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Monday, 15 February 2010

When Consumption Becomes Lethal (for lack of a better title [>.<])

I made this reaction paper for my English 10 class. Yeah, I know this is crappy but this is the best that I could create. -___-“ …Or is it that I haven’t explored my potential? Asa! :))

If I have to confess something right now, that something would be connected to my inability to maintain a neat and organized environment. I always find myself in a midst of the sea of stuff that I possess. There are times that I go, “Heck, what brought all these stuff here in my space? My place is so cluttered!” Then I suddenly realize that it is related with my impulsive buying – if I want something, I just buy them even if I don't need them.

When I was in fourth year high school, we tackled Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Our economics teacher said that no one has reached or will ever reach the highest ranked need (which is self-actualization) because people cannot be satisfied. That principle makes me feel good because it only show shows that I am not the only one confronted with that impulsive buying – most of us do. But what exactly is the dilemma if we have this problem? Actually, our excessive consumption of goods branches out to larger problems and issues of the society. This is what the web video “The Story of Stuff” exposes. This video explains what goes on before the goods we use reach our hands and what transpires after we have “completely utilized” the goods we bought. Together with the 'theoretical explanation' the video provides, it also links the theories to various issues which our world faces.

So, what exactly happens before we take hold of our possessions? Of course, those were manufactured. In manufacturing, producers need to acquire raw materials to create new products. That seems to be the most natural thing to be done. However, that gathering and acquiring of raw materials becomes unnatural the moment the producers exploit all the natural resources. The moment they do exploit, they become greedy animals. But it would be so impartial if all the blame would be placed onto the producers because we, consumers, also have a share on this exploitation – we are actually the impetus for the producers' excessive procurement of materials. How? Because we shop and shop and shop (even though 99% of the things we have become trash within six months), it is the role of the producers to meet the growing demands of the consumers; in turn, the producers increase their supply through procuring a lot of raw materials to the point that they exhaust all the natural resources completely. In short, the producers aren't the only the greedy animals in this jungle. The consumers are also greedy animals. We are all greedy animals.

This greed does not only cause harm to the environment but it also causes harm on us. Quite ironic, eh? We are the ones who do damage yet the damage also bounces back on us. Industries nowadays put harmful chemicals on their products to make them more “efficient”. For example, some industries put Brominated Flame Retardants on their products so that their products won't be caught on fire. That sounds good but they are still artificially derived chemicals. They might have negative effects on our health (although this chemical's effects on health is not determined yet). Employees on those kinds of industries should not only take caution on the chemicals they apply on their products but also on the pollution they produce. In the United States alone, 4 billion pounds of pollution a year excreted. Pollution could cause ailments concerning the lungs such as tuberculosis and asthma. What is even more surprising is that no one is safe from this. When infants breastfeed from their mothers who are exposed to high levels of pollution, voila! They are instantly entitled to a lifetime supply of toxins. Indeed working in these kinds of industries are really, really dangerous.

In addition to the physiological and biological damage that are caused by those factories to employees, they are also not financially rewarded with their jobs because the producers' aim is to minimize the cost of the products they sell. With this aim, their tendency is to exclude the cost of labor in producing those goods. In short, they are underpaid. This is against human rights. Hence, this issue does not only concern survival but also concerns justice and violation of human rights.

However, it would be very impartial if we would put all the blame on the people. Actually the government must receive the 'bigger blame.' In the United States, some leaders have brainwashed their countrymen to make shopping their priority and the source of their happiness. For instance, after the 9/11 incident, former U.S. President George W. Bush encouraged the U.S. Citizens to shop – not to grieve, not to pray, not to help but to shop. Who needs shopping after a very tragic incident? There are more significant things that could be done. No wonder stand-up comics like Jay Leno kept on bashing him and picking him on his dumbness.

Same is true with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He, together with his council, said that the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Economy is to provide more consumer goods – not to promote health, education or justice but to produce more consumer goods. How selfish is that? They use their powers to please the 'big men', the corporations, by asking their countrymen to buy excessively. Because of that desire, the corporations and other producers manufacture products that are designed and meant to be dumped after a short period of time. This is what we call planned obsolescence. For example, if we want an upgrade in our computer's operating system, we must brace ourselves to buy the whole thing since one of the components in the hard drive varies in shape from one operating system to another.

Media also has a role in our early disposal of goods. Whenever we see commercials of stuff that are “in”, it is the tendency of some people to ride on the bandwagon. So we replace perfectly functioning materials with what is “in.” This is what we call perceived obsolescence. This kind of obsolescence is rampant when it comes to cellphones. One day Model A is in. Then after a week, Model A is out and Model B is in. Of course, filthy rich techies would purchase Model B in a heartbeat so that they have something to boast to their friends.

Clearly, this obsolescence, no matter what kind it is, encourages early disposal of goods. This early disposal causes a pile of junk to be stacked in our environment. Of course it would be so unpleasant to look at if our trash would not be disposed at once. Recycling helps but it is not enough. Some materials are not really meant to be recycled. So, to solve this, what some companies do is that they take the chemical route of melting the trash and that 'chemical route' produces dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. People who are exposed to this are the prospects of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, reduced sperm count, decreased fertility, lung problems and a lot more.

See how far our consumerism has brought us. Our desire to have the finest things in life has brought us greater damage than benefits. Our simple wanting of various products has turned into a complex problem that our society faces – from consumerism to climate change, to declining health, to the inefficiency of capitalism.

Because of all these branched out problems, it is now time for us to be idealists – we must move according to what is right. We should never ever think that something is too idealist that it is impossible to be done. We should act now or else we would like be nomads in our own world.