Consumption as relationship
MLK jr., the master of language that already said most everything true worth saying, said ‘We must change from a thing-oriented civilization to a person-oriented civilization.'
Today I had thought about that. I was reading something that posed the question 'how do we make people see value in investing in relationships rather than things?’ But the truth is, they are the same thing. One is true, the other is one step removed from truth.
Why do we consume? Why do we buy stuff we don’t need with money we don’t really have? Why do we need the big house and the car and the Apple product and the vacation in France and the memborship blah blah? We consume those things for two primary reasons: immediate physical comfort and social status. The second factor is key. We want to be seen consuming those things. We consume in order to belong. We think a certain product is 'amazing’ partly because of its function, and partly because of the social contract that underlies it: this product is integral to the inner circle that we want to belong to. Or equally as common: the circle you want to belong to celebrates discovery, celebrates the maven that is first to find the trendy band, unique product or unreleased gadget, and so, if you publicly consume this first: you will be seen as valuable by the group.
Doesn’t this make sense? We are in a hungry rush to find the new music or new clothing company, and then rock it in public or online to prove our value. We all do it in some degree or another. The 'belonging’ you seek could be in a click of investment bankers who love invite-only private gyms and certain types of urban lofts, or a click of ironic anti-culture granolas who obsess over the latest article in Orion magazine or specialty coffee roasting companies. It is a blurry combination of the things we naturally like, and their public consumption around the people we long to be with.
See what I’m getting at? We are a thing-oriented society because of our short-sighted desire to produce relationships. 'If I buy this, people will like me and want to be around me.’ Instead of trying to be good people worthy of relationship, we’ve just tried to buy the right to it.
That said, belonging and collective appreciation of things is wonderful and important. But I do believe there are certain societies of belonging that are founded on counterfeit truth. Those involving flashy money, sexual recklessness on display, and sarcastic cynicism. I’m sure there are others. Those do not celebrate life, they drain it. And they ground our sense of self worth on external factors.
But those societies of belonging that celebrate individuality, celebrate humanity, nature, wisdom, healthy culture, and expressed personal value… those I endorse and will consume their goods. But how often are their goods simply relational rather than manufactured. It isn’t easy to mass-produce something as nuanced as human belonging. God knows we’ve tried.
So… as the truth tends to be simpler than we try and make it… I’m gonna try to skip the false belonging of consumption of false things, and instead cut right to the source: relationships with human beings grounded on the celebration of human value. Instead of buying my belonging, I’m going to earn it through listening, loving, and caring about those I come in contact with. Then, perhaps, I’ll find a true belonging that isn’t falling through my fingers like sand. That’s what Invisible Children and The Fourth Estate are all about. Thanks for reading. - JJ