So, I was thinking about the disagreement between Richard and the Mystic, and it brought up this thought that occasionally flits through what passes for my mind, and, since everybody on the whole internets wants to know every little such thing, I thought I'd write about it. And it goes like this:
I grew up on a farm (technically my folks' place was separate, carved out of the farm; but once you climbed over the barbed wire fence, you were on my grandparents' place. That was the farm. But this was a purely de jure distinction. It was really all one place.) on the very easternmost edge of the Ozarks. (It was rather hilly, but not mountainous by any stretch of the imagination. But then you could say that about most of the Ozark plateau. Still, to give my folks trouble I sometimes call them 'hillbillies'.)
Even though I've always had a comfortable life (e.g. I don't remember a time without television--though I do remember us having a black-and-white t.v. (egad!), I often think back to some of my earliest memories of the farm, and how my grandparents lived--and, consequently, how we lived much of the time--and I think things like "If my students saw this, they'd think it was from the nineteenth-century." (I took one of my grad school girlfriends back home once, and she eventually blurted out "I just can't believe you came from here!"...though that may be a slightly different point.)
My grandparents were conservative, oh yes they were. God-fearin', hard-workin', no-nonsense, no frills, and not a terrible overabundance of gentleness or compassion, it sometimes seemed. And one thing they were ostentatiously not was wasteful. They weren't, like, Amish or anything, but it wasn't uncommon for things to be identified as 'wasteful,' and that was a reasonably-serious indictment. They weren't nuts, but they would do things like save wrapping paper on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it just didn't make sense to throw away something that was perfectly good, only to buy the same danged thing again later. That kind of stuff.
Now, I'm no paragon of virtue. In particular, I'm a rather wasteful person, mostly on a account of being disorganized, capricious, and just generally not too swift (as my dad would say--and, as a matter of fact, has said on several occasions.) But um...at least I feel bad about it. So I guess that's something.
What I don't understand is why people in general are so bloody wasteful now. I'm not all twisted up about it or anything, I just don't get it. Isn't there some point at which conspicuous consumption becomes simply embarrassing? I can understand not wanting to be bothered to conserve...what I can't understand is what seems like a positive desire to waste. Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by those cartoon millionaires who light their preposterously fat cigars with $100 bills. I feel like my jaw's hanging open much of the time.
I'm genuinely puzzled about this, and I don't want to turn it into a liberal-versus-conservative point, but I will say that one sort of additional sense of puzzlement about this is that conservatism will--rightly or wrongly--always be associated in my mind with my grandparent's rather frugal habits. So it's particularly puzzling to me that conservatives seem to me to be not only disinterested in conservation or frugality, but downright hostile to them. I mean, heck...for example, I actually like SUVs*, but I'd feel downright guilty--and not for the ordinary liberal reasons--for having such an ostentatiously wasteful mode of transportation. But sometimes it sounds almost as if conservatives believe that if we don't all drive SUVs the economy will crumble or something.
(Let me add for balance that those liberals who think, e.g., that recycling is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time also bug the hell out of me. It's not the recycling to which I object, since I do it when it is even remotely convenient. It's rather the weird puritanism that sometimes seems to be floating around in the background. Some liberals recycle with what I'd call the appropriate attitude--to wit: goddang this is kind of a pain and it probably ain't gonna do any good anyway but it's better than nothing. I'm not wild about the ones who are all self-satisfied about the fact that they drove their hybred down to the recycling center and spent half an hour getting everything into the right dumpsters. I used to do that crap until I realized what a fruitless waste of my time it was. My policy now is: if they pick it up at the curb, then I recycle. Otherwise it's simply unlikely to be worth the effort.)Uh...so where was I? Oh yeah, wastefulness. I mean, seriously. Basically everybody I know now is--by the standards of the real world of most actually human beings who have ever lived--rich as bloody Croesus. We've all got ridiculously comfortable (though not palatial by today's American standards) places to live, reliable cars, nice, warm clothes, more food than anyone could ever possibly eat...we live like kings. Better than kings--better than any kings who actually ever lived, anyway (until recently). But almost nobody seems to really understand how good we've got it. And most of us (me included), continue to want at least just a little more.
So this is related to a point that Richard and the Mystic agree about--that our desires are being manipulated and distorted, even to the point of grotesquerie. I guess I have nothing much to say about this really other than: it seems to me that there ought to be a rational equilibrium point somewhere between living on the edge and devil take the hindmost and contemporary American middle-class grotesquely conspicuous consumption. That's all.
* Note: that is, I like driving them and riding in them, but I hate the damn things when I'm surrounded by other people in them. Largely because most other people haven't the foggiest clue how to drive.