Leave That Melon Alone!
By Julia Moore
A new shopping mall has recent opened close to our lovely medieval village - misery and mayhem, on so many levels… The building plot had been a site of Special Consumer Interest for many years. IKEA had attempted a planning application, instead a sad version of its original plan has resulted. Instead of high-end vetements, pedestrian, middle-range clothing - which can be found on any high-street greets the shopper. The once quiet roads now buzz with traffic, including Sundays.
A far cry then, from the Buddhist ‘melon’ principle. Leave nothing behind when you, yourself ‘leave’, save for half a melon, for others. On reflection, the ever-consuming public will probably conform to this anti-materialistic mantra. The goods they purchase today will barely last 3 months, let alone a life-time, so Buddhists can chill and relax (as only they know how). Perhaps Buddha was a closet shopper and proto-environmentalist, only buying ‘stuff’ which disappeared, as he did.
A new family member has provided a keen reflection on the amount of ‘stuff’ which is possible to obtain. Marx (Karl, not a mispelling of a popular high street store) would rail and seethe at the capitalist ability to re-invent ways of making us part with our pennies/zlotties/euros. Given that, in the affluent West, the birth-rate is declining, more and more ‘stuff’ can attached to, perhaps an only child. A small baby becomes a diminutive beast of burden, weighed-down with more items of clothing, toys and, especially travel accessories, than it can carry. Bandy legs are now caused by owning too much, rather than rickets, as in the good old days. The Chinese one child policy, now being slowly phased out, coincides nicely with the liberalisation of that economy, so that now, small Chinese babies can be ladened with consumer items, too. Perhaps Sino-Western babies can meet when older, in their own pantechnicon and compare consumer goods, Pan-Pals (I do apologise, but could not resist it).
So, how do we rationalise the ever-growing phenomenon of ‘want’ over ‘need’? Ever since mercantilism - enabled by faster, sturdier and braver sea captains of yesteryear, we have always wanted the shiny new items which were brought back from overseas, along the Silk Road. Today it may be the next 4G telephone, but in the 15th Century it was potatoes, no difference, only the products change (no need for a 12 month contract with potatoes, yet). We crave exotic, fashion, the new. The 1950s was a boom era for post war transfer-technology, when the new housewife could benefit from a washing machine engineered by former weapons factories. There were, and continue to be, more kitchen items, which can peel, mash and slice (you and the vegetables, in my experience) way beyond human need, yet still they come, and still we buy. Technology now drives consumerism, not merely addresses its needs. I don’t need soft-tone headphones which can be worn in bed, but hey, they exist, so why not listen to The Goon Show at 4am, as I lie awake, wondering if I need a solar-powered nose-hair clipper? A sad thought that, as with the friends we have, how we shop and what we buy are connected to how we want ourselves to be seen, not how we actually are. This ‘distorted mirror’ syndrome is, of course, the central driver of marketing - making us conform to lifestyle choices, if we buy X, Y and X.
We can, at least, buy such things from independent traders. Having said that, my village shops only provide the important things in life - food, friendship and fine croissants. I often muse as to what words of wisdom, what slogan can sum up our relationship to ‘stuff’, when confronted by a signing key-ring, or a rotating toilet-roll holder. Something philosophical, along the lines of, ‘those who have no locks or doors, have no need for keys, and as for the toilet-roll holder - 3 of those, please’.