you do an analysis of the safety ratings, and their particular model performs well- it's beside the point. Because 9 out of 10 drivers that you pass are riding alone.

Of course we find ways of wasting energy at home too. We leave lights on in rooms we aren't currently occupying. The television emits its mind-numbing waves even as we fall asleep on the couch. In Winter we heat our homes all day, even at the times when everyone is at work or school. Folks turn on their central A/C as soon as the first drops of sweat bead at the crests of their brows. People get in their cars and drive 300 yards to the corner store. And other energy-consuming resources get wasted as well. Homeowners water their lawns, and then expend more electric units mowing them. Food is prepared one portion at a time, and packaged in layers of plastic and cardboard. Most of the food itself is made from corn- the most inefficient crop there is.

We also divert our resources into meaningless contests of sport. Instead of participating directly, we do so from at least one remove. This is merely another indulgence. If sports aren't our thing, we while away our leisure hours shopping for unnecessary items. There must surely be more collectors in the US than in any other country. We collect everything- sports memorabilia, porcelain trinkets, guns, holiday decorations, fashions, video games, dolls, trophies... pretty much anything we can stow in our cars and fit in our living spaces. Sometimes we even exceed our physical limitations, and rent lockers or other storage capacity for the overflow. Imagine how all of this excess is perceived abroad.

Or don't worry about it. Because that's another one of our indulgences. We have an infinite amount of justifications for our greed. In fact we are told that "greed is good". Consumption is next to Godliness. It's the American Way. This sounds like satire, but it's difficult to overstate the role that indulgence plays in our society. Consider this with me as I try to digest the donuts, corn chips, Coca-Cola, meat sticks, fried chicken and buffalo chicken dip I consumed today (before noon)- if we stop indulging ourselves our economy will enter a crisis. Capitalism requires perpetual growth, which requires increased consumption. No wonder concepts like 'sustainability' are so roundly rejected. It is indeed a threat to the system. Quit thinking about it.

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