Thursday, October 4, 2007

56; Evil

My desktop has few things on it. Front and center is Jean-Marc Nattier's image of 'Thalia the Muse of Comedy', whose original resides in The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Trivially it is also one of my favorite paintings. But this is not an art column.

What I realized was two symbols of modern evil had appeared on my computer's desktop. One of them I am responsible for, the other snuck it's way on during 'routine' system updates. I am reffering to Google Earth and iTunes.

I consider these programs to be evil. Google's image of the happy-go-lucky useful little search-engine-that-could is being replaced with the evil, soul-scarfing, malicious, giant. And iTunes, besides being clunky and a nuisance, is run by the evil Head Quaters. Should the two ever meld all hell would break loose. Demons, harpies and fiends would take to the skies, the ground would split asunder belching magma and flame, Murdoch, Schmidt and Jobs would wait a sec...Okay, research has shown that Schmidt, the CEO of Google is on the Board of directors for Apple. Maybe they need Richard Parsons of Time Warner to join them to complete the pattern. Some things come in threes, but evil may come in fours. Or sixes. Depends.

Lots and lots of people have these programs. Lots of people own Macs, use Windows, and trade in pounds of flesh for gold. Well, perhaps not the latter, but they're close. They also like to drive cars with poor gas mileage, buy cellphones and laptops, and eat McDonalds and drink Coke. Sin upon sins: they shop at Wal*Mart and watch Fox News! They are evil consumers who spent oodles supporting mega-super-giant conglomerations. They pour, willingly, billions upon billions into the pockets of the Murdochs, Parsonses, and Gateses.

And I have to live with myself as one of them. I have iTunes, use Windows, and have Google Earth. I own a laptop and a cell phone. Most people reading this probably fit the bill in some way or another. I take a self-righteous pride in being a vegetarian, not shopping at Wal*Mart, etc. It's democracy in action: by buying more expensive products elsewhere I choose not to give Lee Scott five bucks.

Oh what to do? I could go Deep Green. Renouncing the consumer world is the obvious first step, but to go Deep Green I'd need to fully reject materialism. The slippery slope of anti-consumerism leads to Deep Green if you let yourself fall down that bank. The Green voice will plague you, whisper in your ear:

"Sure, sure. Buying vegetarian is better. Good choice. But now wouldn't it be better if it was organic? Or free-range? Cage-free? Locally grown?"

"Well, I guess so..."

"And stop using those bags. Sure paper is better than plastic since you can recycle it,"

"And I do!"

"Yeah, but bringing your own tote bag will last forever, and you've already got it.

"While you're at it, why are you still driving a car to the store? It's only three miles. You can walk it. I'd suggest a bicycle, but you don't know where that frame came from, not to mention those wheels.

"Your house. Far too much in it, lots of uneccesarry stuff, inefficient light bulbs, electricity burning day and night. Especially night. Plastic, plastic everywhere. Most unrecyclable.

"Asbestos. Microwave ovens. Thin windows, air conditioners and forests of trees upon your bookshelves. Tsk tsk. Your not being very green after all, are you? You just want to pay lip-service to green and give your money to the man living the corporate lifestyle."

It's about then in the conversation I decide to watch some T.V. Morally wrong? Yes.

People in advanced societies can't handle their wealth and fortunate status. We can't cope with the knowledge that money I spent last night on something as frivolous as ice cream and Chinese food could have helped save other human lives. Or helped rebuild a broken city. Saved an animal at our local shelter. We must Schindler our eyesight. We cannot view possessions as things that make our lives easier. Instead they are potential human beings. Each item we buy, when we choose to endorse the profit of the big guy, very literally aides in the death of another. It is sobering, and disquieting, and the choices we make to do so are fully ours. No one else can claim responsibility for them but us. Of course it is more difficult, but unlike the people our purchases effect we at least have a choice.

So perhaps consumerism isn't such a bad force after all. Perhaps the real question lies in how we choose to consume, or overconsume. We can either buy things, stuff, thneeds, objects to make life better, or we can buy, invest if you prefer, in the bettering of lives for the less fortunate. It's up to you.

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