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Hundreds of times a day you and I swim around our respective fish bowl interacting with the bait of our consumer society.  Advertisements are everywhere we turn.

“Bite on this, won’t you?” 

We’re shown the seductive characteristics of a product – the bait – but we’re not shown the underlying, hidden hook.

What do I mean by that? What hook?

Let’s open our eyes wider and explore the consequences of consuming the bait…

Every time we get hooked and ingest some bait we also consume an obligation to generate money: it takes dough to bite. If we’re not careful enough to manage the extent of our consumption, we find ourselves trapped in need of an income level that restricts our freedom.  We’ve raised the bar of our fixed expenses. Before we know it our stuff can control us. So if your goal is to remain in control, to remain free, you need to understand and acknowledge the hook as much as the bait.

Jelly Fish

It’s tough though. You and I are hard wired to be aware of large, sudden changes: an attacking tiger; a house fire.  Instead, we’re wired to overlook small, incremental changes: today’s growth of weeds in our garden; 5 more cars on Whatcom County’s roads since yesterday.  Small, incremental changes in your consumption are easy to ignore… for a while.

But wait a moment… I’m assuming a certain level of awareness in order for someone to differentiate between good and bad bait. Given the enormity of advertising aimed at children and young adults, by the time one’s financial skills and awareness emerge, one’s fixed costs may already be formidable.  Take the young adult who bought a cool car, who then takes on college loans.  Then a spouse and a couple of kids. A mortgage.

Our culturally-induced, self-imposed, elevated fixed costs can put us in a fix, can’t they? One’s job search can become constrained to only those offerings whose pay exceeds one’s fixed costs. Do these jobs allow you to embrace your personal values at work, or must you leave them at home? Do these jobs restrict your freedom, allowing you to do what you want with your life, or have you become a slave to your fixed costs?

This underlying hook is larger than simply looking at our own pocketbooks and freedom, though. What about how our spending affects our environment… our shared commons?

There are underlying, hidden hooks there as well, sometimes referred to as ‘externalities.’ Consumer prices are held as low as possible, thereby improving the bait, by businesses diverting as many costs, legal or otherwise, onto the public at large.  One example: gasoline costs you far less than it should were it to include externalities like higher health care costs caused by compromised air and water pollution. So our commons suffers while commerce thrives.

Imagine the accumulation of  these externalities upon the commons — this pollution loading — isn’t it much like our higher, personal fixed costs… constraining our freedom?  Ultimately we suffer by avoiding paying a product’s true cost, its total cost. A product’s externalities increase toxic loading on the commons, further compromising our health, thereby constraining our freedom.

If there’s hope for a sustainable future, we need to acknowledge, and then change, the environmental and social quagmire created by our consumer culture, embracing the need to downsize; relocalize; embrace voluntary simplicity; fund and utilize alternative transportation;  commit to renewable energy.

Piece of cake… all that stands in our way is our mainstream culture!

Hopefully, armed with an awareness of our culture’s underlying hooks, you can shrink your own ecological footprint.  As this shrinks, your freedom expands and your efforts will infect others to decrease their footprint. So let’s get out there and convince our friends, relatives, coworkers and decision makers that its time to downsize; to stop buying and selling so much stuff; to promote marketing that’s aligned with a sustainable future. They’ll understand, won’t they?

Hardly.  Upton Sinclair said that “…it is difficult to get people to understand something when their salary depends upon them not understanding it.”

Ask a salesperson to sell less stuff and (s)he will look at you like you’re crazy… their mind closed; fixed by their self-imposed, culturally-induced, elevated fixed costs. They need to sustain an ever-increasing income stream. They want more, not less, damn it!

In order to avoid this trap we need to acknowledge the underlying hook hidden behind the bait that our consumer culture lays out before us.  And each of us needs to teach our children well by discussing this underlying hook whenever they point out the next whatever they want to buy.

Teach them to be citizens first; consumers second. Teach them to consume at a level that will permit their children’s children’s children to thrive.  Teach them to avoid becoming liquidators:  consumers who enter the food chain at a level that promotes a future of involuntary darkness for their children’s children’s children.

Involuntary darkness sucks.  An individual needs to remain free in order to understand and accept something at odds with their source of income.  Only then can we act appropriately.  But an open and aware mind requires that we don’t dam the free flow of thought and action by creating, incrementally, the need for a bloated salary.

Avoid getting hooked. As a radical act: want less!

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