Material girls rule, ok?

Barbie made up to look like singer Madonna

Material girls rule, ok?

Even though it was the 80s when greed was good, Nanna was always a little uncomfortable about Madonna and the ‘material girl’ thing.

She couldn’t see it as irony. She was Madonna’s age, but she was bringing up small children rather than swanning about in pink satin and stilettos. The singer’s evening gloves and diamonds seemed to mock her as she schlepped diapers and babies around the house in an old sweatshirt with milk-puke on the shoulder. The nonsensical premise of the video – that the girl who could have anything preferred a bunch of daisies to diamonds? – well, fugetaboudit.

Economist Richard Denniss’ book Curing Affluenza, however, has Nanna rethinking materialism.

Materialism vs Consumerism

Denniss makes the argument that if we were true materialists, we would not be trashing our home planet as badly as we are. The terms materialism and consumerism have become synonymous, but they’re anything but. Our culture, he says, suffers from affluenza: “that strange desire we feel to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know.”

A materialist values the physical accoutrements of life. From a watch to a pair of shoes to a chair, a materialist treasures, repairs, reuses, gives away thoughtfully or recycles his or her possessions.

We don’t do that anymore, and as anyone who has tried to donate good used furniture to a charity will know, even charities are consumerists now. That heirloom bookcase can be rejected on the pretext of a little chipped veneer. If it can’t be pushed out the door at a good price immediately, it’s no good to a charity. That bookcase is off to the dump.

Falling for click bait

Last Christmas I bought three ridiculously flimsy and useless flying fairies for little girls in my family because: one, they turned up in my Facebook feed; two, they looked so cute and so very different; and three, I am as big a sucker with as little judgment as the next overindulgent Nanna. My sincere apologies to my son-in-laws and nephew, who tried to get the wretched things to work for their little girls only to find that too many moving parts and the USB charging technology were impossible.

My apologies also to the young Chinese workers whose deft fingers put all those silly parts together for a pittance.

And my biggest apology to Mother Earth, into whose flimsy crust all of those fiddly plastic mayfly toys were dumped and will lie intact for hundreds of years.

But as Denniss says, feeling guilty about buying trash and then trashing it is unproductive. The only way we’ll save Mother from our Affluenza is to change our whole cultural approach to stuff. To become material girls and boys, all over again, and label “consumerism” as soLast Century.

Cultural change, one materialist at a time

Denniss argues it’s culture, not economics, that drives consumerism. It’s just nuts, he says, to believe an uptick in GDP is good, if it’s based on the sale of manufactured goods, the result of which is “harm . . . to the natural environment in order to enable their brief and often useless lifespan.”

Humans have proved their ability to change culture again and again. We gave up believing that burning a virgin or two would bring a good harvest or that that the earth is flat. Well, most of us gave up the flat earth thing. Perhaps we can begin to believe, as my grandparents did, that anything we own should be nurtured to longevity rather than sacrificed, at untold cost, to our mania for new stuff?

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjalis outlines the eight steps of yoga practice, beginning with the ethical practices known as the yamas and niyamas. Yamas are behaviors we need to restrain, like lying and stealing. The niyamas are attitudes and behaviors the human world can’t get enough of, like discipline and spiritual practice. And one of the five niyamas is santosha: contentment.

If we can nurture contentment in ourselves, we can start that process of cultural change. What would it feel like to be content with our current wardrobe, our kitchen, our car, our income, our social life? It would feel completely counter cultural.

Cool – we can all be radicals again!

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