Did you take advantage of any Super Labor Day Deals? How about End of Summer Super Savings Sales? Amazon Prime was past its prime, but surely you managed to turn another holiday into an excuse for excess. If not, we’ll be questioning your loyalty to the American creed of all-consuming greed.
I surf the morning TV news shows. With violence overflowing the country to the extent that it can no longer be called random; with an ignorant, delusional and mentally-suspect president spreading hatred with every tweet; with foreign agents buying governmental influence with impunity, our morning news shows seem obsessed to focus part of every program on encouraging more spending, more consumption.
My first paid media job was writing radio advertising. I learned early the importance of ad revenue. But, turning air time (or news columns) into free advertising never sat well with old media types. Still shouldn’t. And to what end?
Preying on people’s insecurities.
Somewhere along the way, the Seven Deadly (Cardinal, as in directional toward others) Sins became the Credo of Consumerism: gluttony – never enough; lust – sex sells; pride – look at what I have; greed – gimme, gimme; wrath – if I can’t afford it, I’ll just take it from you; sloth – conspicuous consumption while the less fortunate flounder, and envy – those Joneses are getting ahead of you again!
There are other ways of living in the modern world. Other folks have found a better balance, those pesky Swedes, for example, who also happen have a 16-year-old girl who is more respected on the world stage than our president. (Go get ‘em, Greta!)
Last year Catherine Edwards of NBC News told of discovering the Swedish notion of “lagrom” after her arrival there.
“This often crops up in lists of ‘untranslatable’ words,” she said “but it roughly means ‘in moderation’: not too much and not too little.”
The Ancient Greeks also had a word for lagrom, “sophrosyne,” which most often gets approximated as “temperance.” It is akin to one of the sayings inscribed on Apollo’s Temple at Delphi: “Nothing too much.”
I guess it says something about us that we lack an exact translation for “just enough.”
I remember our good and honest President Jimmy Carter suggesting that we could cope with an oil shortage by just wearing a sweater and turning up the thermostat a tad. I remember, too, how he was reviled as being un-American for daring to suggest any limits to our greed.
But, there are limits to how much we can consume. We live in a finite world with finite resources and an ever-increasing population of cousins.
Last month, Huffington Post’s Travis Waldron and Chris D’Angelo wrote of the implications of our appetites:
“Name any fast-food restaurant, personal care product or home good you have bought recently, and chances are it contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon. Now name a big bank ― any big bank, really. More than likely it has helped finance that destruction….
“It’s not hard to pinpoint our unquenchable thirst for cattle, soy, timber, palm oil and other commodities as the main driver of Amazonian deforestation and the underlying cause of the record number of fires this year….
“Although hundreds of companies have made high-profile public commitments to combating deforestation, none is doing enough to actually limit ― much less end ― the practice.”
And Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, is just as unenlightened as our own grab-the-money-and-run non-leader.
“But,” Waldron and D’Angelo note, “he has not acted alone: A vast network of U.S. and European corporations, backed by large financial institutions and supplied by smaller Brazilian companies, farmers and ranchers, are also playing a part, as the environmental nonprofit Amazon Watch highlighted in an April report.”
According to the BBC, Britain’s chief environment scientist, Sir Ian Boyd, said the challenge facing his country’s 2050 climate goals are staggering, and the remedy requires enlightened leadership (lacking there as well currently) and “how we shift ourselves away from consuming.”
But, that puts us in conflict with the five million or so “influencers” getting paid by companies to fuel our insecurities toward their bottom lines. And, since I’ve already seen Halloween displays on the shelf, we can be sure that our “news” shows will soon begin touting Black Friday and Cyber Monday as if we have a national duty to spend more this year than last.
Don’t worry. In the next hour, they’ll tell you how to deal with your staggering personal debt when the simple way to deal with debt is to not accrue it in the first place.
Lagrom, sophrosyne; how about thrift? We need a new temperance movement to encourage personal restraint. Our financial stability – and our planet – depend upon us.