Stand up and take notice. We’re being conned into becoming a community of automatic consumerists. Slogging our collective butts off just so we can buy shit. Shit we buy for the sake of buying it. And buy it shiny and shoddy so we can throw it away in two years to make room for more new shit. By choice, accident, or manipulation, we’re trying to chase after a society which decided that they’d rather have luxury SUVs, large, low-fat, soy-milk lattes with extra foam and sprinkles on top and nineteen kinds of sushi for dinner, than have time to spend with the family and friends for whom they work so hard. American consumer culture was shaped by the enormous 2nd World War machine repurposing for peacetime. Since war no longer destroyed everything produced, well-meaning people were brainwashed into the search for a shimmering trifecta of “comfort, cleanliness and convenience” by throwing everything away. A wave of disposable everything, chemically fabricated and over-packaged products took over the TV, popular perception and ordinary homes through the 1950s. They powered a global culture of relentless purchase. That wave has become an tsunami of waste and frivolous consumption swamping our world and turning it into an uninhabitable dump yard.
This pattern of fake everything, consumed without end has played out over many decades. It’s now being thrust on us. Through laziness or malicious intent, every night across India families are convinced of the virtues of disposable lifestyles. These ideas spread without being noticed by hiding behind being modern. They are positioned so the things we buy are disposable and short-lived. The desire to have them is born from our collective desire to make progress and be acknowledged. This charade must be brought to an end. Before these ideas take hold, before the virus infects a complete generation of consumers, we must collectively make a noise heard in the places where such decisions are made.
Our environment, its rivers, lands and forests are under threat. The threats come from a place where you wouldn’t think to look. A new form of environmentalism is emerging. It turns all sense of reason on its head.
Don’t buy expensive wooden chairs. Use this cost-effective printed polycarbonate plastic laminate instead.
Save a tree. Save the forest.
Are they deranged, misguided or cynically manipulative? It’s only the useful that survive. The march of evolution is so slow that we may not notice when it claim its victims. It may lurk amidst ordinary and mundane happenings. But anything which isn’t useful, isn’t adapted to its environment gets reclaimed, its fires extinguished. Look no further than your own body for a reminder. If tails were still useful, your tailbone would carry a considerably heavier weight, fashion houses would show-off the latest in tail wear. Lions and tigers only purpose is to be ogled at by tourists and they face extinction. Cows and dogs give us milk, meat and companionship and aren’t going anywhere soon. In just the same way, our forests aren’t threatened by using wood to make things. Giving trees a purpose, making them useful to human society and to our form of civillisation gives people meaningful reasons to grow them and preserves their genetics and their kind long into the future.
It’s when trees have no benefit, when they don’t help keep people alive, that they will start to go extinct. The factory where that polycarbonate chair was made will be conveniently forgotten. Glossy marketing will cover up the waste dumped into the water and the air. The vast forest cut down to make room for the factory will be hidden from sight.
In that forest, trees were cut and replenished every year. A carpenter worked on one of those trees less than twenty years ago. He and hundreds of his brothers would craft wood with skill and expertise into chairs lasting you and me a lifetime. They’re being replaced with thousands of square yards of hulking, modern machinery run by a handful of factory workers stamping out hundreds of plastic and steel chairs every day. Little replica chairs, fitting into little replica boxes to be shipped off to little replica homes. Chairs, which in a few years will occupy landfills across the country, instead of accumulating a lifetime of memories as your children and their children watch Saturday morning cartoons and enjoy Sunday evening tickle sessions. In midst of the wondrous rapture of more buildings, more roads and more concrete this inconvenient truth is trampled.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We are not destined to repeat the mistakes already made through the twentieth century. Our vision is clear enough to separate meaningful progress from thin layers of shiny chrome. Companies choose to ignore the enormous environmental cost they impose on us. We can make it too expensive for them to ignore. If bolting sheets of glued sawdust into flat-packable, inoffensive, mass-produced furniture belches industrial pollutants into water sources and toxic emissions into the atmosphere, then we vote with our wallets and direct this junk straight into the bin.
It’s true that solid wood furniture does cost a bit of money. On a fixed income, it means cutting something else out and choosing to have less. It’s hard to choose to have less. A more challenging idea is that less can be more. It’s also a powerful and liberating concept.
Start with a pinch of abstinence, add infrequent splurges mixed with heaps of craftsmanship, simmer for a few years and bask in the returns of longevity. I’m no different from you in wanting more, in wanting to fulfill another desire, to keep up with that annoying aunty’s #%@* of a son-in-law, to feel the thrill of the courier delivering a package. But it’s all short-lived. The rush of having fades away. Left behind is a little nothingness. A nothingness that fills with wanting anew. Instead, I break the cycle admiring the many scratches that cover the surface of my old dining-table and imagining the many more it will accumulate. The ones there bring back memories of long breakfasts, over-enthusiastic dogs and rowdy bros leaving their mark. In the midst of these images lie fragments of life having being lived. It’s incredible to contemplate what stories new scratches could hold decades from now.