"L" is for lacking

"Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life,
Are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation
Of mankind."
-- Henry David Thoreau

by Robert Nanninga
n 1845, Thoreau left society for a two-year experiment of living off the land on the banks of the now-famous Walden Pond in Massachusetts. It was from there that he wrestled with the concepts of need and want, and the reality of necessity. The man built his house, single-handedly, for twenty-eight dollars and thirteen cents. Could I do that? Hell no!
We have all heard the term "Creature Comforts." What exactly are creature comforts? A jacuzzi, cable TV, two cars, a well-stocked refrigerator, indoor plumbing, Malibu Barbie? What creatures on this planet have any of these things? Certainly not the bison or beaver, the panda or penguin. If we were to make a list of the things most species need to get by, it would consist of three things: water, food and air to breathe.
Water is vital to our existence, yet we have allowed multinational corporations to convince us that things go better with Coke. Plain water is no longer sufficient to quench our thirsts. Why drink water when you can be part of the Pepsi Generation? Starbucks has just announced plans for caffeinated water. Excuse me, but isn't that what coffee is? In a world where water from the tap is often unfit to drink, shouldn't we be trying to find ways of removing toxins instead of adding them? The question is, how many types of brightly colored sugar water do we really need?
Food is a major human obsession; as a species, we can never get enough. Now, I'm not talking about the pedestrian hunter-gathers of the Amazon or the aquatic foragers of North America. What I'm talking about is the obese culture of fast-food America. Not content with seasonal fruit and vegetables and organically raised livestock products, we have become a nation of consumers who consider Cheetos nutritional. Cheetos, Spaghetti-Os, Fritos, Oreos, Cheerios, Dominos... I am sensing a trend here?
Could the world thrive without junk food? Yes. Could the CEO of Nabisco thrive without selling us synthetic garbage in shiny wrappers? Of course not. He has too much invested in marketing malnutrition to a world of mindless consumers. Once upon a time, homemade meals were a source of pride and a place where families came together. Today, you can go to The Boston Market fast-food chain to get your home cooked meal. Canned peas anyone?
In our market-based economy, we have even found ways of selling air. My dad smoked cigarettes for the majority of his life. This led to prolonged hospital stays. While attached to all sorts of machines, he was given oxygen so he could breathe, and was charged for every breath he took. Could it be that the medical industry hasn't called for the banning of all tobacco products because there is no profit in health? Pollution is good for the economy. I'm looking forward to the days of designer air. "Tired of that stale urban air? Try the new and improved Sea Breeze 2000."
At some time, America shifted from the nobility of simplicity to the frustration of unending acquisition. Duane Elgin, author and Director of Choosing Our Future, believes the shift took place after World War II as the advertising culture succeeded in creating identity consumption. Victor Lebow, retail analyst and promoter of this new way of thinking said, "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate." No wonder we have been brainwashed into a society of Stepford Shoppers, mindlessly shuffling towards the bluelight special.
I am writing this on the Memorial Day weekend. Listening to the radio, I've heard all these commercials telling people to forget about the beach and parks because the place to be on this national holiday was at some furniture store. No payments until July of '97. I was - and am still - appalled. Don't get me wrong - I am not in favor of any holiday celebrating war or the soldiers who perished to protect the hidden agenda of free market capitalists. But the fact that consumption is now being considered a family value is sick.
What can we do to take back our communities and rescue ourselves from the current feeding frenzy? Well, first of all unplug your radio and television. Broadcast media has always been about selling you things you don't need. It is important that we avoid the hype and propaganda. When those trying to sell you a product tell you that it is "new and improved," what they are really saying is that the packaging is new and the marketing has been improved. Case in point is Madison Avenue trying to convince us that Tums are a calcium supplement. Here is a novel idea: want calcium, eat your vegetables. There I go getting all subversive again.
Most Americans believe our culture is lacking. It's as if we have this hole in the center of our being that we can't quite fill. Some try to make up the difference with drugs and alcohol, others with religion, and some with sex. But for the most part, we are all trying to save our battered souls with stuff, stuff and more stuff. Lacking adventure in your life? Every other commercial promises that a new car would do the trick. Want adventure? I say take the time to actually get to know your family, friends and neighbors - that's the adventure of a lifetime, without the monthly payments.
It is impossible to fulfill our emotional and spiritual needs with material goods. While we work at paying off the debt from purchasing the things that were supposed to make us happier, we have less time to address our real needs: family, friends, and community. By sacrificing our emotional needs to imaginary material ones, we enter into a cycle that promotes even more consumption, while forcing you to spend even more time away from home trying to support your consumptive urges.
Currently, I am wrestling with my own demons. In the past I've mentioned my addiction to CD's. This is a battle that is taking a toll on my spirit as well as my wallet. Impulse buying is a problem, a vice, that I continue to justify. I tell myself that I have handled other addictive impulses and that I am making progress. Truth of the matter, I bought another CD last night. Watch out people, this boy is backsliding.
So I invite everyone to join me in the battle to save our hearts, souls, and in the process, the environment. All this takes is a commitment to simplify our lives by learning to do without all the stuff we could live without until we were told we couldn't live without it.
Remember: bigger is not better, quantity is not quality, nothing is really new, and Dream Magic Barbie is just toxic waste in a stunning cocktail dress.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and active member of the Green and environmental communities.