The Seduction of Consumerism (8 of 9)

Back in the 80’s there was a notable bumper sticker that read “He who dies with the most toys—wins!” But here’s the thing, there were just as many folks who took this as a reasonable take on how life works, as there were folks who took it as an ironic commentary about the conspicuous consumption of those days . . . and I still couldn’t tell you what was the original intent of this slogan. But there does seem to still exist this peculiar ambivalence regarding consumerism — like a bad habit we freely confess, while fully accommodating . . . as if we’re not completely convinced it’s a bad habit.

It’s that spark, that lift you experience when you buy a new smart phone or a car, or some other significant purchase. There’s an associative dynamic at work here – when we acquire something of perceived value, it has the psychological effect of causing us to feel as if our own personal value has been elevated. In many ways this has become the drug of choice, falsely assumed benign – which is what makes it so seductive. I mean after all, our entire economy is predicated on buying stuff, right?

On the short list of questions we have for those we first meet is this one “So, what do you do for a living?” On the conscious level this might be nothing more than an inquiry about how someone spends there time, vocationally — but on a sub-conscious level it is, among other things, a polite way of asking how much relative purchasing power they might have. Because that same associative dynamic of assessing value is at work subtly insinuating value about us and those around us.

barcodeBut our estimation of innate value, this side of Eden, is an elusive and mercurial thing. Because inanimate objects only have the value that human desire places on them – and nothing more. The innate value of hay bales of hundred dollar bills on a deserted island is nothing more than kindling . . . which begs the question: how is it that we allow money and stuff to have so much power over us? What if the idea of walking on streets of gold in heaven, was meant as a clue as to the comparative value of gold – that in truth, gold is nothing more than dirt beneath our feet . . . would that change your opinion of gold here on earth?

So we find ourselves at the familiar crossroads of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30), who lived a devout life, giving unto God what he thought God wanted . . . so he could keep the rest for himself. But what he failed to understand was that it all belongs to God, and that to divide out something apart from God is to make it a rival master to God’s authority on our life (Matthew 6:24) . . . invariably you can only choose to serve one or the other. Our hearts cannot be divided, our treasure can only have one home (Matthew 6:21). May our confession be that of Peter’s “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life”. In light of such a treasure . . . everything else is merely fuel for a bonfire.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

All of This Is Mine

All of this is mine
The vaulted sky and all that is beneath it
The ever-widening hole in the ground
That denies light and catalogs everything I think I want

All of these folding chairs carefully arranged to view
The cataclysmic event of my fall
The polished surface of my achievements
Measuring me in preposterous effigy

This mirror of self-approval promising to hide me
From the honesty of light
The Sisyphus Stone of fear I hold at arms length
Keeping it from crushing my will to continue

Every word I have written on this page attempting to emerge
Hemmed in by my self-aware need to explain
O, would that I could, strike a match and watch it all burn in holy fire
To stand apart and laugh wildly with the freedom of having nothing at all


The Seduction of Experts (7 of 9)

At some point experience and knowledge become interchangeable. Regardless of the discipline, becoming proficient requires, to varying degrees, a measure of both applied experiences and the didactic experiences of pedagogy. In this way, it is axiomatic that knowledge is a distilled translation of experience. So this is why those who have given decades of their lives to the acquiring of specifically applied and educational experiences are deserving of the deferential designation of expert.

Before the modern era of experts, one would enter a barber shop for a haircut and a shave . . . or a bloodletting, amputation, and a tooth extraction – talk about your one stop shopping! So needless to say — things have changed. Almost mindlessly, we enjoy many benefits of modern expertise. Beyond the obvious expertise of brain surgeons, airline pilots, and rocket scientists – we regularly take advantage of the expertise of farmers, auto mechanics, and clothiers. In truth, our reliance upon experts in our culture is more than just an economic dynamic, it’s an anthropological phenomenon . . . an ever refining of translated personal experience by proxy.

Prior to the Great War (World War I), there was an optimism within western intelligentsia regarding the future of humanity. It was predicated largely on the existential framework of Hegel and Nietzsche, informed by the theories of Darwin and Marx – until eventually a collection of experts was formed known as the Fabians. This became a coalition of those considered most equipped to decide the future of mankind’s evolution. They envisioned an oligarchy of experts making all of the big picture decisions for us, and of course, they naturally imagined themselves to be the best qualified purveyors of such wisdom. The most notable of their social engineering ideals gave us the bloodless expedience of eugenics. . . the horrors of which were perfected by Nazi Germany.

imagesAllowing the experts to do our thinking for us is very seductive, as we can simply parrot their thoughts on various topics, as if they were our own. Not only does this afford us the appearance of intelligence, but it also allows us to pursue our own interests without the distraction of having to form a thoughtful opinion of our own. No doubt, you’ve experienced people on social media like this, people who answer almost every question by hyperlinking you to some expert opinion. Makes you wonder if they’ve actually ever taken the time to internalize the meaning and value of that opinion they just took off the shelf.

A brand new shiny bullet train sure is impressive –until you realize that where it’s headed is . . . off a cliff. So I suggest that before our brains experience complete atrophy, we begin to understand ourselves as tasked with assessing the veracity of expert opinion, learning to discern between an experts actual sphere of expertise and when they’re merely inserting personal values. And we should do so within our faith disciplines where such discernment is refined. So when a secularized promise of a better world attempts to offer us a better means to a better end – the question you need to remember to ask yourself is: Where do they place their hope? . . . and then remember where you place yours.

My hope is in Jesus Christ, and so I follow his call – not to create a better world. Creating a better world is the mantra of modernity — so I say, let them chase that mirage off into oblivion. My confession is Hebrews 12:1, 2 “. . . and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . .” Because his is the way of redemptive sacrifice — where the human soul is held as sacred . . . something for which the scientific machinations of the experts has no category.

Donald Fagen is the master of satirical lyrics
. . . and this song became hard to resist when writing this weeks blog