Outside observers of American culture are fond of criticizing consumerism in America but they seldom if ever direct the same criticism at their own lifestyles. I'd be willing to listen to that kind of thing from someone from Haiti or rural India or rural China. But from anyone living in an industrialized environment, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
For example, guess which country has the most cars per 1000 inhabitants? Is it the US which takes at least 3 or 4 days to drive across and has no passenger rail system to speak of? Nope. It's Portugal which is about the size of small to medium sized US state and where a quarter of the population lives in the same city. Even Australia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand have more cars per 1000 inhabitants than the US. With the exception of Australia and maybe New Zealand all these countries have such small distances and dense populations that you can virtually go door to door anywhere in the country by public transit/passenger rail.
This goes way beyond whether people buy one big bottle of gin per year or three smaller ones (it's not like gin goes bad - besides you can buy vermouth in much smaller bottles because you need so much less of it). People in ALL OECD countries are living the "good life" and spending money on stuff right and left. Comparing Americans to Western Europeans or Australians or New Zealanders will reveal that they are a lot more like each other than any of them are like people living in developing countries. Even in the most rapidly developing parts of countries like China, consumerism is the norm. Our friend Bert Q. Slushbrow has told me stories of his in-laws in China driving the same kind of cars middle class Americans do, owning several condominiums and generally living the life of Riley.
In my travels in just under half of the EU member states, I have seen shopping districts bursting with useless doo dads. I've seen mega stores with huge parking lots and I've seen highways choked with cars. Indeed, if you just think about the types of stores, its difficult to tell the difference between Grafton Street in Dublin and the Santa Monica Promenade (although the grey sky and rain is usually a dead give away).
My point is not to claim that the US is not consumerist. It clearly is. Furthermore, it is fair and right to point to the problems this consumerist life style poses for the environment and the people living in it. But it is not fair to set this up as some kind of American problem. Doing so may make middle class intellectuals from other OECD countries feel better about themselves but it lets too may people off the hook (most especially the middle class intellectuals in question). We are all in this together. Consumerism is an appealing lifestyle that we all partake in to a great extent and it is very pervasive around the world. We need to find a way to modify this lifestyle and adapt it to the realities of a sustainable environment. But if ONLY Americans change their lifestyles the world will still be on a bad path. We ALL have to change. So let's ease up on the "horrified" reactions to Cost-co etc, shall we?
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 3:36 AM