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Embrace minimalism over consumerism

Joshua Defibaugh, Opinions Editor

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In 1784, Jean-Jacques Rousseau warned readers, in his “Discourses on Inequality,” the dangers of overconsumption and the detriments of accepting material goods as necessities. Humankind’s natural inclinations were those of survival and instinct, not perfection and comfort. The invention of the pillow, Rousseau would probably say, is more degenerative to modern society than medicine, as a bag of feathers covered in a soft fabric could hardly be considered a necessity. Even medicine had its detriments, as men and women of past civilizations, much like a cheetah with a broken leg or a bear with a sprained paw, adapted to injuries and sicknesses.

Over 200 years later, in 1996, Chuck Palahniuk reenergized Rousseau’s ideas in his seminal novel, “Fight Club.” Tyler Durden, the novel’s anti-hero protagonist, cleverly chides the detriments of modern society and, more specifically, the horribleness of overconsumption. “The things you used to own,” Durden claims, “end up owning you.” Now, in 2017, Rousseau and especially Palahniuk couldn’t be more right.

According to the World Watch Institute, an environmentally focused research group, the U.S., which only consists of 5 percent of the global population, uses 25 percent of the world’s fossil fuel resources. As of 2003, the U.S. has more private cars than licensed drivers than almost every country on earth. Both sport-utility vehicles and light-duty trucks, two categories of automobiles that have notoriously low gas-mileages, have seen double-digit increases in growth over the last few years, according to reports published by The Wall Street Journal. Cars like Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Civics and Accords saw a 12 percent decline in sales in 2016.

Feeding America posits that an estimated 25-40 percent of all food grown and processed in the U.S. will never be consumed. That food may ultimately be disposed of in a landfill, decompose, rot and release a significant amount of methane gas, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Greendex, a National Geographic index of countries based on environmental sustainability, ranked the U.S. last. Between 1900 and 1989, according to Scientific America, the U.S. population tripled while its use of raw materials and natural resources grew by a factor of 17. The state of consumption goes far beyond natural resources and car ownership.

The U.S. holds over a quarter of the world’s wealth, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The poorest 69 countries combined barely account for 3 percent of the world’s wealth.

This collection of sobering statistics is not a castigation of American culture or its obsession with capitalism. Rather, it’s a rebuke of consumerism and the problems that drive it.

The U.S. holds the most televisions, video game consoles, computers, clothing, cars and many other things. Now, more than ever, American citizens need to escape the grips of consumerism, advertisements and overconsumption and embrace the values of minimalism.

Instead of buying a new television, ask whether or not the one you currently have is sufficient. Before buying those books, support your local library. Turn off advertisement-driven news channels like Fox, MSNBC, CNN or CBS. Consider watching PBS, which streams its non-sensationalist news hour every day on YouTube for free.

The benefits of living within your means and embracing minimalism have been shown time and time again. Studies have shown that decluttering our closets and owning less stuff increases mental clarity. Our sense of self-confidence increases. We live with greater purpose, not worrying what appliance or smartphone or latest clothing accessory we may think best fits our personality.

Millennials are the first American generation poised to earn less than their parents. Weighed down by a trillion dollars of student loans and a barrage of advertisements telling us we need more stuff, that outcome may come to fruition. But, like the minimalist Patrick Rhone has said, we may not be able to control the amount of money we earn; however, we can control the amount of money we spend.

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Embrace minimalism over consumerism