and spending we lay waste
Thurber's letter on advertising-fueled consumption (December/01)
raised issues which have been of great concern to me for a long
time. While I recognize the long-term risks to the environment
of overconsumption, I am more concerned about what our society
has become, with much of human activity centered around work and
making money for the specific purpose of funding that consumption.
My wife and I have always been underconsumers; not because we're
miserly or want to make a statement about the "evils"
of chasing material goods, but because there are not many things
advertised to the public that we have any interest in owning or
consuming. We have never owned a minivan or SUV, solely because
we have never had a need for either.
I totally agree with Ms. Thurber's point that this "need"
is artificially created and manipulated in a significant percentage
of the population, my principal reaction is to feel pity for these
people, who are driven by a need to conform, to be accepted, to
be "in style," a need which, of course, tragically,
can never be satisfied. As I'm sure we all do, I know many, many
people like this and have always had the opinion that most are
not truly happy or content with their lives.
other point Ms. Thurber makes is that she would like advertising
to motivate people to consume less. Surely she realizes that this
is the antithesis of their raison d'être and could never
happen. As with most of the ills of our world, education of the
public is the only effective answer.
S. Marden, SM'73
East Brunswick, New Jersey
was stirred by Jennifer Thurber's letter, "Advertising-fueled
consumption," feeling, Hurray! someone else feels the way
I do about mindless consumerism. In fact there may be many of
us, though obviously not a majority. But, I wonder, can more be
done about it?
don't think mindless consumerism indicates that most people are
mindless-except maybe where some advertisement touches one's desire
to be fashionable, adventuresome, or to outdo one's neighbors
in potlaching as by lighting up the entire sky with one's holiday
decorations. However, such motives are pretty nearly universal,
and they contend with other motives like preserving our future.
less than our president and other leading public figures were
urging us all to go out and spend after September 11 put another
downspin on our already plunging economy. I wonder if the real
problem isn't deeper: we have evolved an economic system in which
so many livelihoods depend on the continual production and purchase
(I don't say consumption, because much of it just sits there taking
up space) of junk.
Those who made the plea focused on just one problem-the need of
incomes for companies and employees. They focus at other times
and in other ways on pollution of the oceans, loss of the ozone
screen, eradication of the forests, etc.-or maybe they don't,
lulled by still other advertising, the kind claiming these are
our economic system is indeed locked into the need for producing
ever more junk in order for people to gain the income needed to
survive, condemning the advertising that keeps pushing the wheel
seems to offer an unlikely prospect for a cure.
can show us many simple societies that seem idyllic in their balance
with nature, but even the most disenchanted of us are not going
there. For the same economy that seems to have us locked into
swelling junk has made possible the excitement of contemplating
new frontiers in space, longer lives for many of us, more options
for all of us, and more.
I repeat, what is to be done? I can't think of any grander solution
than for Jennifer and me to hold back, as much as we can, and
hope others become persuaded and join in. Her letter, along with
warnings from others, is itself a counteracting force.
also need to broaden our focus. Take one example she cites: SUVs.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal stated that the big three
automakers are making SUVs even more powerful, even more luxurious,
even more prodigal of natural resources and detrimental to the
environment. Oops, they didn't say that last one directly. Interestingly,
I have not seen hype about the "real" reason many people
give in private for owning one, namely that they are "safer."
Maybe it is embarrassing to say in public that-if we smack someone-we
would prefer that they rather than we might die. But if that is
the real reason then that is an important reason, and it will
be hard to convince people that sparing the environment outweighs
personal safety. Only when some genius aligns these values on
the same side of the fence is it realistic to expect any improvement
in that market.
J. Robertson, PhB'48, AM'52, PhD'60