Consumerism and the Human Endeavor

In the Hitcher Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes the Golgafrinchans’ idea of getting rid of all the “useless” people. Ian Hunter has offered a useful summary of this, and I personally agree with both Adams and Hunter in that the “useless” people should be eliminated, although I disagree with their methods. The bottom line is that these are human beings who can produce value when “harnessed” properly and  — as Hunter explained — it’s nearly impossible to classify people as inherently useless.

What makes a person useless?

OK, first of all it’s important to identify that the uselessness is derived from the function this person is playing and not from the person her or himself. A telemarketer, for example, might be a great person stuck in an extremely lousy job. I mean, why do we have telemarketers in the first place? are there any sane kids whose dream is to grow up and become a telemarketer? was there ever a person who said “thank god for telemarketers?”

Well, actually, there was. The business owner whose business had thrived thanks to the hard work of people sitting in small cubicles, calling complete strangers and asking them to spend money on something they don’t need. And since our economies are built on people spending money to buy short-lived products, then, yes, we should all be grateful for those telemarketers calling us day and night and tirelessly persuading us to buy more and more “stuff” and throw away our perfectly-serviceable-yet-not-the-latest products.

Well, I’m sorry but, for example, if I want to stay updated with the latest features that are guaranteed to improve my life, I will have to upgrade my iPhone.

How much money did you spend on your new gadget? how long did you work in order to earn that sum of money? wouldn’t it be a better if you could improve your life without working? And don’t say “But I have to work!” because it’s a circular argument.

But let’s talk for a moment about another Sci-Fi series – Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. At the end of the original novel, Ender uses near – light speed travel to go 3000 years into the future. The amazing thing is that in spite of the books’ depth and detail and its portrayal of a world filled with different planets, aliens and characters, the technology remains the same for the entirety of Ender’s journey. Wouldn’t it be a bummer if he would no longer be able to connect to the net because his communication devices are too ancient? why is my 4 year old iPhone 4 becoming obsolete while Ender’s spacecraft is still relevant after millennia?

OK, so before I proceed to my main argument, let’s bear in mind that the last great Human Endeavour was the moon landing about 50 years ago. Sure, we advanced since then, and  now have the internet, and cheap commercial flights, and better technology, but there’s a big difference between a person waking up in the morning thinking “I go to sell useless stuff in order to earn a minimum wage” and the same person thinking “I’m part of this big project to of putting a man on the moon.” I’m not sure whether putting a man on the moon was justified in the first place, but let’s suppose that it was, because that’s what the people involved in the project believed to be true.

So here’s the recap: let’s say that everyone on Earth provided a certain amount of work for a certain period of time. This is the Human Endeavour. We as a society need to decide how these efforts are to be used. Maybe we don’t need so much effort? maybe we can re-assign the “useless” people to work that is actually needed? Eventually, everyone would be able to work a little less and have more free time to spend outdoors or to read a book?

And what about those who enjoy their work? Great! I’m not stopping them. Let them do whatever makes them happy, but let’s please get rid of the consumerist madness that has plunged us into willful slavery. In other words, it’s high time that we stopped worshipping “money” as the be-all and end-all of existence and moved to something more beneficial, not just to us, but to humanity as a whole.

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