So after a slightly longer than expected pause thanks to the near meter of snow we received this month, let's get back to our narrative. I think I've laid out the problem well enough, and since enough breath has been spent laying out this exact same problem in enough other corners, let's get down to what we really all want to hear about: a solution.
("A" solution - I don't claim this to be "The" solution, just for those of you keeping track of semantics at home.)
Now in a way, we already have one - at least in a dogmatic sense. The mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is the simplest and most effective matrix to approach 'stuff'. However, the problem with dogma (religious or otherwise) is that it doesn't stick in the human mind in a constructive way: its the bastard child of understanding and belief. Its what we resort to when reason and faith fail - not when they succeed. So Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is too often used as a substitution for explanation and engagement by institutions and NOT as a tool to guide us (as communities) to become better decision-makers.
But it is, and should be, so much more. Because at the heart of this simple little phrase is a very powerful redefinition of our approach to the things in our life. The word that we quickly glide past in considering this is the first one - "Reduce". Obviously, for those of us living in modern industrial Western society, this is a concept that most of us have no comprehension of. I look around my desk, which I struggle to keep free of clutter, and am confronted with an assault on my senses by THINGS. There are things everywhere, of all types and levels of importance. Thanks to my vigilance, I purge most of the "noise" out of my life - and prevent as much as I can from entering it - but I admit freely that I'm not nearly as successful as I NEED to be. There's still more data hitting my optic nerve than I want each time I glance around.
And I say NEED not just for the sake of the planet, but for my own well-being. Each extra thing in my life is one more thing to worry about. Whether I'm worried about what that thing represents, or what its there to remind me to do, or whether its in the way of something else, or how I'm going to pack it up when I move, or how I'm going to keep it from getting broken; its HERE and has some pull on my attention. Every thing that we add into our lives has a story to tell about its addition into our life, plus its connection to other stories, and a reminder about something or someone at some level of meaning to us.
One of the great contradictions of our era of industrial mass production is that we have dramatically increased quantity while simultaneously stripping away value. The ruling logic of mass production is to shove out as much of something as quickly as possible - which clearly lends itself to a level of quality that will ensure that customers are forced to purchase the same item repeatedly down the road. The things that we own do end up owning us, for all the time, money and attention we have to give to them, to the exclusion of so much else in our lives. Our energy is increasingly directed towards things, not people (including ourselves).
And the Real Cost to us and the to planet of such an approach is high: much higher than we the cost we pay as the purchase price. Energy and resource costs (which are often hidden by subsidies or externalized from the transaction), combined with ecological and social costs of generating this tsunami of under-valued commodities create a terrible hidden cost burden on us that we do end up paying, usually with usurious interest.
And the loss of time in generating, moving, cataloguing, warehousing, utilizing and disposing of it all means far less time to devote to more useful activities, whether productive or pleasureable.
Imagine how much time would be saved if you never received another piece of junkmail? Consider the organization (or organizations) that create it - both the creative side and the phsyical side. Someone's time goes into getting that mail into envelopes, of acquiring postage, of cataloguing costs. Then it has to be given to a mail carrier - whose time is devoted to receiving it, distributing it and delivering it. All to have you, the end consumer, pick it up - look through it, decide whether to dispose of it or not, and then do so. And then there's the waste company that picks up your waste, processes it and finally recycles, inters or burns it.
The time, productivity, brain cycles and stress that go into the continuation of this and so many processes like it constitute a TREMENDOUS loss of human value. And we're not even talking about trees, barrels of oil, or pounds of ink. Wouldn't you be MUCH happier to never receive more junk mail? Of course you would! Because it wastes your time and reduces the quality of life. And as with junk mail, so too does the tsunami of valueless things that flood into and overwhelm our lives.
So when we consider Real Cost vs. Real Value, it would appear obvious Reducing is one of the most sensible approaches for pushing that equation back in our favor, personally and collectively. But that statement in itself is not sufficient to win the day here. This is not a complete solution to the problem - but it opens the door understanding what I'm about to lay on you in the next post.