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  • Writer's picturemandar jayawant

We have become slaves to consumption - it is destroying the world

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

From next week my partner and I can no longer live together. I am not a citizen in this bit of Asia and do not perform an "essential" job. I need to go back to where I came from. If I get sick here I will take a hospital bed away from a citizen. I was welcome to spend money to gawk at gardens in the sky or eat overpriced dressed up food. Not welcome to spend time with a loved one. Consumption and entertainment get into the GDP, money transactions count; relationships are useless. Thats the way we live - transactional, temporary, veneerism.

We entertain ourselves in idiotic fifteen second bytes. Anything longer is a drag. Who cares that the guy making a fool of himself on video lives in his own excrement? Or taking a break from skinning dogs while they are still alive. Our lives are measured in finger-flips - independent momentary interactions with nothing beyond the fifteen second frame. All that matters is advertising revenue. How did we end up here?

We jump up and down frothing at the face while a clown mouths off about a Chinese virus. But we happily buy cheap Chinese shoes. Don't even know the shoes are Chinese but we know the virus is. We don't care that the shoes turned a river red or that the factory used to be a village. As long as our shoes are cheap and our clothes trendy. My consumption decision stops at the store. Once in a while I might notice something with a sticker that says, "We are nice people", I gladly toss it for something cheaper or trendier.

And now the "Chinese" virus is killing us and mass slaughter of wildlife distresses us? Now we forward WhatsApp messages to stop wildlife trade and cute videos of dolphins swimming in Venetian canals? Those Chinese slaughtering exotic animals are bad; that's what caused the virus? And suddenly we are all custodians of the environment? We forget that the Chinese can afford pangolin scales and rhino horn only because we wanted cheap shoes and toys?

Globalisation was supposed to bring the world together. But this globalisation is not sustainable. This transactional, short-term, blinkered globalisation is hastening our collective demise. Where are the communities that the wise men say are essential to our wellbeing and survival? Communities bound by consumption enslavement and whatever skullduggery as long as the government says it is within the law? That sense of identity that supposedly keeps us sane? Does that come from wearing identical t-shirts and chanting racist chants while bulked up freaks engage in acts of physical self-abuse and violence? The sense of purpose that supposedly makes life worth living? Shop till you drop? Globalisation without a sense of a global community is a disease. Without a common purpose, a sense of identity, and reciprocal obligations we are parasites on the planet and on each other.

We cannot survive as a species unless we rethink our value systems. Humans have tried to find purpose in their lives since times immemorial. We don't have to ponder the philosophical or spiritual "who am I?" or what ever to see that unless we make environment and social good the core of our value systems, unless we put at the center of our existence the safeguarding of our planet and our collaborative evolution as a species, we are guaranteeing our own extinction. We won't have any philosophical questions to ponder. We will all be dead. Stewardship of the environment and empathy for our fellow humans is the most urgent human purpose.

So what? Hold hands and sing songs? Teary-eyed at pictures of children holding baby goats? No. Have all of us turned us into complete idiots that we ignore science for bullshit?Feel good brand bullshit is hoodwinking us while we merrily buy and discard without any idea of what we are really doing. Have we decided that collective idiocy and disregard of science is the new black? We have the power to make a difference but while the pundits and the bureaucrats slather themselves with science-based targets and SDGs we smoke brand bullshit. Who is going to insist that brands and corporations step up and translate the science into real changes? Change the way they operate, change the way they account for their business outcomes, change the way they are governed, change the way they pay their managers? It does not take a genius to see where to start.

Isn't it obvious that science has to be the driver and we have to start where our raw materials are produced? How can we believe that our supply of raw materials is unlimited? We are happy to massage our consciences with easy badges without a thought to carrying capacities, optimal herd mixes, wildlife ecology, and ecosystem health and the real needs of the communities that produce them. What is that price premium actually doing on the ground? Fair-trade is not fair for the planet. Its not fair for generations that will come after us. Science has many of answers, some need to be found. But we are happy to ignore science and instead to rely on nice-looking labels to tell us its all okay.

And we are happy to believe that we live in our own little bubble. Do we know how our consumption decisions go? Our ill-informed concern has easily transformed into not-in-my-backyard attitudes that are drowning third world countries in garbage while we beam at our immediate "footprints". We export our sins. Claiming zero carbon footprints while suffocating entire towns in India is hypocrisy of criminal scale. Todays supply chains are very effective at insulating us from the environmental and social damage of our consumption. What do we do other than use a transactional and abstract "price" to believe that everything is alright? "Fair-trade", "returning 2% of profit to the communities", "donating one pair of shoes for every ten bought" - we have to stop this nonsense. Our perverse consumption decisions are destroying our world - killing the environment and destroying our communities - what does the extra 2 percent do?

And then the way we deal with each other. Our lives are an endless series of transactional short-term engagements. "Get out of our country when health becomes more valuable than the money you spend gawking at our gardens in the sky" is a terrible way for humans to behave with each other. Reciprocal obligations develop over time. It is unrealistic to expect that suddenly we will all start holding hands and singing songs. But we have to start somewhere. And a good way to start is with an appreciation of the folks who produce the raw materials that finally feed and clothe us and the ecosystems that they come from. It is time to stop seeing raw materials as nothing more than anonymous inputs into trendy products and communities as nothing more than the value of their surplus labor. Sometimes we need them, sometimes they need us and this cannot all be written into a contract. We are humans. We need to start behaving like humans not like some code that executes on the basis of rules.

We have to stop believing that we are meant to be greedy selfish assholes who care only about ourselves. And we have to stop believing the bullshit that draconian governments and unscrupulous corporations pump into our heads. We have to stop and look around. We are happier when we have a purpose that goes beyond catching the 7.20 am bus to downtown. We feel better when we help each other, when we are kind to animals. Why do we have to make that only a weekend distraction? Who does not feel better joking with the coffee lady while she makes your coffee? Why not make relationships a central point of our existence? Who says we need relentless growth to survive as a species? This is bullshit and it is time we used our brains to think for once. Unless we do this we are all fucked.

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