Thursday, 26 April 2007

Buy Less Crap

462626_54619655 "Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,' begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.' Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe. It is consumerism."

Living here in the wilder part of Tenerife (wild as in rural, not as in party) and the non-availability of much choice in shops has pretty much cured me of the need to shop. And just as Hannah in Ibiza says,

"Life is a lot cheaper and far less stressful now that I do not feel the need to go shopping every Saturday. I'm quite happy with what I've got."

Porritt adds, "Shopping has become a recreational activity. There's a lot of evidence that people really do see shopping now as an amenity pastime."

And, whilst this is pretty obvious, one does not grasp the full extent of western society's brainwashing, until you live outside of it. Once, I too shopped for something to do. Now I'm cured. I shop because I need essential groceries and, I don't do that any more than I have to.

By contrast, my mother, still lives in the UK. Whilst I wouldn't call her a "spendthrift" and, indeed she comes from a background and generation that didn't grow up with much money or opportunity for it, nevertheless, she reminds me when she comes for her annual visit, of just how influenced people are in the UK to be "consumers". What are her favorite places for "sightseeing" in Tenerife, with all it's beautiful nature? The inside of the Al Campo shopping mall, or the main street in Icod de los Vinos, dotted with smaller individual shops! Beach, nah. Nature, almost no appeal whatsoever. Museums, horrid dark dingy places, according to her. Eating out is a passtime she's into, she'll go to some cultural things, but mostly, she just wants to go shopping.

Even Buenavista del Norte high street with all dozen shops will do, because there is a "everything for a euro" shop full of crap! This idea of fun is what's considered "normal"? I call it superficial. Of course we need superficially fun things in our lives, just that acquiring things for the sake of it, is not a way that adds any meaning. So what do we do, when mother comes to visit? We go shopping, of course. Yeah, I know, but suffering the pouts and tantrums of a 80+ year old "child" denied access to her "toys" is just too much to bear!

She also assumes that, because I do not buy crap things, that I must be in need of things. Well, this is not entirely untrue: maybe there are things I would buy, if I had more money, but I also find myself constantly having to say to her that I do not WANT nor need, this, that and the other that she seems to think my life is the poorer for not having. We also buy far more food luxuries - part of the reason is that my mother usually visits at Christmas and another is that I don't have the money for these things until she arrives, credit card in hand - but, the waste and the amount of trash generated far more than doubles and my dog soon learns to beg for all the new titbits that she certainly doesn't get normally, but that "nanny" hands out at three meals a day.

A side issue here, depending on your own habits and what's available in your new location, is that it highlights just how out of synch expats and their friends and family become. The expat understands the folk back home, because that's how we used to live, but it's a life we consciously chose to change to something, that is, for us, better. Those who have never lived outside their home countries have no points of reference to fully understand the differences in the way of life. (Would-be, first-time expats would settle in better too, if they were not expecting life "as it was in Britain, but with added sun".)

The worst thing is that whole economies in the western rely on rampant consumerism to keep them going. That's why financial news carries terms like "consumer confidence", to indicate whether we're all psyched up to spend enough (or not) to keep economies buoyant. Porritt is right. We must shop less, but what incentive is there? What chance is there that governments will promote sustainable measures, truthfully, if their very survival depends on them NOT doing so? We do have a choice, we can destroy the economy, or we can destroy the planet. What we can no longer do is avoid some pain or change.

Expats are, I think, in a better position to understand, even when we live in one of those places that, paradoxically, relies on the "impact of hundreds of thousands of tourists descending on some destination somewhere in the world", for our livelihood. Now, how do we educate those who have never been outside their shopping comfort zones?

Stop shopping ... or the planet will go pop Via: My Life in Ibiza

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