On November 24, the New York Times Magazine featured a massive 14-page article by David Leonhardt titled, “In China, Cultivating The Urge To Splurge.” The basic idea is to transform the Chinese citizens into the “next great consumer society,” following in the footsteps of the United States. In other words, turn their citizens into materialistic creatures who love to buy, buy, and buy some more.
Leonhardt alternates between fretting about how hard this will be, given that the people aren’t inclined to be rabid fans of extraneous stuff, and arguing that it absolutely should happen, because it will create jobs across the world, particularly in the US. We should now turn the tables and become manufacturers for China. Presumably, a large number of products in their country will say “Made in the United States,” instead of the other way around:
The Chinese consumer is one of the best hopes for future economic growth. In the years ahead, when the United States, Europe and Japan will have no choice but to slow their spending and pay off their debts, China could pick up the slack. Millions of Americans — yes, millions — could end up with jobs that exist, at least in part, to design, make or sell goods and services to China. This possibility helps explain why Democrats, Republicans, economists, business consultants, corporate executives and labor leaders all devote so much time to urging China to consume more. One subtext of the recent G-20 meeting in Seoul was the encouragement of Chinese consumption.
This strategy is absolutely wrong and horrible for many reasons. If it succeeds it will turn the Chinese people into shallow petty purchasers, who are constantly bombarded by advertisements that subliminally work to make them insecure and especially needy for the latest fix, whether it be cosmetics, beer, a new sweater, or a pet rock. From a spiritual perspective (take your pick of any great religion) this envy-inducing form of economics is degrading to the soul.
Not only that, it engenders a callous mindset that cares less about preserving our fragile Earth’s ecosystems than owning the next piece of froufrou. The environment and the animals be damned.
In philosophical terms, this paradigm is narcissistic and anthropocentric instead of compassionate and ecocentric.
Consumer materialism pits neighbor against neighbor and ultimately leads to the kind of me-me-me you see in the United States, where people would rather let their fellow Americans suffer without affordable healthcare than endure a tiny tax on consumables like sugary soda, cigarettes and beer.
Already in China there is a divide between the haves and the have-nots. Leonhardt's plan simply ignores this disgusting injustice, and the gross extremes of wealth and poverty an infection of consumer madness will foment.
If we become manufacturers for China, the nasty little secret is that many of us will become sweatshop workers. Suffering bad work conditions will keep the price as low as possible at the Chinese version of Wal-Mart. Perhaps this is the karma we have earned by our own tacit acceptance of forced labor; but how sad to see our own ignorance and dismissal of our fellow human beings spread across the globe.
Consumerism curses whatever community it can, from the town to the nation, with a sick sense of self that renders existence devoid of sacred purpose. It will be a sorry day when the Chinese have gas-guzzling cars with bumper stickers that proclaim, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”
If there is a Goddess to judge us after we die, anyone who succumbs to the obsession with accumulation, leaping through endless hoops of vogue, will be sent to bake in hell. Of course, capitalists don’t believe there is any kind of judgement after death, whether it is Christian, Buddhism, Hindu, Wiccan or whatever.
What if the capitalists are wrong? What do you believe? Are your actions in line with your spiritual beliefs? Or do you trundle off to Wal-mart or Target or any other humungous corporate store, without a thought?
What is life about? I will bet my soul that it is not about acquiring fancily packaged products whose manufacture involves raping the Earth and putting millions of people in subservient roles as sweatshop workers. It is not about becoming as selfish as you can be. It is not about being handed your sense of esteem by advertisers, who lead you along by the psychological nose, as far away from empathy as they can.
Look what capitalism did for the United States. It wrecked the moral fiber of the people. We care more about status symbols than Goddess, or Planet, or the workers who make our stuff. We fixate on an extra dollar at Wal-Mart while our purchases push China, a police state, toward the world’s pinnacle of power.
As China ascends, concern for human rights descends. China’s priority is not free speech, free religion, or any of the other dignities that our Founding Elders believed in so strongly that they emblazoned them in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Did the citizens of America think about the consequences of buying wave upon wave of goods that were made in China? No. We mindlessly drove our own country into massive debt. Why? Because we are addicted to stuff, and we mortgaged our homes and maxed our credit cards--
And how stupid and morally corrupt do we look to the world now?
If China follows in our footsteps, the result will be the spread of greed to a billion people. It will be Mammon’s greatest victory. The Earth will totter from the strain, Goodness will take a major blow, and we will fall even farther away from an emphasis on human rights. We will heighten the pyramid of inequality that blights the world now. And we will have lost a great opportunity to move into a Cyber future with noble minds and ethical hearts, instead of a fascination with titillation.
How sad to see the human soul, with such potential to flourish, instead languish, yoked in a muck of base needs.
Shame on us all. I guess we are going to destroy ourselves, for that’s what greed does.