Buyer’s Remorse

By far my favorite of the three articles that appeared in the Winter 2002 Wilson Quarterly is one entitled "Buyer's Remorse," a philosophical, yet satirical, look at American's materialistic views, and those who write about those views.

I was forced to laugh when I read:

By far my favorite of the three articles that appeared in the Winter 2002 Wilson Quarterly is one entitled "Buyer's Remorse," a philosophical, yet satirical, look at American's materialistic views, and those who write about those views.

I was forced to laugh when I read:

Why do we need a class of professional worrywarts-.a.k.a. the intelligentsia - to warn us, from the stern pulpits of Cambridge, Berkeley, and other bastions of higher education (and even higher real estate prices) about the perils of Consumerism run amok?

but I was also taken aback enough to wonder if it was, indeed, hypocritical to consider writing about materialism while sitting here typing on my expensive Apple G-5 computer connected to the internet through an expensive cable modem while listening on iTunes to Tracy Chapman singing "Mountains of Things." Nah, couldn't be. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.

Besides, as Daniel Akst points out, Thoreau is often seen as the patron saint of American intellectuals, and I've loved him since I first read him in high school, long before I had enough money to worry about it:

Thoreau's instinctive disdain for money- making, his natural asceticism and implicit environmentalism his embrace of civil disobedience, and his opposition to slavery all fit him well for the role of patron saint of American intellectuals.

With my Bostonian, Christian Scientist background, perhaps I could even claim Thoreau and, more importantly Emerson as my natural heritage.

By choosing to become a caseworker and then a teacher rather than pursuing job offers in banking or sales, I did show a natural anti-materialist bias, for as Akst notes:

" journalists academics, and intellectuals have already self-selected for anti-materialist bias by choosing a path away from money, which may account for why they're so down on consumerism (unless it involves Volvo station wagons). In this they're true to their ecclesiastical origins; monasteries, after all, were once havens of learning, and intellectuals often operated in a churchly) context.

Be that as it may, it's obvious that concerns about materialism are not limited to just "intellectuals:

When Princeton University researchers asked working Americans about these matters a decade ago, 89 percent of those surveyed agreed that "our society is much too materialistic," and 74 percent said that materialism is a serious social problem. Since then, a good deal has been written about materialism, and magazines such as Real Simple (filled with advertising) have sprung up to combat it.

Of course, in the face of such answers consumer debt has continued to rise, cars have gotten bigger, and voters continue to demand an end to taxes., no matter how good the cause.

Though I'm less sure of this point, Akst argues that:

We may not articulate it, but what really has us worried is how we think God wants us to behave. And on that score, materialism was making people nervous long before there was an America. In the Bible, the love of money is said to be the root of all evil, and the rich man has as much of a shot at heaven as a camel el has of passing through the eve of a needle. On the other hand, biblical characters who enjoy God's blessings have an awful lot of livestock, and other neat stuff as well.

While such religious appeals may have an indirect effect on me, I think I'm more concerned with how materialistic goals affect my happiness. Although I'm the first to admit that some possessions are important to me, in truth I've generally found that given the choice between time and possessions, I will almost invariably choose time.

I never worked summers while I was a teacher because I had enough money to be comfortable and I loved, positively loved, that time off, time spent with kids, time spent woodworking, time spent hiking. Hell, even when I was financially strapped because of my divorce, it never once crossed my mind to get a summer job. Better to sleep on the floor on my futon and live with rooms and rooms full of nothing rather than sacrifice precious time working.

I have no doubt that we would have a better world with happier families if most adults got three months off a year, even if they had to sacrifice some material possessions to do so. And, no, this statement doesn't mean that I am so naive that I don't realize that there are too many families where it would be disastrous if the main provider didn't work all year long, perhaps at two jobs.

Why do we need a class of professional worrywarts-.a.k.a. the intelligentsia - to warn us, from the stern pulpits of Cambridge, Berkeley, and other bastions of higher education (and even higher real estate prices) about the perils of Consumerism run amok?

but I was also taken aback enough to wonder if it was, indeed, hypocritical to consider writing about materialism while sitting here typing on my expensive Apple G-5 computer connected to the internet through an expensive cable modem while listening on iTunes to Tracy Chapman singing "Mountains of Things." Nah, couldn't be. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.

Besides, as Daniel Akst points out, Thoreau is often seen as the patron saint of American intellectuals, and I've loved him since I first read him in high school, long before I had enough money to worry about it:

Thoreau's instinctive disdain for money- making, his natural asceticism and implicit environmentalism his embrace of civil disobedience, and his opposition to slavery all fit him well for the role of patron saint of American intellectuals.

With my Bostonian, Christian Scientist background, perhaps I could even claim Thoreau and, more importantly Emerson as my natural heritage.

By choosing to become a caseworker and then a teacher rather than pursuing job offers in banking or sales, I did show a natural anti-materialist bias, for as Akst notes:

" journalists academics, and intellectuals have already self-selected for anti-materialist bias by choosing a path away from money, which may account for why they're so down on consumerism (unless it involves Volvo station wagons). In this they're true to their ecclesiastical origins; monasteries, after all, were once havens of learning, and intellectuals often operated in a churchly) context.

Be that as it may, it's obvious that concerns about materialism are not limited to just "intellectuals:

When Princeton University researchers asked working Americans about these matters a decade ago, 89 percent of those surveyed agreed that "our society is much too materialistic," and 74 percent said that materialism is a serious social problem. Since then, a good deal has been written about materialism, and magazines such as Real Simple (filled with advertising) have sprung up to combat it.

Of course, in the face of such answers consumer debt has continued to rise, cars have gotten bigger, and voters continue to demand an end to taxes., no matter how good the cause.

Though I'm less sure of this point, Akst argues that:

We may not articulate it, but what really has us worried is how we think God wants us to behave. And on that score, materialism was making people nervous long before there was an America. In the Bible, the love of money is said to be the root of all evil, and the rich man has as much of a shot at heaven as a camel el has of passing through the eve of a needle. On the other hand, biblical characters who enjoy God's blessings have an awful lot of livestock, and other neat stuff as well.

While such religious appeals may have an indirect effect on me, I think I'm more concerned with how materialistic goals affect my happiness. Although I'm the first to admit that some possessions are important to me, in truth I've generally found that given the choice between time and possessions, I will almost invariably choose time.

I never worked summers while I was a teacher because I had enough money to be comfortable and I loved, positively loved, that time off, time spent with kids, time spent woodworking, time spent hiking. Hell, even when I was financially strapped because of my divorce, it never once crossed my mind to get a summer job. Better to sleep on the floor on my futon and live with rooms and rooms full of nothing rather than sacrifice precious time working.

I have no doubt that we would have a better world with happier families if most adults got three months off a year, even if they had to sacrifice some material possessions to do so. And, no, this statement doesn't mean that I am so naive that I don't realize that there are too many families where it would be disastrous if the main provider didn't work all year long, perhaps at two jobs.

3 thoughts on “Buyer’s Remorse

  1. Well, hopefully the author is having a little fun at his own expense, because it’s doubtful that he’d be writing fot the Wilson Quarterly if he wasn’t part of the “intelligensia.”

    Of course, I drive a Toyota RAV 4 so that might color my outlook on the comment, Kurt 😉

    I think it is hard for Americans in general to write about money and materialism, so we often disguise our discomfort in humorous asides.

What do you think?