Monday, March 05, 2007


I had a conversation yesterday morning that was so amazing that I had to share it. Perhaps amazement is not the correct term, but rather disturbing at how unaware Americans remain about the world around us.

The setting of this conversation was a Sunday morning drive to church in a full sized sports utility vehicle (SUV). The owner of the car remarked about some recent models of cars she had seen, at which time the other front seat passenger asked what type of car she would be getting next (even though the current SUV is running quite well and is at most 4 years old). She remarked that she wanted a BIGGER SUV. I was mostly disinterested in the conversation until I heard this comment, and could not resist the temptation to ask: "Do you feel any moral impediment to buying a bigger vehicle given the problems of global warming and American oil addiction when you don't even need the space you have in your current SUV?" This was followed by a long pause, which I assumed she was using to formulate her argument as to why she still wanted a bigger SUV. I thought she would question the association of automobile carbon emissions and global warming or talk about personal safety issues given the increased risk of injury when colliding with other large SUVs, but instead I was totally shocked to hear her just reply "no", and that she wanted a bigger SUV, because they seemed more comfortable and "roomy". I asked did she believe that her choice of car had any ramifications on the environment or the geopolitical landscape, and again a long pause was followed by, "I never considered it."

I just sat dumbfounded, that in the year 2007, after everything we have seen with American oil dependence, conflicts in the Middle East, global warming, Hurricane Katrina and the unstable gas prices that followed, that an American could still be making a consumer decision about purchasing a vehicle with absolutely no thought about the impact that decision was having on the world at large. I tried to tell myself that this individual was an aberration, but as I surveyed the church parking lot we were pulling into, I saw that at least half the cars were SUVs, and of the hundreds of cars I saw, maybe two or three could have been classified as fuel efficient.

My heart just sank as I realized how misinformed or uniformed the typical American still remains in 2007. Here I was thinking that the problem of getting Americans to consume less fossil fuel in our gas tanks had to do with the government tax structures that makes buying an SUV affordable, and the infrastructure and city planning that makes 20 mile commutes the norm, and the aggressive marketing techniques of automobile manufactures to create consumer desire for the behemoth vehicles. But in reality, the problem is much worse than that. In fact, what makes Americans uniquely American, is our ability to remain so profoundly ignorant about the world we live in. I mean, this person I talked to has a college degree, uses a computer on a daily basis, and has traveled out of the country a dozen times on vacation, but her mind is so totally captivated by the consumer oriented mass media that she only has a vague sense of the problems of global warming, the conflict in Iraq, or persistent famine and disease in 3rd world countries. However, she could tell you exactly what is at stake with the paternity of the Anna Nicole Smith's baby, and all of the facts associated with this "news story". She has a strong opinion about the superiority of behemoth SUV manufacturer #1 versus #2, even though that opinion is not shaped by any objective evidence, but just the marketing messages that have totally saturated her brain. I can't understand how someone of any reasonable intellect can live in the same world as me, and remain barely superficially aware of the problems facing the world today that threaten to change the very fabric of our society, but have a well thought out prediction of who will be this year's American Idol.

It disgusts me so much, and I have no idea how to wake America up. I don't mean to imply that we are uniformly stupid. A small part of our population is truly informed, but the bulk of our country remains self-absorbed, ignorant, and in my opinion totally hypnotized by mass media. They are told what to think (or not to think at all) and they do. However they have been conditioned to passionately defend their right to consume. If you place luxury taxes on gas-guzzling cars they protest. They have been programmed to believe that the American dream is a 3000 square foot home on a 1.5 acre lot in a gated community 30 miles from their place of employment. They will fight for the chance to own and pay the energy bill to air condition 3 times the amount of cubic feet that a family of four needs. They will cry that their civil liberty is being violated if they cannot water that 1.5 acre lawn daily. They will charge disenfranchisement if they are not allowed to select a lifestyle that consumes 5 times the ecological resources that a typical family of four in Europe consumes. They don't have time to consider the impact of their daily consumer decisions, because they are too busy consuming as much as they possibly can.

We associate capitalism with democracy, and the freedom to vote our elected officials into office is very important in any healthy democracy, but we also "vote" with our dollars. We endorse global warming when we buy fuel inefficient cars. We endorse sweat shops when we buy certain brands of sneakers. We endorse bloodshed in Africa when we buy diamond jewelry (there is no such thing as a "moral" fair trade diamond, but we can discuss that at some other time). We endorse deforestation, urban sprawl, totalitarian political regimes, civil injustice, and oppression with our daily consumer decisions. Our choice of what to wear, where to live, and how to get back and forth from the holy consumer tabernacle...the mall...does affect the world at large and it only takes a few minutes to just actually notice what's in the news beyond Brittany's shaved head to put it all together.

You don't have to be in Mensa to appreciate the connections between the things we buy and the dilemmas that face our just have to be awake. Unfortunately, the advertising executives and media moguls of our consumer American culture are experts in hypnosis. They have placed America into a trance with millions of us walking around (actually driving around) like zombies...back and forth to work, to make more money, to buy more stuff to put in our bigger house that is further away from where we go everyday...and what is crazy is these things don't even make us happy. We just end up living in debt...slaves to our desire to consume, when the things that would make us happy and feel more alive are actually more affordable: Spending less money on status symbols, and more on education, cultural and artistic experiences, charitable donations, and travel (only 40% of Americans even have passports). Working less and spending less time commuting to work which allows more time with our loved ones to do things that enrich our lives. Walking or biking to work to get some actual exercise. Enjoying the richness of nature (an afternoon mountain hike or evening walk along the beach is a much better date than paying $10 to sit next to the object of you affection in a dark theater, watch an unremarkable movie, eat a $5 box of milk duds, and drink a $6 super-sized beverage.)

It's all so simple really, but my fellow Americans are so perfectly hypnotized that they cannot see it. When you talk to most Americans about the environmental, social, and political sequelae of their consumer decisions, they get angry at you. They sense that you are trying to encroach on their right to have the "American dream"... big cars in a 3 car garage next to big house filled with expensive stuff. They are so well programmed to believe that status symbols will make them happy, that they will become irate at your suggestion that they should modify their consumer behavior in any way. It's like all they can see and think about are the things they don't have and how much those things are going to enhance their empty lives.
I wish I could just snap my fingers to end the trance, but it's not that easy. Marketers are clever, and they have worked tirelessly since World War II to develop our consumer culture to create the most ravenous society in history, and it's going to take major deprogramming to affect any change. But every person who is awake and aware is needed to help figuratively (maybe even literally) throw water in the face of our hypnotized brothers and sisters to help them snap out of it and see the way things really are around them. It can be done. I know because I was one of them.

Yours in wakefulness,

"Any ad consciously attended to is comical. Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise a hypnotic spell"
~Marshall McLuhan


At Tue Mar 06, 11:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read "Fear" by Michael Crichton.

At Fri Mar 09, 01:26:00 PM, Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

My hubby works with a guy who commutes 40 miles each way in a Chevy Suburban "because he can". That is the height of immature, self-centeredness.

In my view, these are people who never outgrew their terrible 2's.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous LuneKeltkar said...

For the past three years I lived in a tent in the woods of West Virginia. I put felt and a tarp over the tent during winter, so I got by with a candle every two days for heating. I walked to my college workplace and showered in the gym (highly efficient communal bath). I ate unprocessed foods every weekday, but I did splurge on campfires Saturday and Sunday, to cook hot meals in a dutch oven. Now I'm a sojourner in southwest Florida, where the beaches obviate the need for tental paraphernalia most of the year. I tell you this only to indicate that I largely agree with your thoughts in this post.

But I wonder. If you hadn't been riding in that big bad SUV, how would you have gotten to church?



At Tue Apr 03, 01:22:00 AM, Blogger Mr. Wilson said...

you are so high and might because you don't have a car and you catch mass transportation and shuttles everywhere huh?

chad you could do a lot for the environment if you stopped releasing all that methane caused by your high-dairy diet, but do you? i bet the effect of a hummer and your offensive anal sphincter are about on par in terms of harming the environment...

on the real, with 106k on the subaru odometer and 32,000 annual driving miles, i am considereing going back to a more efficient two wheel drive car for my next vehicle. i cannot justify my 20 mpg turbocharged engine. i will probably hold on to the suby for jaunts to the mountains when bad weather threatens or when i need to pack up all of my deejay gear, but sunny southern california is begging me to get my Prius on in a year or so...

At Wed Apr 11, 07:34:00 PM, Anonymous John said...

"I know because I was one of them."


At Wed May 16, 07:24:00 PM, Blogger Boris Yeltsin said...

II: I love your passion and your ability to get it across. You're a phenominal writer and photographer.

There is something I disagree with you on: this global warming thing.

I'm just trying to be objective here: doesn't the earth go through times where it's pretty much a tropical environment from pole-to-pole (like the dinosaur ages: where were the "polluting" cars, then?) then the cycle completes by going to an ice age, then back to temperate climates?

Hasn't this been the pattern over the billions and billions of years scientists say the earth has been around? Doesn't the earth's enviroment always go temperate, tropical, ice and cycle through?

If so, what's the problem?

This stuff's been going on for quite some time now - without SUVs or Americans or whatever else is blamed on something that I think is just a natural cycle.

At Thu May 17, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Boris Yeltsin said...

Sorry - I thought I was still on II's blog. You're a good writer too.

At Sat Jan 12, 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Allie said...

Sigh. I love it when people dismiss "Global Warming" as a natural cycle of events, asking "what's the problem?"

The base problem is, that in the past times when the earth has gone through global warming, many species died out and yes, the world did ultimately manage to correct itself - but it took millions of years to do so.

In the past there has never been a warming period with the rate of warming quite like the one we are in right now. Additionally, there has never been so many humans dependant on being able to grow/raise food and drink water. And that is the real problem - survival - no matter what the causes of it are. When you are hungry and thirsty and you can't feed your family - will it matter what or who was/is causing the "Global Warming"?

And IF humans are contributing to the period of global warming, which we most certainly are since we live in a closed world eco-system, doesn't it make sense to make changes to alleviate our impact and perhaps address and evaluate any natural causes there might be so we can try to reduce that as well?

I have heard a lot of people who think Science will save us. Science can't save us if we all want to bury our heads in the sand. Science has always been a collective activity.

Survival belongs to those who can (and will) adapt.


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