Saturday, July 08, 2006

The crapification of America

Sometimes I get the impression that as long as we each have one of each, we don't care how shabbily or shoddily it is made. As long as it looks good on the outside and serves the moment, that is all we ask. If it breaks, we'll just buy another one, whether we need it or not...whether we can afford it or not.

The other day when I was reading John Holt on poverty, he said something that really stood out to me. One aspect of poverty, he wrote, was the inability for the poor man to have access to the goods and services he needs or would need to make his life not feel poor. Not only is his income low, but no one is building affordable housing for his income braket even though it would be theoretically possible. It's just that more money can be made making vacation homes for the rich than decent housing for the poor. So John Holt says. So is the capitalistic economy in which we live. The bottom line rules. This was written in the early 1970's.

Much time has passed since then, and in certain way America is different. We have cleaned up our air and we have cleaned up our ghettos in some places, and we have Wal-Mart and other mega-discount chain stores. The thing about these places, and yes, I'm picking on the big one, Walmart, but I also will admit that I shop there...alot, is that, like I stated in my opening paragraph, they sell crap.

Sometimes it's american made crap, but other times it's most definitely NOT american made crap. The blouse I"m wearing right now...taking it off the check the tag...says it is made in india. How very nice. Probably a sweatshop. How lovely.

But I only cared about the twelve dollar price tag and how cute it looked on me. I did not care about the person who made it, in india. I did not care about the environmental footprint of this blouse being shipped on some big ocean barge all the way from there to here. No, all I cared about was that a) it was cheap, b)it looks cute on me and c) I did not have to go the the mall and spend fifty dollars on it.

And so it goes. I can have a grill that is cheap and "affordable" becaue it is made from such cheap materials that I can bend it with my bare hands. Where was that thing made, I wonder? But I'm an american, and I NEED that grill!!!!

And so we (the collective proverbial "we") have one of everything. Well, no, not really. But close. We don't own a cassette tape player, even though we soon will so we can include some books on tape in our lives. This is not a bad thing, but it just goes to show how much of a fraction of our income is spent on each individual luxury to the extent that we barely even care to ask ourselves whether all this STUFF is necessary or good for our salvation, or whatever. And this is even in a household that considers itself to a) be broke and b) be fairly disciplined in its spending habits, and c) conservative and deliberate in it's purchases. Wow.

It's overwhelming, really. And sad.

How much does a family of six really NEED?

But we can afford it even though we are mostly broke and somewhat "poor" due to our broke-ness becaue it's there, and it's cheap...but it's CRAP. Cheaply made, not made to last, destined to soon be replaced and fill a landfill.

I'm serious, the clothes I sew myself last far longer than the store bought ones.

Where did all the quality go? Not only in our material acquisitions, but also in our lives? I think the same could be said for eating habits, for entertainment...everything is quantity over quality. And I'm sick of it.

I'm ready for a turn around. I dream of taking a year and embroidering a beautiful table cloth that is completely unique and very beautiful. It would take time, it would require skill and patience, but in the end, it would be different from anything else in the world. Unrepeatable.

The unrepeatable is what we have lost, here in America. I say we start a revolution of unrepeatable things. Of unrepeatable people, or unique, homegrown, art and music. Of food that does not come from a box but rather from a garden and a cast iron skillet, and of conversations that are seasoned with salt and light, and godliness.

That is my dream. I"m tired of the crap.


Laura said...

Wonderful thoughts...I agree whole-heartedly!

If you want to start small with the growing thing...I've got some chamomile growing in a planter on my front porch. It's going crazy and all I do is water it. It keeps flowering like gangbusters...I'm harvesting the flowers and drying them out in the hopes that the kids and I can make our own tea. We drink a cup of chamomile just about every evening while as we read and wind down from the day. You could do it...I'm sure!

We've got lots of herbs actually...and some tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. It has become a hobby that I really enjoy! The tomatoes and peppers and many of the herbs are in pots/planters. It really is doable and I don't use any pesticides, etc. The "garden" has grown over the years as I have added to it little by little.

...and I like crocheting baby blankets for all the newborns in the church. I really liked your thought about the tablecloth...lovely!

alana said...

Not that I've actually ever started embroidering a table cloth...I just wanna...someday.

DollyMama said...

I agree with a lot of your ideas, but-

You know, I think that most large families tend to have less "stuff" than smaller families.

I have not found that in more expensive stores the clothing is necessarily made in the USA or of better quality. There is a lot of junk no matter where you buy.

If I need a shirt and have very little money, although I may care about people in sweat shops, my not buying the shirt I need does nothing to help them. They already made the shirt. Right? I barely ever get to buy clothes anyhow, and what I have I wear til it's totally ruined or doesn't fit. Should I feel bad about this?

I don't know. You probably read my thing I wrote about Walmart. I'm not convinced that people in third world countries have any better deals than factory jobs. Yes, I'd like to see them make more money and be safer. But I see no way to personally change that. Like I said, I barely get to buy anything. I've been functioning off of exactly one pair of jeans without holes, one pair with holes, and 3 t-shirts this summer. We did not have the money for me to get new clothes and I needed some. Frankly, at this stage, I know that my need is legit so I don't feel guilty at all for wherever my stuff may have come from.

I agree that it's good to figure out what we can do to make life less about stuff and more filled with meaning. I think you probably already do a lot of that kind of stuff. You have for as long as I've known you. :)

Theodora said...

I wonder if there is a class at Our U that deals with this kind of stuff. You would think so. When I get back from moving the Little Philosopher, I'll try to find out and if so, I'll post the reading list.

the womom said...

Well put, Alana.

I struggle with the same thoughts. I read "The United States of Walmart" and nodded along with agreement. I read snippets outloud to my husband.

Yet I feel a tanktop for a 4 year old should cost $5 or less---so where do I turn?

The first step starts with being educated and concious. The pieces will fall in line.

Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I appreciate you and feel fortunate to have "met" you. You were paramount to my early nursing successes and I am incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Arielle said...

I've often thought you and a fellow blogger that goes to my church would be kindred spirits. Now I know it. Maybe you already read him, but if not - Alana, meet Radoje:

And I think you and I are kindred spirits as well :) This is a great post.

And it looks as though I can't sign in with my non-blogger blog, so I'll tell you - it's

alana said...

Needs versus wants, and true economic need...these are all factors that play into our purchasing decisions. I'm not critiquing meeting genuine need, just the thoughtless consumerism that cries out for one of everything. I can easily fall into this mentality even when justifying it via thrift store shopping. It's what ultimately in the heart that counts.

And yes, the person in the factory where-ever probably does feel blessed for the work, and on that level I'm glad for it. But I never want to forget that it IS a human being who has made my stuff...and perhaps say a prayer for that person. God knows who they are.

Susan Sophia said...

James of Paradosis briefly mentioned about solid wood vs. crap awhile back. Maybe you read it...

alana said...

Now that you mention it, yes I remember that post.