Consumerism ≠ cultured

Wonderful observation made by W.H. Auden in 1967, quoted at Opus:

Again, while it is a great blessing that a man no longer has to be rich in order to enjoy the masterpieces of the past, for paperbacks, first-rate color reproductions, and stereo-phonograph records have made them available to all but the very poor, this ease of access, if misused — and we do misuse it — can become a curse. We are all of us tempted to read more books, look at more pictures, listen to more music than we can possibly absorb, and the result of such gluttony is not a cultured mind but a consuming one; what it reads, looks at, listens to is immediately forgotten, leaving no more traces behind than yesterday’s newspaper.

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The economics of color in local culture

I’ve been reading a bit more on distributism at The Distributist Review. This quote captured my attention last night:

Local production for local consumption is a policy enabling the flow of an extensive variety of goods and services created by and sustaining the very community that makes them.

Mass production makes for very little local color. Everywhere, America ends up looking the same. Local culture looks like the variety of goods and service created by the locals. A Grand Island, Nebraska craftsman might use a different lumber, different joinery and different finish — in response to the land and weather around him – than one in Tennesee. Objects coming out of a factory respond to one thing by comparison: Market potential.

Haven’t we been here before, Rocky?

“To create, meditate and really share life”

“I think I want to be an artist monk — with a wife,” I announced to the WordLily at lunch today.

“Nice save,” she replied.

“I don’t necessarily mean I want to move to a monastery.”

“So you mean you want to create, meditate and really share life.”

“Yeah, exactly,” I said. Her elaboration was spot on.

Recently I’ve begun to explore distributism (thanks to Timothy Jones harping on it over at Old World Swine), which as an economic theory is referred to as a “third way,” neither capitalism or socialism. G.K. Chesterton was a fan of the idea — among others such as Dorothy Day and Hilaire Belloc — which was in some ways a Catholic response to the industrial revolution (according to Wikipedia). A few quotes from Wikipedia:

Distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life.”

Under such a system, most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so.

Pope Pius XI . . . provided the classical statement of the principle: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”

I don’t know why the Pope considered taking from individuals what they can accomplish on their own a “great evil,” but I can understand why he would call it a “disturbance of right order.” I love the idea of subordinating economic activity to the rest of human life as a whole. The way we harp on economics in our culture just doesn’t resonate with me. It seems out of place. Shouldn’t economics be an incidental byproduct of our human activity, instead of something we plan for and around?

Distributism is also interested in promoting crafts and culture.

Distributism promotes a society of artisans and culture. This is influenced by an emphasis on small business, promotion of local culture, and favoring of small production over capitalistic mass production. A society of artisans promotes the distributist ideal of the unification of capital, ownership, and production rather than what distributism sees as an alienation of man from work. This does not, however, suggest that Distributism favors a technological regression to a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle, but a more local ownership of factories and other industrial centers. Products such as food and clothing would be preferably returned to local producers and artisans instead of being mass produced overseas.

Returning production to the local level reminds me of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Part of me wonders if distributism would fly in our interconnected internet age. If the producer of a particular item in Indiana was doing a superior job to those in California, wouldn’t people just order from the person in the Midwest who had set up an online store?

Regardless, I need to give a little more consideration to idea. From what I’ve read so far, I like it; it sounds as though it might create a lifestyle a little bit more conducive to creating, meditating and really sharing life.

Is our lack of civil discourse tied to consumerism?

Donald Miller cranked out another great observation in a post posted this this morning titled How a Consumer Thinks.

. . . the creator has a binary opposite, and that is a consumer. There is also a middle ground, and that is a critic . . .

Rivalry is consumer thought. We are taught to be for or against something rather than to understand an issue from multiple perspectives. We are taught there are only two sides to an issue. This is of course absurd.

Which makes me wonder, has consumerism contributed to a lack of civil discourse?

Christmas VI

During this season of extravagance I’m often reminded again — even in my tiny house with our two beat up old cars — how blessed I am and how wasteful the U.S. is as a culture. This waste bothers me more and more every year, and I try to curtail it as much as possible in my own life.

Christmas is a time for extravagance (a topic I intend to explore more in the future) as we celebrate the incarnation — although this extravagance need not be wasteful. And as we dole out gifts to family and friends, let us take note of those without family or friends. Or other things we so very often take for granted, such as the sundry food on our holiday tables.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HlFP-PMW6E]

See an interview with Jeremy Seifert, the director of Dive!, on MyFoxLA’s website.

Christmas V

A sale on storage containers right after Christmas eh?

I’m actually a fan of these plastic storage totes. They keep the mice and bugs out of your Christmas decorations, keep clay wet for quite a while and are stronger and easier to move around than cardboard boxes. Isn’t it a tell-tale sign of a consumer culture, however, when they’re put on prominent display and on sale immediately after Christmas?

Cameraphone capture while shopping for lumber for a work surface for a Christmas gift

What is joy?

Lately the wife and I have been thinking and talking about joy. It was in this context I was visually accosted by certain signage at a local big box store. I found myself at odds with the signage which clearly implied that material objects result in joy.

The local Best Buy is selling joy

Our brief and unfinished discussions have largely attempted to define the idea of joy, moving from there to examine how it might be achieved. The idea of joy to us is more deeply seated than happiness. Happiness is fleeting and unreliable. Joy is something that has to be worked at, but once attained it persists. Other emotions may step in front of it during life — grief at the death of a friend, worry at the loss of a job, happiness while watching the sun set — but joy will remain and resurface, as well as provide a foundation for the rest of a person’s outlook on life.

Before beginning this little entry I did some research on what other people thought of joy. I was surprised to see how closely dictionaries (and Wikipedia) aligned both joy and happiness. They call joy an emotion, which doesn’t make sense to me. So far as I can tell, joy is a choice that becomes part of a person’s worldview through consistent application. It is not an emotion. (Or, maybe joy is an emotion, but there is something else that we’re reaching for and don’t have a better word for. So we call it “joy.”)

In this research I did find a few less-than-academic articles trying to make the distinction between the two clearer, but they fall flat. The best bit I found supporting our own sentiment was a G.K. Chesterton quote:

Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.

Keyword “labour.”

Electronic toys do not result in joy, they just don’t. A lot of other things can they cause — a failure in interpersonal communication, obesity, debt — which might include happiness, a temporary happiness. A new iPhone will undoubtedly come out next year. The successor to Blu-Ray is certainly being developed already, just as Blu-Ray takes off. Happiness from such things will be fleeting.

To be fair, some of the things such big box retailers purvey may facilitate joy. A new stove could facilitate the crafting of new edible family traditions around the holidays, or all year round. A new CD — given music’s enigmatic ability to get into our heads — could also lend itself to joy. However, I still don’t like this Christmas marketing campaign or its implications. At best it plays on people’s misunderstanding of joy (based on our observations of the word’s connotations). At worst it suggests a lackluster definition of the idea of joy without suggesting a semantic replacement for a deeper happiness, a contentment.

Adding: After a little more digging, this time into the concordance, I found the Greek word Chara (pronounced khar-ah’) which is translated as “joy.” It’s defined as “cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight.” I like the word calm there, although I’m not sure how it contributes to my thoughts above.

What do you want to be? [On consumerism, materialism . . . ]

Quotes from a conversation that started with Jim Janknegt’s Facebook status from this morning:

I don’t want to be a consumer; I want to be a grower, a creator, a husband, a steward. – Jim Janknegt

There are two ways to get enough: One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less. – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Contentment is natural wealth; luxury, artificial poverty. – Socrates (B.C. 469-399)

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire. – Wendell Berry

Intentional Observation: Delight yourself in YHWH

Delight yourself in YHWH and He will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4



One of the categories in the sidebar of this blog is “entitlement.” I haven’t posted about this idea (or reality) for a few years now, but was reminded of it this morning when a friend on Facebook decried a Christian radio program for saying “Something that you want can be considered a need if it is part of your lifestyle.”

Apparently, according to this friend’s report, “The dj’s were asking people what they needed to buy or spend money on but just haven’t yet. They wanted to know what it was and why they haven’t bought it yet? What a conversation to get us thinking about our own self-absorbed lives!” Health and wealth gospel, anyone?

Summers during my high school years I worked at Maranatha Bible camp. It was common for a few Canadians to be on staff, as well as a few people from other places around the world. One summer in particular there was a Latino student helping out around camp. His name was Pedro, or was it Pablo. Anyway, he played the piano quite well, and his mantra that summer was “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart; Pamela Anderson.”

I get the sense that we [Americans] often, or pretty much always, forget the first half of that Psalmic invitation. “Delight yourselves in YWHW.

Do we remotely know what does that looks like? Via Biblios.com, “‘To delight’ is most frequently expressed by chaphets, which means originally ‘to bend’ . . . hence, ‘to incline to,’ ‘take pleasure in.'” How often can we honestly say that we take pleasure in God? I know I can’t say that very often with honesty. Admittedly, I’m too self-absorbed. The to-do list whirling about in my head keeps me from delighting in much of anything, actually. Even when I get to spend time sculpting in my studio, of late, all I can think of is how little time I have to actually spend there and how I need to get as much done as I possibly can. Presently I have to find work to pay the bills, which can be an enormous distraction at times.

Email — and I really don’t get that much of it anymore — is always calling, as are the blog stats (even though they never really change, and I know in my head that I don’t really care that much). Apparently there is some interesting psychology behind our relationship to social media and technology according to a Fresh Air interview from August. Useless distractions abound in our culture, super-saturated with media of all kinds, and keep me from delighting in God.

What would happen if we actually did delight in YHWH, even in our partial understanding of Psalm 37’s invitation? I’d like to think that the desires of our hearts would change. We would be less self-absorbed, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We would worry corporate America and its quest for ever more cavernous coffers because the next best digital gadget just wouldn’t mean all that much to us. I believe we’d find more joy in every aspect of our lives.

In short, the desires of our heart, whether you want to call them needs or wants or whatevers, would change. They’d look more like the goodness of God, more like His desires for us, for creation.

So how can I do better at delighting in YHWH (regardless of my intentions, my desires, which do not include Pamela Anderson)? I need focus. I think a lot of us need focus. It’s much to easy in the U.S. to go in ten thousand and one different directions, to have 10 hobbies or passions or interests and not be really proficient in any one of them. Additional options play out ever before us thanks to advertising in newspapers, on websites, on television or along our commute to the office. We see what the Joneses just bought or where they vacationed and think we’d enjoy that too.

And we might, actually, but the more directions I’m going in the less — in general — joy I have There just isn’t time for all of them. I must realize what’s most important to me (and what presently allows me to delight in YHWH) with respect to my faith, my God-given talents, my family etc. and adjust accordingly. Subsequently I have to realize that, even in light of similar faith or family values, my direction will often look very different than other peoples.

Does poverty encourage creativity?

Lately I’ve been wondering if poverty encourages creativity. Two things prompted this ponderment. One was Andrew Petersen’s first post in his recent series about money, titled Not the root of all evil. The other is simply the lean financial times I find myself in the midst of as we enter Autumn; the contract work I’ve had painting houses this year has dried up for the time being.

My mind is working differently than when I had that work painting. I see things now, objects and opportunities, differently. Possibilities multiply. I take the time to consider more numerous options than if our household was [somewhat more] flush with cash, able to collect in a cart from the Home Depot whatever sundries are needed for a project. Things I’ve collected, some with a specific purpose and some not, look new and become useful in a myriad of ways (I’m not really all that much of a pack rat, but I can’t let some things go.). For instance, the broken dishwasher in the backyard will now become, after being disassembled, part of my downdraft table. Anyone have a squirrel cage laying around they care to donate to that project?

Thus the question in my head is, “Does poverty encourage creativity?” Seems to me it does. I’d like to hear what others think or have experienced in this regard. Does our wealth, individually and nationally, sometimes get in the way of (and also some of the time foster) our imaginations, our ability to be at our creative best?

Paradoxically, I also find myself busier now that a month ago when I still had that [mostly] regular job. I’d love to be working on my own house right now — painting and putting to good use all the building materials I’ve salvaged over the past few months — but haven’t the time in light of trying to find other ways to generate income. As I count in my head, I’m working in no less than five directions toward that end at the moment.

One of those directions is as a freelance graphic designer. I pick up this kind of work now and then anyway, so I’m offering my talents as such if you or yours need a logo, brochure, banner etc designed and printed up. You can see a portfolio of my work under the above tab titled Design Portfolio. Email me at TheAestheticElevator(at)gmail(dot)com if you need such services.