An end and a beginning
Last updated 4/19/2022 at Noon
A friend of mine is downsizing.
“This is a lesson in consumerism,” he said as he contemplated how to off-load years of accumulated possessions.
We’ve all been there. Most all of us have a room somewhere that’s full of the stuff we haven’t used, the clothes we haven’t worn in years, the books we’ll never read again. We just can’t seem to bring ourselves to get rid of all that stuff, and stop buying more. Sometimes we have the impulse to haul in a 60-foot dumpster and just purge it. All of it. But there it sits.
Very few are immune to the temptations of consumer goods.
In 1775, the frontiersman Daniel Boone helped negotiate the purchase of what would become Kentucky from the Cherokee people (who didn’t really own it).
At a council grounds known as Sycamore Shoals, the Transylvania Company laid out a lavish display of trade goods — hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in today’s currency — to exchange for the lush hunting grounds known as The Great Meadow.
Most of the Cherokee found this exchange irresistible — so many wonderful consumer goods for land they did not live upon.
It was too late when Cherokee warriors began to realize that they’d given up prime hunting grounds for the likes of a single ruffled shirt.
The Industrial Revolution vastly increased the availability of consumer goods, making things available to ordinary people that had once been the sole province of kings and aristocrats. The revolution in consumer goods improved lives in many ways — made modern living safer, more comfortable, and more pleasurable.
Consumerism really kicked into high gear post-World War II — and brought with it all of the hallmarks of addiction. We don’t just buy implements that improve our lives; we buy to make ourselves feel better. The term is “retail therapy” — and the implications are kinda creepy. For the truly addicted, the act of buying is itself the drug, giving that quick shot of dopamine we crave. Whether the stuff we buy is useful or not is beside the point.
Big, global changes are afoot that may make our world of cheap, easy consumer goods delivered just-on-time a little less convenient.
Peter Zeihan writes:
“We find ourselves at the tail end of a globalized world order. Since the implementation of the Bretton Woods system post-World War II, countries have generally been capable of developing trade relationships the world over with security guaranteed by the U.S. military. Over the past several years we have seen an acceleration of this system’s dissolution; supply shortages, inflation, and geopolitical instability do not bode well for the prosperity of a globalized economic system.
“The era to come—the post-globalization era—will not be implemented by decree. Rather it will be a gradual transition, a transition we are currently undertaking. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not cause deglobalization; it is a symptom of deglobalization. The path we are on is clear: globalized trade will be replaced with a handful of regional trade systems centered around a dominant power—the U.S., France, Japan, etc. Do not expect to wake up one day to the news that the world has deglobalized but recognize the events that push us closer to the inevitable.”
This does not mean the end of trade, or of consumerism, of course.
And such an end wouldn’t be a good thing, since all of our livelihoods are tied to trade in one way or another.
But maybe the geopolitical trend toward deglobalization can be an opportunity to reevaluate our relationship with our “stuff.” Maybe when everything in the world we can possibly imagine — and much that we can’t —is not necessarily available tomorrow with the click of a mouse, maybe then we can reorient ourselves to what is needful, refocus on “stuff that works — stuff that holds up,” and seek meaning and satisfaction where they can actually be found: in experience; in bonds between people; in truly living as a full human being, not merely as a consumer.