On Monday Keri and I received our “economic stimulus” check from the U.S. government. While I am certainly not well versed in modern economic theory, I can see immediately how this idea seems quite flawed. I understand the logic theoretically, but it just doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense practically speaking. In our case there is a rich irony. This irony is especially thick, opaque even, for the next piece of mail we opened was a bill from the hospital where our son was born four months past. It turns out that our insurance company paid for my wife’s time and services rendered while at the birthing center, but not my son. What? I cannot seem to find any logic for the unfairness of this, but then these insurance companies are not founded on the principal of fairness and human rights, but instead are just another corporate entity, in a sea of companies for whom the interest of shareholders comes first. Profit. I suppose it doesn’t matter that my son never even left the room, and only once left my wife’s or my arms; he must pay the rent. Alas.
So effectively, my 36 hour old child is indebted to an insurance company in the state of New York to the tune of $1,167.00. So of course we went downtown, deposited our check for $1200.00, and wrote one for $1,167.00. Which left us 33 bucks to “stimulate” the economy. On principal alone, I refuse to buy anything with this money. I think maybe I’ll start a little piggy bank for him. We had intended to start a college fund with the money, but no. Yet another blow to education. I won’t even begin to discuss the ravages of the “no child left behind” nonsense.
There is though, another layer of irony to all of this. I have grown so disgusted with the rampant, dare I say addictive, consumerism in North American (and quickly spreading) culture, that I have vowed to “Buy Nothing” from June of 2008 to June of 2009. I’m not really of a mind this morning to elaborate on why I feel this is important for me personally, and something that our culture needs to look at before we destroy any trace of meaningful existence left. In short, I feel the foundation (earning lots of money) upon which our capitalist society is built, to be fatally flawed. Suffice it to say, that I have written much about this on my site over the years. I may write more in the months to come, but feel free to peruse old posts. Or subscribe to Adbusters as they generally say it all quite well.
There are of course a number of things on the list that I will buy. Food. Medicine. Gasoline. (I wish I lived in a place where I didn’t need a car, but Keri and I are moving to the woods in a few months where the nearest grocery store is ten miles away and it snows like crazy.)
Anyway, you can imagine other things that might be on the list. Like art and music. Somehow, those things escape the trappings of consumerism to me. As I don’t perceive art, music, literature, film, etc. as consumer goods, they fall onto the list of things I can and will buy. As a matter of fact, I should have more money to devote to these things which enrich my life greatly, as I won’t be spending it on other nonsense.
I have although promised myself that I will attempt to redefine what I NEED and what I WANT. There is a difference and I think that we often blur those lines on purpose to satisfy ourselves. I bought packing tape the other day to seal boxes that we will mail. I spent some time contemplating another method of sealing the boxes, but everything else seemed foolish. I considered trying to trade something for some tape on craigslist, but that just seemed absurd. Then again, maybe that isn’t absurd. Maybe ideas like that are what we need to reshape our failing, idealized version of capitalism. I’m not sure, though I’m hoping that this exercise will enlighten me a bit this year.
I also confess now, that I am buying a new guitar. I’m having one custom built and the process took quite a bit longer than I expected. I figured that it would all be done before June, but such is not the case. I am selling one, so in some way there is an exchange. Anyway, this exercise isn’t really about my justifying the idea and the action, but is about altering my understanding of how I exist in a seemingly blind and mindless consumer culture.
I confess that this is not a radical shift for Keri and I, as we have done our best to remain free from the entanglements of the proverbial mall for some time. That said, it is so easy, on a grey and miserable winter day, when you’ve not seen the sun for three weeks, to make your way to Target and buy a shirt. Or….. But does this really make me feel better? No. as a matter of fact, I think it makes me feel worse. Hmmmmm.
So, I will buy what I need. Speaking of which, does anyone have a pair of bootlaces in fairly good shape? Mine are about to snap. I imagine these two rolls of duct tape I have here on my floor may prove invaluable. I know this may not seem directly related to a bunch of songs about the American Presidents, but in some way it is. If nothing else, it certainly has to do with the trajectory of history over the course of time. A history, that these 43 men of which we sing have most definitely shaped the path of the world.