I had a short conversation the other day with a guy I know a little bit, but not especially well. Still, it confirmed some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head recently and it has to do with gluttony, which, as legend has it, is one of the deadly sins. He is among those who make fun of smaller, fuel efficient cars and thinks that anyone who wants an F-150 V8 4×4 should have one without regard to whether it might have any utilitarian value. Until the current gas price and mortgage loan issues came to a head, I don’t think we thought very much about our national gluttony. Which is not to say that from time to time someone wouldn’t write about the dangers, or sinfulness, of excessive consumerism, or that we would not be made aware of some small group or a celebrity or two who touted a simpler way of life that often looked rather silly and very unappealing.
For most of us those moments were an easy brush off. And Al Gore? It’s easy enough for him to write about inconvenient truths; he’s rich and lives in a mansion. What does he know about the ordinary person? However, in the last year or so I’ve been thinking that in a nation of rights we have become a people who have fearlessly asserted our right to get any car, truck, tv, computer, houseful of furniture or whatever that our credit cards and loans could handle. You want to take away that right and you’ve got some fighting to do. That’s a ditch we are willing to let somebody die in – not us of course, but somebody. We’ve been aided and abetted in our all consuming gluttony by an abundance of advertising enticing us to buy even if our credit was poor, bad or non-existent. As heinous as those enticements are, they have themselves been aided and abetted by private and public economists who keep reminding us that the health of our GDP depends on consumer buying. Isn’t that what the president said, to take your stimulus check and go buy something?
So now, with sky-high energy prices in a nation flooded with foreclosed houses, the question is not how to conserve but how to increase supply at a cheaper price so that we can continue our usual and customary habits of national gluttony. My heart really aches for the families of very modest means who have been duped into acquiring the latest and best that Wal-Mart has to offer. In my work I find myself in their homes stuffed to the gills with things I know they cannot afford and recognizing that the distance between today and bankruptcy is not just a paycheck, it’s only a matter of time. The anxiety of living like that must be excruciating. But isn’t it our right to have all those things, and doesn’t the new flat screen tv hooked to expanded cable with my choice of premium channels promise me that if creditors get on my back I can call a handy 1-800 number to get all my debts consolidated or even eliminated?
My heart aches even more for the farmers and ranchers in our valley and the craftsmen in our communities who really do need gas guzzling equipment in order to produce the food we eat and the necessary things of life. In a very real sense, they’ve been ripped off.
I don’t think we suddenly need to become a nation of peasants wearing homespun clothes. And we are always going to have the frivolous rich with us, but the rest of us should not be following in their footsteps. I just think we need to use a little national common sense, and that a national common sense must start with national thought and opinion leaders who are willing to become prophetic truth tellers.