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Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #45
abundant life / community of abundance—some Christian teaching promotes the idea that, after accepting the redeeming power of God, as one is cleansed of sin one begins a new relationship with God in which one can expect to have an abundant life full of meaning, physical health and material wealth. Another (New Age) spiritual tradition asserts that humanity is on the threshold of a new era associated with such things as peace, love, and a “united community of abundance.”
affluenza—a derogatory term most frequently employed by critics of consumerism. The word was the title of a 1997 PBS film, and subsequent related book, which defined it as, “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” To this I’d add, “those afflicted often fail to pay proper attention to what should be fundamentally important to them: their health.”
alternative hedonism—inspired by London economist Kate Soper’s 2017 lengthy article “A New Hedonism: A Post-Consumerism Vision”, in her words this provides “a more sustainable and more sensually, spiritually, and aesthetically rewarding way of living” than wasteful, throw away consumerism does. Alternative hedonists find enjoyment—not in having material possessions—but in experiences and socially just / eco-benign consumption Getting beyond a “more is better mentality,” they don’t have to work as much, since they aren’t paying for things they don’t need. So they have more freedom, more time for family and personal relationships, more opportunity for civic engagement, etc. They find pleasure in helping people, giving back, teaching, celebrating with friends / music, enjoying nature, hiking, holding hands, love-making. And simply enjoying that they have time to stop and smell the flowers. They don’t measure success by how much money you have, the size of your house, the car you drive, a prestigious job title, etc. They don’t equate money and property with pleasure, happiness, and well-being.
appropriate (or soft) technology -- technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind. It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant-- for example, labor in places where people need jobs. Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, decentralized, and that can preserve meaningful experiences or work for people. In contrast high or hard technology typically has much greater environmental impact, tends to replace people with machines, and can involve more technological complexity, equipment capital outlay, etc. Example: Using lots of workers with hand tools to control unwanted brush and growth in a forest -- so that young trees can get more sun and grow better -- would be an appropriate technology solution; using one person flying over a forest in a helicopter spraying a chemical herbicide to kill unwanted growth would be a hard technology way of accomplishing the same thing.
asceticism -- a lifestyle emphasizing self-discipline and simplicity involving voluntarily abstaining from physical and sensual pleasures usually for religious, spiritual or moral reasons.
barter economy—this is based on people simply trading goods and services without the added complication of money. Since no money is involved government levied taxes are avoided.
conscience, global environmental--while a few environmentally concerned individuals may build this into their conscience, futurists have imagined a human collective consciousness / global brain that automatically makes individuals aware of planetary well being and encourages them to factor it into their behavior. The book Coming of Age in the Global Village provided one example of this (called GAIA).
conspicuous consumption -- a term coined by Veblen in the early part of the 20th century that refers to people buying expensive things just to show that they can afford them -- a snob effect that flies in the face of a cheaper is better orientation, or practical utility considerations.
spending, American–in 2019 it totally roughly $15 trillion accounting for
70% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of world
GDP. Based on US Census Bureau data, median USA family consumer spending
for the year was $63,400—with 31% spent on housing, 26% on taxes, 15%
on transportation, 12% on
food, 8.5% on healthcare, 5% on entertainment, and 3% on apparel.
corporate executive pay issues–according to many observers of top U.S. companies, the ratio of top corporate executive compensation to that of an ordinary private sector worker is outrageously large. Based on figures compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies, in 2019, a typical worker at one of the top 50 (in terms of pay gaps) publicly traded American companies would have to work at least 1000 years to earn what the company’s CEO earned in one year. Average annual pay at these firms was $15.9 million, whereas that same year median worker pay was $10,027. While some feel all such high corporate executive compensation is unjustified, many single out the outrageously high salaries, bonuses, and severance pay packages of executives who led companies which performed poorly for special ridicule.
economic efficiency -- may refer to either minimizing costs while maximizing production or wisely allocating consumption related expenditures to maximize consumer satisfaction
ecological footprint –a difficult to quantify measure of one’s overall impact on Earth’s life supporting ecosystems due to one's purchases, resource consumption, fossil fuel energy use (which releases CO2 as a byproduct of combustion), land use and other relevant environmental impacts.
ecosharing -- an environmental ethic for people to live by: that their own impact on the Earth’s biosphere be limited to no more than their own fair ecoshare. An ecoshare is determined by overall assessment of the human impact on the biosphere, computer models of its future condition, and necessary limits imposed by sustainability criteria. The book Coming of Age in the Global Village (published in 1990) sought to quantify an "ecoshare" by linking it to average world per capita income and energy use.
energy efficiency -- the amount of energy that goes to perform a useful service divided by the total amount of energy input into the task. For example, for every 100 units of electrical energy that goes into powering an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, only producing 4 of those units show up as useful light energy given off. The efficiency of this energy conversion is thus 4%. What happens to the rest of the energy ?? The remaining 96% of the total energy input is wasted (here as waste heat energy) In contrast, compact fluorescent light bulbs are around 20% efficient -- so more of the electrical energy input goes for producing light, less is wasted.
engineering design -- the process by which scientific principles, engineering analysis, mathematics, computers, words and pictures are used to produce a plan or design, which, when carried out, will satisfy previously identified and well defined human needs.
gift economy—this is based on people simply freely giving goods / consumer items they don’t need so that those who do can benefit. It has the benefit of the giver avoiding the guilt associated with being part of “the throw away society.” And older people, who have perhaps accumulated a lifetime of things and perhaps in retirement, where they derive income from state welfare state system programs, are indirectly supported by younger working people, can give something back to less affluent younger folks. Websites such as Craigslist, free cycle, etc. freely advertise the availability of things people are giving away.
grabber -- a derogatory term to be associated with those who succeed wildly in their search for wealth and power (sometimes through ethically questionable means) and, instead of using what they’ve won to help those in need or to make the world a better place, excessively indulge, waste and revel in luxury. It has been charged that their real religion is based on “a gospel of their own wealth”.
guilt -- an emotional state produced by knowing that one has committed a breach of conduct or violated moral standards. If one accepts society’s version of acceptable behavior, the punishment guilt produces is self-administered.
humility–or being humble. According to Alan Morinis, this involves "limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space while leaving room for others." Weaving humility into relating to other people means valuing an orientation that proclaims, "I don't have all the answers and I want your contribution." Embracing humility, according to Gary Zukov, means embracing the "harmlessness of one who treasures and honors and reveres life in all its forms."
making do -- instead of giving in to forces urging one to “get what you want now!” and incurring debt to do so, one can instead make do with what one has or one’s current situation. The ability to “make do” depends on several factors, including one’s self restraint, patience, ability to live within a budget, ability to find pleasure in lower cost (i.e. affordable) activities, and do it yourself skills. The latter can be especially valuable in keeping older vehicles, appliances or whatever functioning. With respect to housing costs, some “do it yourselfers” who frugally save their money while renting are eventually able to avoid being tied to a home mortgage by refurbishing a lower cost “fixer upper” house -- or even building from the ground up.
marginal utility -- the added satisfaction to be had by consuming an additional unit of a commodity. Economic theory suggests that as a person consumes increasingly more of a commodity, the marginal utility eventually declines.
masochistic personality—refers to a person whose exhibited behavior seems self defeating or self hurtful. Some have suggested expanding the characterization and recognizing it as a personality disorder.
McMansions--a slang term that refers to the large size of homes being built today (especially in the USA) --typically 3000 ft2 to 5000 ft2--and their cultural sameness / homogenization. In the USA in the last 30 years, while the average new home size has increased (from 1700 ft2 to 2350 ft2) by 38%, the average family size has decreased (from 3.1 people to 2.6 people) by 16%. From an energy use point of view, since heat loss (in winter) and heat gain (in summer) are proportional to the area of surfaces (in roofs, walls, etc.) exposed to surrounding outdoor temperatures, McMansions require more heat energy to stay warm in winter, and more electrical energy powering air conditioning to keep cool in the summer.
narcissism -- an exaggerated sense of self love or heightened emotional investment in one’s self , detracting from one’s appreciation of or emotional investment in others . It has been suggested that this masks deep feelings of unworthiness and emptiness -- unacknowledged, but unconsciously lurking. Critics of individual excess in the consumer culture have linked the psychology behind it to narcissism.
needs vs. wants–the former are something that you have to have, the latter are something you would like to have. If you haven't guessed, needs are more basic, things like air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, shelter, and other things– including other people and non-material things they can provide, and other intangibles. As an example of what might be in this last category are needs that involve feelings such as "the need to feel valued." How do you decide if something is really a need or merely a want? One way is to ask yourself the question, "Can I survive without this?"
obsession -- an idea, feeling or emotion that persistently haunts or disturbs one’s consciousness and leads to what becomes, either through its repetition or otherwise, inappropriate, unreasonable behavior. Many obsessions are beyond willful control, even with the recognition of their inappropriateness.
positive thinking, the power of -- This phrase is the title of a 1952 best-selling book by Christian preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale. The basic idea behind his book--and behind similar routes to empowerment advocated by various New Age enthusiasts-- is that repeating good thoughts brings good things, while continually dwelling on negative thoughts can bring bad things. In short, people create their own reality by their thoughts. Many, Peale included, consider thoughts to be things. Some New Agers don't stop there, but connect whatever they are promoting with the mysteries of quantum physics in claiming that all matter is condensed thought. For others, similar positive thinking / visualization techniques--and belief that God wants you to have abundant wealth--serve as the basis for teaching others how to get rich. Coupling such "ask, believe, and receive" recipes with the idea that "you can control the world by what you think" methods provides the essence of numerous books about how to obtain wealth and power.
powerlessness, feeling of -- a combination of various feelings including feeling: small and unable to exert any social influence; being swept up in a tide of powerful events; inability to do anything other than conform or obey a distasteful command; lacking in having any personal control over the world; for parents inability to protect / nurture their children, etc.
prosperity theology—a religious belief popular amongst certain Christian groups that if one has faith in God and supports the church, He will deliver material wealth and financial security.
protein production, inefficient--the amount of grain (in pounds) that must be fed to animals to produce a given amount of meat / protein (say one pound) varies from an inefficient factor of seven or more for feedlot beef to a more respectable just over two for poultry, to just under two for certain species of (fish farm produced) fish. Given that the modern farming practices behind grain production are highly energy and water intensive (typically 1/2 ton of water is needed to produce one pound of grain), and that around 38% of grain worldwide is fed to animals to produce meat for human consumption, there is a direct link between increases in meat consumption and increases in water, energy--and thus increases in greenhouse gas pollutants (from the fossil fuel energy inputs). According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And University of Chicago researchers have found that the typical American (heavily meat based) diet is responsible for an additional 1.5 extra tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse emissions per person per year beyond those associated with a no meat diet. To put this number in perspective, it exceeds the amount of greenhouse pollutants saved by switching from a standard sedan to an energy efficient hybrid vehicle.
Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.
recycling--instead of throwing out / trashing certain materials (newsprint, cardboard, office paper, aluminum cans, plastics, glass, metals, etc.) they are instead taken to a recycling center where they are sold / returned to manufacturers for reuse. The practice saves both non-renewable resources and energy, and can reduce pollution and problems associated with landfills / dumps. Food scraps, leaves, tree trimmings and other biodegradable waste can be recycled--in this case, returned to the ground to enrich the soil--through composting, anaerobic digestion or other processes involving micro-organisms.
repair clinic / “fix it” / troubleshooting clinics—some communities offer free weekend clinics in which local repair experts / do-it-yourselfers volunteer to help people fix items they bring by that need repair. Some libraries offer a similar service for troubleshooting computer problems; some universities offer free bicycle repair services as part of an on campus bike repair clinic. All of this challenges a “throw away” mentality that drives the need for more mining / resource extraction. Critics point out that consumer spending is the lifeblood of the economy and that jobs will dry up if people fix things instead of buying new ones.
scarcity--a condition that exists when peoples' "wants" exceed the limited resources available to satisfy them. The related need to decide how limited resources are allocated leads to rationing and a means for doing so. Price is one such rationing device. People compete for what is scarce, and in making choices incur opportunity costs.
self actualization–the ultimate personal development state as studied by Maslow and other psychologists. Self actualized people, according to Maslow have achieved, "the full use and exploitation of talent, capacities, potentialities, etc." They are self confident but also possess humility that allows them to listen carefully to others and admit their ignorance. They see life more clearly than others partly due to a better understanding of themselves. With this superior perception comes a better sense of right and wrong. Among their attributes, Maslow includes "honesty and naturalness, the transcendence of selfish and personal motivations, the giving up of lower desires in favor of higher ones." Such people feel a strong bond or kinship with the rest of humanity. They typically seek important and meaningful work.
simple living / minimalist lifestyle--is built on a number of voluntary practices (see voluntary simplicity) which can include minimizing one's possessions, meeting needs by self sufficiently producing rather than just consuming, and being satisfied with what you have and making do--rather than dreaming of buying something you want.
small is beautiful -- a philosophy popularized by E.F. Schumacher in the early 1970s, who himself was inspired by Gandhi. . It is a philosophy of enoughness, appreciating both human needs and limitations, and appropriate use of technology. It grew out of Schumacher’s study of village based economics and economic thinking that he later termed “Buddhist Economics”. In this regard he faults conventional economic thinking for failing to consider the most appropriate scale for an activity, and blasts notions that “growth is good”, and that “bigger is better”. He similarly questions the appropriateness of using mass production in developing countries, promoting instead “production by the masses”. He was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using GNP to measure human well being, and pointed out that “the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption”.
Social Darwinism–the application of Darwinian principles (natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc.) to social practices as a natural defense of entrepreneurial capitalism.
social influence—is related to the ways individuals change their behavior to better fit into their social environment and its demands
social status—related to social class, it is a relative measure of social value—based on somewhat subjective things like respect accorded, love felt for, personality traits, interpersonal skills, value of work done, perceived competence, lifestyle choices, etc. and more concrete objective things like physical size, appearance, health, family, friends, education, honors bestowed on, income, possessions, human associates, etc. Anthropologists tell us all societies have status hierarchies. Long ago—and even perhaps today in some very primitive patriarchal societies--such status was rather simply a matter of size/strength/ combat used to determine the “alpha male.” Today, beyond social class factors, beliefs and values are typically the determining factors even to the extent that some value money, possessions, education, family, health, work in certain professions, etc. more than others. Psychological factors—critical in self-esteem—are also important, especially when a person’s possible insecurity / anxiety over rankings others assign is involved. This is undoubtedly a factor in people needing to surround themselves with symbols,—of success, power, wealth, etc.—engaging in conspicuous consumption, being overly concerned with images associated with them in others’ eyes, etc.
thrifty (or frugal) orientation -- making do with less, saving money and resources by finding creative ways to solve practical problems and maintaining one’s current possessions, thereby improving their functional efficiency and extending their useful life.
utilitarianism–the belief that the moral value of actions and associated outcomes should be judged according to the degree to which they are useful and benefit those affected. Utilitarians evaluate the moral rightness of actions by the extent to which they produce the greatest benefit to all concerned. Utilitarianism has two aspects: 1) it links evaluating consequences of actions to human welfare, and accordingly, 2) how it ranks values (value theory) and ties them to human welfare. The latter involves all the complexities of arguments over what gives individuals pleasure or happiness, conflicts between individual choice and societal preference, what benefits society in the long run, etc. And it recognizes that assigning value is not merely done by adding benefits, since what is beneficial to some may be detrimental to others, and both the benefits and risks of possible actions must be weighed.
voluntary simplicity -- a simple, typically environmentally sound and ecologically grounded, non-consumerist lifestyle that people voluntarily choose, typically for ethical, environmental or spiritual reasons
wealthiest, the world’s and inequality—according to the annual Forbes list, in 2008 the number of the world’s billionaires numbered 1125 with a total cumulative net worth of $4.4 trillion; by 2020 that number had grown to 2095 with total net worth of $8 trillion. In a report released in January 2020, Oxfam International counted 2153 billionaires and estimated they have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people--60% of the world's population-- at the bottom. Dividing these two numbers of people--4.6 billion by 2153-- reveals that each billionaire has over two million times the wealth of the average ordinary poorer person.
Take All Society--a
phrase used to characterize what many see as a disturbing societal trend
toward greater inequality. The
phrase is from the title of a 1995 book by
Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook about income inequality in America
and why, in the words of Molly Ivins,
"A few people get ungodly rich, and the rest of us fall
example of such a trend: Imagine a hypothetical state lottery switches
from awarding $1 million prizes to twenty people and instead decides
that one lucky person should take all $20 million!
Win, Win – an outcome of a conflict, dispute, or negotiation where both people or sides come away with something they value, while at the same time feeling like they have not compromised or given away too much. For those negotiating from an admittedly much weaker position, the “victory” achieved may simply be avoiding shame. For those negotiating from an admittedly much stronger position it’s important that the agreed outcome is not so unequal or unfair that is not sustainable. Situations where Win, Win is possible—or made possible by skilled framing of situations—are to be contrasted with Zero Sum games where the outcome is someone clearly wins and someone clearly loses. The contrast is like shades of gray vs. black & white.
zero sum game–a game (which can represent a social or economic interaction or conflict) in which someone wins and someone loses, to be contrasted with a game in which someone can win without someone else losing
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