Utne Reader, Nov-Dec 98, "Stuff"

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Donna Frederickson Int'l Falls Cohort UMD #472-60-5982

Utne Reader, Nov.-Dec. 98, reaction to article "The Stuff of Life", by Scott Russell Sanders, pp. 47+

The article has a subtitle of "Do you own it, or does it own you?" and every time I clean the house, buy something new, receive a gift or buy an antique, I ask myself that question. Why do we humans feel compelled to acquire stuff? We certainly have enough stuff. We could exist with less stuff. We would have more quality time if we spent less time acquiring, repairing, cleaning and rearranging the stuff that we have. I admire the summers our family spends in a small, one-bedroom lake cabin. We have no TV, we heat with a fireplace, we do have indoor plumbing and hot water and our days and evenings are spent together, visiting with family and friends, playing board games, enjoying the water and reading. For those three months out of the year our family exists with very little and we feel relaxed and at peace with the world. Why can't we do it the entire year? As soon as fall comes, it is back to town and our larger house. Our family begins the school year treadmill of needing this and that and needing it quickly and easily and the stress rekindles. And before we know it, we are back in the acquiring stuff mode and stuff tension. The article began with Scott Russell Sanders commenting on his last night in Rocky Mountain National Park with his son. They were relaxed, admiring the mountains, creeks and sky and relating how sane, cleansed and clarified they felt. As they drove home, those feeling dissipated with every mile. That is how I feel at the end of our family's idyllic summers on the lake. "The opposite of simplicity is not complexity, but clutter." The movement for restraint and recycling, conservation and ecological wisdom, is not succeeding. Society still equates success with acquisition, or "stuff." How often have we heard in advertising and articles that if you don't feel good, go out and buy something, the U.S. is a country of abundance, the one with the most toys wins, and keep up with the Jones's? All of those ploys encourage unnecessary acquisitions, but can restraint be governed? No. Society's culture may be able to govern our appetites, but I don't think that everyone in the world really wants to exist with less. There are still too many people in the world who do not have anything. They have never had the pleasure of having "stuff" for pleasure. In ancient cultures, the amount of acquisitions was a symbol of stature, position or caste. Today, those less fortunate have the appetite, but have not had the means to assuage it and that still leads to anger and a caste society. The next concern comes from the environment. Will the resources on this planet be able to support this hunger for more acquisitions? Just because we have the technology, will our natural resources be taxed more or spared because of society's hunger for more and less concern for how we got it. The Utne Reader article I read from June, 1998, was on how the oceans have been fished out and little hope for anything immediate that can remedy the situation. Because of our wants for more and more cause this world's natural resources to be robbed and damaged beyond its natural course of reproduction? Animals have the ability to destroy their habitat and move on to acquire food and water, destroy that and move on again. Anthropologists say that early humans behaved much the same way, degrading one habitat and moving on. "Such evidence suggests that the ecological wisdom surviving today had to be learned over long periods of time, through trial and error. Only gradually did humans develop cultural practices - stories, taboos, birth control methods, hunting rituals, rules about the use of common land - that curbed our instinct to follow hunger wherever it leads" Russell states that to bring about restraint there must be genuine knowledge and compassion. Most major developed countries have a pollution control agency in place, and that may help some of the damage to the environment, but what about the undeveloped countries? For people from those developed countries, there needs to be a cultural change, and that may be harder. There needs to be a shift in the focus of our expensive and expansive wants. Russell suggests that we can learn to seek a spiritual growth rather than a material growth. Humans are supposed to be the most intelligent of the animal species, but are we going to be intelligent enough to accomplish this? Will the people from the undeveloped countries be content to want spiritual growth rather than material, because they have not had the taste of material growth yet? Patience, cooperation, belief, study, responsibility and care need to stir humanity to do the right thing for the sake of their children and their children's children.

-- Anonymous, February 28, 1999

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