Friday, September 29, 2006

The More Stuff You Own

The more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.

It is the undeniable fact of modern life that we obsess over what we have, where we got it and how big a space we have to control to keep it. We work longer, harder and consume more than we thought we ever could when we were 12 years old and believed a well-read comic book collection was the ultimate expression of our mojo.

Cultures are classified by the stuff they throw away. Ask any archaeologist and they'll tell you their careers are made by digging through ancient garbage dumps. So your fame after this life is defined by the garbage you dispose of. Consider that the next time you and your significant other are arguing about keeping Great Grandma's piano that can no longer be tuned and therefore played. Maybe it is time to memorialize her in the museum of greatness: the local town landfill. At least then you could start on your own memorial by purchasing the spinet the family down the street is keeping in their minivan because they've run out of room in their four bedroom split level with the unattached garage and 3000 square foot basement.

I've read that an American Indian tribe had a custom where members would give away all of their stuff and start over. Today we call that a garage sale and get more money to get more stuff. Garage sales replace malling as one gets older in America. They say the richer we get the more we obsess over quality stuff but corporations have to spend billions every year tearing down malls that are less than ten years old and rebuilding them to keep us coming to shop there. Do you replace your garage in the same location that often? No. You have a garage sale but you rarely sell the garage so it can be hauled away and you definitely never give it away. Somewhere in the function of trading stuff for more stuff, real economics take over.

Except for the uber-wealthy in America. They are the biggest garage sale buyers in all history reflecting a culture that has found it can buy and sell anything except taste and a reasonable government.

If you can get to Christies' next week, you can buy original parts of the Star Trek set (original series) although Paul Allen already owns Captain Kirk's chair. Someday maybe Paul will have the world's highest quality garage sale.

And so it goes.


John Cowan said...

Actually, it's more like, "Well, I can give a feast for 400 people and give away 600 quatloos worth of stuff!"

"Oh yeah? Well, I can feed 500 people and give away 1,000 quatloos worth!"

"Huh. You two fellas are just pikers. My feast will serve 700 people, give away 2,000 quatloos of this 'n that, and provide a complete and standards-compliant reimplementation of Solaris under the GPL on five DVDs to everyone who shows up!! Top that if you dare!"

And so on.

len said...

Now even Cher is selling her stuff. Well, she always did, I guess and well, I was always glad I wuz.

Good point, John. On the one hand, I'm glad to see a competition among the charitable. On the other hand, I am not so glad to see corporations picking the pockets of their employees so the CEOs etc. can make grand gestures for the sake of the brand. As a local geisha said to me last year, "There is ALWAYS an agenda, LEN!". Maybe, but as I replied, "No there isn't and the day you finally get that will be the day you grow up." It really does matter whose pockets are emptied by public acts of charity.

Gifts given anonymously don't fix the brand; they fix the problem. It is a point of honor and in some communities, spiritual development. Matthew 23 is a good read for those so inclined. The Hindus might quote the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, on the Threefold Religion. The pop meisters might quote from "MASH" when Charles gives the candy to the orphans.

At one point, the Geishas asked us to send in mail for all of the community work we did. Then they wanted to publish our names in the paper, and those that said yes, were so published. Being an old school guy, I thought that digusting but it was just the beginning of it. When our colleague died in an aircrash and two days later, the local paper extolled what a good corporation it was to help her family book airline tickets, I realized a new low had been achieved.

Anonymous said...

This one had me thinking Len.
Guilty as charged. Not sure of the why,
but I'm filling... I've filled up
my larger house without any problem
and I guess I'd be very reluctant to
lose my toys.

Regards Dave

len said...

Me too. I've neat toys but in my case, they are tools for my art. Some of my older acquaintences remarked snarkily about my pipe dreams of music fame, but that was just jealousy. It's never been about fame; it is about doing it. The toys are needed to do it well and often. They are, beyond taking care of the family, a reason to work: enjoying the talents, sharing the talents, reveling in the moments of sharing. It's all good.

It is a habit I'm glad I kept up since right now, it is the reliable income resource, so those toys pay for themselves.

My friends, on the other hand, always understood.

One day those toys filling up your niches may be the resource that lets you retire comfortably. You never know, so until then, they are, like an old pet, good company.

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