Friday, September 15, 2006

Competing with consumption

Chris Jordan, local photographer, discusses our consumption-based culture in the Seattle Weekly:
It is always amazing for me to step outside our culture and visit a country like Brazil, where the priority is not money but joy. The people of Brazil are far less wealthy than we are, but they are visibly happier. You can see it in their faces and gestures, and hear it in their music, and see it in the way they spend their time. Coming back here can be depressing. America has lots [sic] its joy; we have become a nation consumed by greed, and our predominant national emotions are fear, hatred, and rage. It didn't used to be this way; even in my own lifetime I remember when people worked less, took more vacations, spent more time with their families, and were satisfied with fewer cars, smaller houses, and less stuff. Just a few years ago, our stoves and countertops didn't matter; now a $30,000 remodeled chef's kitchen with granite countertops is standard in most middle-class homes even if no one in the house cooks. Today's Honda Civic is far more luxurious than the best Mercedes of a couple of decades ago, yet everyone thinks they need more than a Honda Civic. We're driving insane cars, buying insane amounts of stuff, and working insane hours to pay for it all. In the last few decades, the economy and the gaining of material wealth have subverted everything else that we value. We are trying to fill the spiritual void with iPods and plasma TV's and so on, which at bottom is fundamentally empty and unfulfilling, so the cycle continues. [emphases added]
My OES Chapter has a 93-year-old member who scolded me once for complaining about being "too busy" for a statewide OES appointment. She told me that fifty years ago, she served in the same appointment when there were three times as many Chapters and events she was required to attend, while working full-time and raising four young sons. Especially in OES, our younger members jump to conclusions about 1950s stay-at-home wives having had lots more leisure time to spend on our Order. It just ain't so. Their generation was way, way more active and committed than we are today.

And yet we feel more drained by our everyday lives and burdened by the expectations of our Orders. The socioeconomic hamster wheel described above might shed a little light on why this is so, and why our contemporaries say they have "no time" for membership in our organizations (or, indeed, any organizations). Doubly so, considering that our organizations do nothing to feed our greed. No wonder it's so hard to get even our own members to show up to work in service to others. No wonder we seem irrelevant.

Dare I even mention that Freemasonry is expanding rapidly in Brazil?

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