The things you own end up owning you. – Tyler Durden.
The idea of owning something seems so normal, and indeed property is an ancient notion: but make no mistake, ownership is an invention, and a costly one at that, spawning so much waste and inefficiency which is at the heart of our current money system. It’s wasteful because of the care that’s needed to look after our things. In no small part due to the money system’s inbuilt planned obsolescence. It’s wasteful also because of having to protect our accumulation of things from those who might covet them due to inequality and perceived scarcity in or society which creates what we call crime.
The Earth itself is largely owned by individuals and by national governments. On the whole we have rigid notions of property (‘a thing or things belonging to someone’), and as long as we have the means to pay for something, we can call it ours. When an item becomes waste however, it ceases to be our property – our problem – any longer. If something is abundant or has no use, it has no value and falls into the category of waste. Use creates value when we acquire something such as a plate. But we have no such claim of ownership to our poop, because it is abundant (we can always make more) and has no use (at least not for most people). However the idea of waste is entirely antithetical to how natural ecosystems operate.
The Venus Project’s most recent newsletter picks apart notions of ownership and waste. It’s clear that owning property enhances status is society, because stuff equals wealth equals power. Consider the average car owner in the US. He drives 36 miles per day, or less than one hour. That means his car is not used for 23 hours per day. In this country there are 2.28 cars per household. 35% of households own three or more cars, with 1.2 billion cars in the world and 65 million produced every year. What a waste of the Earth’s resources it is for each car owner to buy their vehicle, store it, take care of it and dispose of it, for the sake of the mere 4% of the time when it’s being used.
With the case of food waste, it’s estimated that 30 – 50% (1.2 – 2 billion tons) of all food that is produced remains uneaten. This is in large part down to the fact that someone owns the food and someone else has to acquire it to gain ownership and the right to eat it.
Our notion of property is the result of cultural conditioning and it is not necessarily the same everywhere even in today’s homogenised world. A remote tribe was brought to a city in the UK and taught the whys and wherefores of our societal norms such as why not to poop in the street or hunt cats. Without such guidance, they would have had no clue how to survive in a modern Western city. In the same way, there needs to be a shift in consciousness for our ownership hang-ups to change, and people might be taught how things could be different. This touching example of cross cultural naiveté that can teach us a lot. On seeing a homeless man sleeping outside an office block, a tribe member remarked, “Aren’t there any places left for this man in these big buildings?” In the tribe’s culture, when an outsider with no home arrives, a new place is built for him or he is welcomed into someone’s hut. The tribe member had no notion of property.
Everything that falls under the money system’s pervasive remit is tainted by overconsumption and waste. Clothes for example. 12.2 million tons of the 14.3 million tons of textile waste generated in 2012 wasn’t recycled. That’s equivalent to three times the mass of the world’s African elephant and blue whale populations combined.
Is the solution to rent rather than buy stuff? No, because waste is a part of the system of overconsumption. Being in business means selling a product or service, if you don’t sell enough, bankruptcy ensues. Also, décor and fashion objects are specifically designed to be owned as they represent social status. Even if we could conceive of a world in which we solely rented our cars, clothes, appliances and only ate in restaurants, it wouldn’t stop the artificially manufactured desire that is created by advertising. We’d be encouraged to rent more, as planned obsolescence would just involve constant updates to our mounds of rented stuff.
The Venus Project’s idealistic solution is a system which monitors all of the earth’s resources, tracking them in real time. In their utopia, there would be no barter or exchange and all products would be easily upgradeable. I would add to this, no ‘thing’ in itself would be seen to make a statement about its user. Without advertising, there’d be no false needs created. Stuff as a means of defining one’s shaky sense of self would disappear.
I would love to discard the mountains of stuff that prevent me from moving around the world at will, and instead use what I needed when I needed, wherever I happened to be. The Venus Project is optimistic about this happening but I think the current system would collapse and be plunged into chaos before mass consciousness voluntarily changes. Yes, the example of the tribe shows it is possible, but this is a small community that has never been bitten by the affluenza bug. We collectively are a tribe of more than seven billion people and a huge proportion of us, whether we live in China, Russia, America, Europe or Australia, know nothing else except buy what you want and trash what you don’t. I suspect near-Armageddon would have to happen before we decide it’s time to stop trashing the planet.
The bottom line is this: when your time comes and your whole life flashes before you, will it hold your interest? How much of the story will be about moments of clarity and grace, kindness, and caring? Will the main character – you – appear as large and noble as life itself, or as tiny and absurd as a cartoon figure, darting frantically among mountains of stuff? It’s up to you, and indeed, it’s up to all of us! – ‘Affluenza’