Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I’ve had a man shout at me because I made his lox and bagels closed-face, not open-face. Same ingredients, mind you, but different presentation. He literally slammed his plate down on the counter and stormed out of the bagel shop.

I watch people mutter when the have to stand in line for more than a minute. I’ll be standing behind them, and they’ll turn, shake their heads at me, and make little comments about how long it’s taking.

We have TV shows and magazines devoted to what celebrities wear and what they do on the weekend. Lots of them.

A couple weekends ago, I was talking to my friend Tony outside of Arden Fair Mall. You can usually find him down there, hanging around out front. Working, actually. He’s homeless, and he spends his days begging for change, so his family can stay in their hotel room for one more night. We talked about his wife and daughters, his medical problems, and God. During our conversation, he referred to the mall as “that Babylon over there.”

When we finished talking, I walked to the food court to get lunch, and was more disgusted with the mall at every step. For the price of one stupid-looking, supposedly cute pair of shoes, Tony and his family could keep their only place to stay for a few more days. While Tony stood out in the sun, begging for money for food and shelter, someone was complaining about the price of a video game, which they simply did not need. Pointless, I thought, glaring at the designer clothes and DVDs.

Even as I thought it, I knew I would be playing City of Heroes by the end of the day.

I’ve calmed down a little since that afternoon. See, I’m something of a capitalist. I like having cool stuff. And what I’m thinking is that the problem with our consumer culture isn’t having goodies. The problem is when we take them seriously.

People actually think they need frivolities. Whether they take the form of Calvin Klein pajamas, some oversweetened coffee thing at Starbucks, or what have you, the fact is that they’re extras. Non-essentials. The problem is, some people seem to be buying into the message the commercials are feeding them: you need our product, and you deserve to have it however you want it.

The problem is, that’s just not true.

While the iPod is a brilliant invention, doesn’t really matter. You can make it worthwhile – a friend of mine was working on copying the entire Bible into a text file on hers – but that’s not what it’s meant for. Like so many things, it’s for fun. And in today’s culture, we’ve begun to prioritize fun above serving others, personal responsibility, and morality. Obviously problematic.

I don’t believe it’s wrong, in and of itself, to buy cool stuff and enjoy it. Just don’t pretend you have to.


Third said...

while it's clear that the sentiment is well intentioned, i'm afraid that anyone with as privelidged a background as any of us has had (read: anyone with an internet connection), none of us is in any sort of position to look at consumer culture objectively. Not that it's a matter of callousness, or learned helplessness, or that we're just hard-wired from childhood to think that it's fine, and even laudable; that's not what i'm saying. What i'm saying is that those who have not had to, in the most literal sense, make their bread by the sweat of their brow, are ill equipped to even acknowledge the scope of the problem. While i sympathize with Tony, as cited here, it is (in my aforementioned limited scope) my naive duty to acknowledge that even the lowest echelons of society in this country are poor enough to be rich in most of the third world. The poverty line, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (for just a single person, never mind a family), is $20 shy of $9,000 per annum. It's not even worth it to go into depth regarding what this sort of sum would buy you in a country like Uganda, Somalia, or Equador. Let it go without saying that $750 per month is more than enough to live like a prince in any one of these countries, where enormous slices of the population pie graph (even in these countries to whom pie is an unheard of dream) die of diseases like ghiardia; curable for pennies a day, and yet in our own, it relegates one to a life of shaming dignity in favor of daily bread. Hopefully, i have begun to put into perspective this nation's first and foremost problem with adressing global poverty. Please, i don't want this to cheapen anyone's goodwill; you are no less blessed by what good and loving power there is in the world for giving what you can to those in need. Ultimately, generosity becomes a question of perspective and relative need/abundance. i only hope that i can bring even the smallest measure of shock-awareness to those who care enough about the problem. If i could suggest what i think the best method of spreading awareness and doing one's own part in adressing not only global financial need, but also the ecological needs of our earth, i would suggest the website for Earthwatch, with whom i have been to Rome and Inner Mongolia, and whose programs foster not only a sense of citizenship to our planet entire, but also the sense of stewardship i feel is the birthright of all those capable of participating. Please, if you have the means and the inclination, look at their site. They pair people enthusiastic to travel and to make a difference with people anxious to contribute to our world without their own gain at stake; those who participate invariably find that they have gained an experience that cannot be found anywhere else.

Liam Powers, Third.
Winterborn, First Class.

Third said...

pardon; but for some reason or another, the URL '' does not want to be found via this server. Please, those interested, copy and paste the above URL.


the Razorclown said...

Indeed, poverty is relative. Tony can get medical care for a severe condition that would certainly kill anyone in a third-world country. In a global scope, he's quite a rich man. As is any of us who owns more than one pair of shoes.

I would personally recommend World Vision ( They keep their operating expenses low, and make sure the greatest part possible of our donations get to where they are needed.

the Razorclown said...

Aha. As to the linking issue, it seems Blogger adds the domain to any links in a comment.

There also seems to be an issue with italics. Should probably send them an e-mail.

Third said...

Having looked at the website, i think also that Worldvision is a fantastic medium for presenting a donation. They have my full endorsement for anyone who wants to contribute money. Earthwatch ( still has my full endorsement for anyone willing not just to contribute money (considerably more than maybe most people are willing to donate), but also time in exchange for not only a feeling of making a difference, but an experience of making a difference first hand. If you feel strongly about either or both; please visit these two sites according to your abilities. They are two of the few organizations only concerned with making our world a better place for our selves and our children and their children.