Have you noticed how so many little girls are dressed these days? By little I mean from say 3 years old and up. They’re wearing darling little skirts and tutus and gold-colored slippers. And so what’s wrong with that? Well, let’s go back to the beginning. I don’t think that a bunch of mothers decided one day that their daughters’ jeans and T-shirts were too unfeminine. Neither was it a decision of the daughters. After all, little girls don’t know whether they’re feminine or unfeminine. They, like little boys, run and play and walk through puddles of rain water and roll in the grass. No, the tutus and dress-up clothing came from another source—the manufacturers of children’s clothing. Again, so what’s wrong with that? Well, in my opinion, it creates a desire for those little girls, and their mothers, to see that they’re prettily attired and that means buying more and more clothes. But perhaps even more important, it means little girls are learning at an early age to “want” things and to satisfy that want. Of course, children’s clothing is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s look for a minute at the mothers. They’re at least one generation or two past the irate feminism expressed by Betty Friedan. Although they haven’t yet received equal pay for equal work, more and more women are not only executives but corporate chairpersons of the board and presidents. So what is it with these frilly little girls? Has there been a revival of Barbie Dolls? Is it a struggle for the influence wielded by say Lady Gaga on one hand and Hillary Clinton on the other? No, it’s a cold, clear-headed decision on the part of manufacturers to propagandize mothers to buy, buy, buy.
The ultimate in clothes competition is the various award-presenting ceremonies—best actor, best director, etc. The garments of the actresses must run into the thousands. (They probably show them as an expense on their income tax returns.) Less is more for these events—that is the less of the covering the better. However, it must be unique in some way.
Corporations love competition. At least they say they do as they go about trying to eliminate their competitors. One particularly obnoxious TV ad of many years ago featured a teenage boy in a car with his father. A couple of blocks away from their high school destination the boy says, “Just let me off here.” The puzzled father complies, shaking his head. A voice then explains, “Don’t let your car make your son ashamed to be seen in it.” Gross, simply gross.
There is no article too humble on which the greedy gophers of the free market can make money. The cane I was supplied when I left the hospital after hip surgery was an old black one, which serves the purpose. Recently, I saw a beautifully painted cane for sale in one of the many catalogs that routinely and unrequested make their way to my mail box—less than a hundred dollars but not much less. The really sad part of the story is that I’m tempted to buy it.
And food!! Its presentation is justification for meal prices as high as a round-trip ticket to Chicago. Good-bye to the old gold-rimmed porcelain dishes of yesterday. Hello to square white plates that hold a small dollop of food in the middle topped with a sprig of cilantro.
Even health care isn’t isolated from the fray. For-profit hospitals send out requests for donations including full-color brochures that must cost from $5 to $10 each. Every facility has to own and exploit the same medical equipment as its adversary. Why couldn’t hospitals get together and decide which will specialize in treatment of, for example, heart problems, head injuries, etc., thus saving the duplication of very expensive machinery and personnel? The health facility has become a business. Some facilities provide services to “customers”—not patients. By the same token, one no longer refers to the medical profession or legal profession. Rather, it’s the medical industry or the legal industry.
Which brings us to nursing homes. No doubt, there must be those for people with minimal incomes and insurance, but I haven’t seen any of them. Those I have seen or occupied have been definitely upscale, which means hundreds of square feet of wasted space in carpeted lobbies filled with furniture that looks as if it has never been used and is cemented to the floor. They could be movie sets.
At the same time that this has been going on, there continue to be efforts to reduce the wages paid those people who provide services. Labor unions have lost clout and the salaries of many have been greatly reduced—for example, airline pilots and stewards. As this has happened the disparity between the richest people in the society and the poorest has grown wider and wider. Upper-end incomes have skyrocketed. A few years back 1% of U.S. citizens owned 40% of its wealth.
The most serious aspect of materialism is that it totally ignores that this is a finite planet. Substances we once considered as never-ending are now being rationed. Once natural resources are depleted, they can’t be restored. The world has already consumed half the available supply of oil—most of that in a period of less than a hundred years due to wars.
And there’s an even more precious commodity: water. By the year 2050, some 4 billion people (over half the world’s population) will be facing severe water shortages. People in some southwestern U.S. states will be facing severe freshwater shortages by 2025. Fred Pearce’s book “When the Rivers Run Dry” suggests that overall water shortage could constitute the greatest environmental crisis the world will ever see.
From birth to death, materialism is with us. The costs connected with a funeral are estimated at from $7,750 to $9,000. There’s a way to get around this. If you’re willing to donate your corpse to the University of Minnesota Medical School you can enroll in their Anatomy Request Program. (I did) and eliminate a funeral where there’s a body in a casket. However, for those unhappy with this situation, there could still be a memorial service.
If, by this time, you’re beginning to despair, there is a place on the globe where cooperation has trumped materialism—Mondragon, Spain, where there is no poverty, unemployment or extreme wealth. You can join a tour and seminar of the place this September, see www.praxispeace.org. I’m going to keep in touch with them and shall tell you more after September.