Ideas versus consumerism


How important are ideas and thought to you compared to things you can buy (leaving out the option of buying ideas from other people)? Now this might seem like a strange question to ask in the current world wide financial crisis – or maybe not.

Sure in most cases simple thoughts and ideas do not put food on the table and we all require a minimal amount of earning power to keep alive and happy. The question is how much? Ideas and thoughts are what feeds the brain and keeps it healthy and alive – is that important to you?

Anathem, the current novel I am reading by Neal Stephenson explores this theme. In this world the scientists are the ones that live like monks of the past, in humble secluded circumstances with only their basic needs met (which they have to actively work for). The people that want to explore the world of ideas and ‘truth’ give up consumerism as we know it.

Excessive consumerism is a large part of our current financial crisis. It seems many normal everyday citizens want to put all the blame on the banker and wall street people – but is this fair? Who are the ones defaulting on their loans – not the wealthy bankers and people working on walls street (until they lose their jobs in the current crisis). It is the everyday citizen that are unable to pay back their loans. Sure the new regulations on mortgages made it very inviting and now possible to buy houses when previously the individual couldn’t afford it. But the reality is of course they still couldn’t afford it – but now you could get the mortgage. It still came down to a personal decision to buy the house, buy the car, take that trip to Hawaii, etc. The individual must take personal responsibility for those decisions, they were the ones that got themselves over their heads in debt that they can’t pay back (be it mortgage or credit cards).

Previously, I have written about the apparent link between the rise of personal debt and obesity. Both are from excessive consumption, be it calories or money. For a bit deeper explanation of how money and food are linked at the neurobiology level take a glance at this post. Does a brain unfed with ideas turn to more readily consumable items?

I wonder if the population in general, and at individual level, were a little more interested in ideas and thoughts maybe they would have less of a ‘want’ to consume (food or consumer items). The En Vogue song was Free your mind… the rest will follow, well I suggest you might want to change the lyrics to: Feed the brain the rest will follow.

Yes we all wouldn’t mind ‘moving up in society’ (the American dream) and all that goes with it, higher wages, bigger house, a better view, a more expensive vehicle, etc. Now there are some very positive things being in this position beyond personal pleasure such as since you have more disposable income you can afford to give back to society (though I am not sure at what percentage this happens).

I guess I am asking you to at least ponder the question of how important ideas and thoughts are to you compared to the consumer products you can buy everyday.

Would you ever consider instead of ‘moving up in society’ to take a more circular route through life that values ideas and thoughts more than money and whose views might not be from lofty vantage points but gain you a 360 degree perspective of the world at large? This is a real question that I am asking. I am not suggesting to throw away all the comforts that money can buy but would you consider a deeper step into the world of ideas and thoughts and all that goes with it? Would this be a deeper richer more meaningful life?

What do you think?

5 comments for “Ideas versus consumerism

  1. CC
    October 2, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Very thought provoking!! I ask myself this question (or some version of it) everyday, consciously or subconsciously. It starts each morning when I gets on and off trains and feel everyone (tons of people, central Tokyo) around me trying to ‘get ahead’. Everyone is so rushed and trying to get ahead of everyone else. Are they all in such real hurry? I don’t know. At least I am not (‘flex-time’ at my workplace). But I just couldn’t help it but join in the ‘getting ahead’ game with every body else. Same at train stations, same in life – an arena where you are competing with everyone and ‘survival of the fittest’.

    It’s my life and thus what I want plays a big part of deciding what I do. However, my life does not totally belong to me only. Even if I don’t see worldly riches as important factors determining my happiness, the people around me care if I’m gaining enough of those worldly riches. If my partner or I falls behind, our parents will start to worry for us, my kids (if I have them) may go hungry.

    And by now I know clearly that the world is not ruled by reasons, but by the rich and powerful. So what if I have the greatest idea about saving the world? It won’t work if I fail to convince the rich and powerful that it’s also to their interests to make my idea come true. No matter how much I understand the world or how much I think about it, it amounts to nothing if I can’t DO anything to change it for the better.

  2. Ward
    October 3, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Very interesting comment CC. You seem to have a good perspective. If you have any ideas to help the world, and you might not have the time or energy to fully follow them up I would suggest entering them in google’s new contest.

  3. FT
    October 5, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I was at the mall on Saturday and it was so packed.
    I was wondering, what percentage of the people there actually had a true need to go there… I for one, didn’t have a true need to buy anything. And yet I enjoy going to the mall. It’s really a waste of time, and most things there are overpriced/wasteful/crappy/useless…anyway. But why would so many people prefer that over e.g. staying home reading a book or doing something more useful? Why’d we feel so happy about disposing of our ‘disposable income’ on useless stuffs?
    I wonder if anyone has actually studied the trend on donations to charities and correlated it to the openings of new shopping centers. All those disposable income could have gone to something more useful.

  4. Ward
    October 7, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Good questions FT, don’t know the answers. So I am guessing you are giving up disposable shopping and going to try to things more useful. I applaud you. Hopefully we can all do something to help.

  5. FT
    October 7, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Well……. I still like shopping 😛
    My irrational side wants more malls, more shopping. My rational side wants to beat up my irrational side…. That explains my erratic behavior and psychotic appearance.