Affluenza-The Disease

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: affluenza | Tags: |

The book Affluenza is broken up into three sections. It presents the problems with materialism in our society by describing it as a disease. The first section explains the symptoms, the next explains the causes, and the last explains the possible cures. It’s pretty clever. I thought the book would have more humor. As it said in the introduction that the need people feel to get over these symptoms crosses all political lines, I assumed their rhetoric would too, but unfortunately, it wasn’t so diplomatic and I’m sure those on the opposite side of the authors’ obvious leanings were distracted from important points. The other thing that bugged me was the shoddy documentation of where they got their info from.  Many times they cite some numbers and then the foot note just says personal interview, or news broadcast by X station.  Give me a break! So while I wouldn’t put my money on the details, the general concepts and trends are quite observable and that is where I would put my emphasis and thoughts on the subjects the book presents.
First, just to give you a run-down, the definition of affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. It’s symptoms, chapter by chapter, are shopping fever, a rash of bankruptcies, swollen expectations, chronic congestion, the stress of excess, family convulsions, dilated pupils, community chills, an ache for meaning, social scars, resource exhaustion, industrial diarrhea, the addictive virus, and dissatisfaction guaranteed.
That should give you an idea of some of the subject matter that it deals with.

I loved the fact that the foreword has a set of pictures from a wonderful book I highly recommend. Not just because it is mostly a picture book but because it speaks so powerfully to what we all have. It is called Material World by Peter Menzel. Each main page shows a family of typical economic stature in their respective country in front of their home with all their possessions.  It gives a lot to think about.  Personally, I sometimes wonder who is wealthier: those with all the stuff or the unencumbered ones with less to distract them from real life.

The first chapter deals with how much people shop as a hobby, or shop for therapy, how much time we consume shopping, roughly 6 times more time than we spend with our kids, on average.  It mentions how much we spend on Christmas, for example and black Friday, and how people are often still paying for Christmas well into the next year, even as we say we wish Christmas were less commercial.  It points to details about the phenomenon of the Mall and how mindless shopping fever can be.  It has a section on mail order catalogs and home shopping networks, as well as how much cyber shopping there is today.    Granted, a certain amount of shopping is healthy and even necessary.  It’s nice we have several options available for a healthy amount of shopping.  There is nothing wrong with having these things, it’s the lack of balance that is alarming.  My own opinion is  our economy should not have to depend so heavily on people buying stuff, no matter what stuff it is.  I personally agree that in our country, it is way out of control.  Even those of us who don’t like to shop or don’t put a lot of stock in material things find ourselves wasting a lot of money and energy on a lot of worthless stuff.  This chapter points out how skewed our values are if we look at what we spend our money on.  Again, the stats I can’t promise are true, but it states that 70 % of us visit a mall once a week, more than visit places of worship. (In my case, I visit  malls an average of 3 times a year and church most every Sunday, but we are talking national averages.)   The facts may be more or less than that, but the trend is definitely visible when we compare how much is spent on accessories as compared to education for example.

My favorite part of this chapter is a comment on page 13 that says, ” The urge to splurge continues to surge.  It’s as if we Americans, despite our intentions, suffer from some kind of Willpower Deficiency Syndrome, a breakdown in affluenza immunity.”    I loved the Willpower Deficiency Syndrome idea.  I wish this idea had been explored a bit more.  It is something I have noticed that has bothered me and I have decided it is due to the fact that we have so many resources and so many choices available to us, with easy access to so much, that we become gluttons-not just gluttons in the food sense, but with everything.  Now, I’m not promoting abject poverty, but I’m trying to point out that the more resources one has, the more money one has, the more available and affordable things are, the more necessary it is for one to develop an awareness of the concept that you can choose to get too much.  It also means that the more you have, the more willpower you are going to have to exert to have a balanced life.  I feel you have to have the awareness first that often less is more and that there is such a thing as too much.  Without that awareness you will have no motivation to work on your willpower.  Once we have the will, we need to look at where the pitfalls are and what obstacles we face in exerting enough willpower to have more stability.  What do you think ?  What are the biggest challenges to our willpower, and how do we face them?  Even more importantly, how do we teach them to our children?  If you don’t answer me, I will have to keep giving my own opinion :).

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3 Responses to “Affluenza-The Disease”

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That sounds like an interesting book! I am not much of a shopper myself–I consider it a necessary evil, for the most part. I would be happy if food, toilet paper, clothes, etc just magically appeared in my kitchen and cupboards as needed!!! And I avoid malls. I hate them.

That said, I do splurge sometimes. I am amazed at the lack of discipline I see going on all around me, though. It is definitely a problem. I read Material World years ago (on your recommendation) and have never forgotten it. I think it would do every American a world of good to go live in one of those poorer countries for a while!

I think we influence each other too much. We see what others have, and we want it too. Sometimes we don’t really think about what would really make us the happiest. Frank pointed out a large house to me once and said he wanted to buy me a house like that someday, and I said “I would not want a house that big–then I’d have so much more to clean!” (Not that I wouldn’t love a little more space than what I have now.) I have found myself falling victim to affluenza at times over the years. I have learned to stop and think about what I really want and would really use. Just because a lot of houses have formal dining rooms doesn’t mean I need one, for example–I would probably never use it! But for a long time I wanted a house with a formal dining room, because that’s what I had seen. I try to look at everything that way, now.

I think a lot is not thinking enough. If we see stuff around a lot, whatever the thing is, and it’s accessible, we don’t stop to think if it’s really worth it to us to have one, it just seems normal. Also, a point made in the book that I think is true, is the portrayal of what “everyone” has in TV shows and movies and magazines, etc. It’s kind of brainwashing people into thinking everyone has these kinds of clothes, homes, vehicles, yards, food, toys, whatever.

I think the people who are the most influenced by this have too much media influence in their lives. I think when we are going to the temple often and paying generous fast offerings we find we are content with what we have and don’t desire more than we need. Also those with unmet needs (which are usually spiritual) cause people wherever they live to find satisfaction or their needs fulfilled in ‘all the wrong places’. The breakdown of family units over the past 40 years has caused a huge pool of people with unmet needs.


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