Sunday, October 23, 2005

Too Much

It's a lazy afternoon here at Cracks Centraal, with gray skies and a chilly drizzle keeping Mrs F and me chilling out in the bedroom with a blanket of cats (that, and my prediliction to cough up my lungs with much activity--going to see the doctor about that tomorrow, hopefully). So, I'm flitting around the Net on the ol' Wi-Fi and within two stops I found two separate articles about eschewing consumer culture (coincidence or fate--you make the call). I'm all about streamlining and downsizing (Mrs. F has definitely helped show me the way) and finding alternatives to weapons of mass consumption (my motto--buy locally and buy from smaller companies whenever you can; of course, I don't always live up to that ideal, but I'm working on it).

The first article comes from the London Guardian Sunday magazine, and it's about Britain's young "new Puritans":
'Something very interesting, indeed radical, is happening to Britain,' confirms Jim Murphy, associate director of the Future Foundation, the trends forecaster which coined the term 'New Puritan'. 'If you look at the way our lives are filled with different kinds of social opprobrium, a lot of people are increasingly under ethical pressures which influence their choices.'

According to the Future Foundation, we are increasingly curbing our enthusiasm for profligate consumption, and health and environment-threatening behaviours. Gone is the guilt-free pleasure-seeker, to be replaced by the model well-meaning citizen, the New Puritan - a tag interchangeable with neo-Cromwellian, if you really want to seal its 17th century origins - who thinks through the consequences of activities previously thought of as pleasurable and invariably elects to live without them. Think of it as the dieticians' favourite adage, 'a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips' given socio-economic resonance.

Arguably, these personal codes of conduct would be an arresting enough story on their own, but the New Puritan's curbs must also be extended to other people's behaviour, and wherever possible enshrined by legislation - for New Puritans do not fear the nanny state. According to Murphy, 'In common with all important movements, this one has a silent march. It's under-noticed and under-observed.'

Such stealth might suit elements of the movement quite well, especially when it comes to tackling the menace of the Sports Utility Vehicle. Part of the New Puritan brief is to penalise those who make poor choices on behalf of the rest of society - in this case the gas-guzzling, emissions-generating Montessori wagons that choke our town centres. In Paris, the well-supported rage against this particular machine comes in the form of Les Degonfles (The Deflated), a clandestine team who, in the dead of night, run round deflating the tyres of SUVs and splattering them with mud. Les Degonfles aim to deflate about 40 SUVs a week.

In the UK, the job of deterring SUVs has fallen to Sian Berry, a rational and reasonable young woman who runs the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s and spends her spare time posting offending vehicles with fake fixed penalty notices. Granted, this is lowintensity warfare; but if governments won't legislate - only Sweden has brought in plans to ban non-registered 4x4s, in Stockholm - then the New Puritans will go it alone, with only their principles for company.
Way to go, kids! The article also has some write-ups on some prototypical New Puritans--and they sound like a fun bunch. Here are the intros:

Alasdair Sim 27, London
Dislikes alcohol, air travel, dogs, disposable coffee cups
Likes economising, cycling, selfsufficiency

Louise Doherty 19, Nottingham
Dislikes cars, pregnant smokers, ready meals, meat Likes exercise, staying-in, being responsible, being thin

Katie Harrison 26, Bristol
Dislikes smokers, junk food, fat people's excuses Likes hard work, organic food
Yeah, there's nothing more fun than a weekend full of hard work and boycotts. These crazy kids have their hearts in the right places, but they might just be a little, well, puritanical for me. I'll be curious to see if something like this gets any traction here in the States.

The other article comes from the AP (and published in today's Seattle Times), and it's all about the American obsession/predisposition toward clutter (aka, more stuff):
To many observers, clutter reflects the mind-set of the modern household -- overburdened, disorganized and compulsive. To others, clutter is a broader symbol of a ravenous culture dependent on easy credit, piling up debt and consuming a lion's share of the world's resources without considering the consequences.

"People's homes are a reflection of their lives," says Los Angeles psychologist and organizational consultant Peter Walsh. "It is no accident that people have a huge weight problem in this country, and clutter is the same thing. Homes are an orgy of consumption."

The obesity analogy isn't a joke. While personal spending drives much of the U.S. economy, the resulting clutter from all that shopping is so pervasive that some researchers wonder if it might have a deeper, biological component, similar to overeating.
[...]
And the opportunities to acquire have only skyrocketed. The old corner store once stocked fewer than 1,000 items. Today, a Wal-Mart SuperCenter covers a quarter-million square feet -- that's nearly six acres -- and carries 130,000 products.

If you can't make it to the store, merchandisers will bring clutter to your threshold. Online, 49 million people order $7 billion in merchandise annually from Amazon.com. EBay auctioned possessions worth $34.2 billion last year.
[...]
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household size has declined to 2.61 persons, while the average dwelling has doubled since the 1950s to 2,250 square feet.

The National Self-Storage Association, a trade group, says one in every 11 Americans rents storage space in a given year.

On cable TV, at least three reality shows are devoted to clutter management. On the Learning Channel, "Clean Sweep" employs psychologist Walsh; it has filmed more than 200 episodes unloading people's junk.

Fifty cities in 17 states have chapters of Clutterers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program.
Here at Cracks Centraal, we're continually fighting the good fight against clutter (it's amazing what a small house with limited storage space does to promote an anti-clutter mindset). One of my favorite discoveries of this year has been Craigslist (which I'm sure many of you have been familiar with for far longer), which is a free community forum and classifieds listing space, and we've found new homes for several pieces of furniture and unused computer gear. Check the voluminous listing of locations in the left nav column of this main page to find your local community. And as far as unwanted media, I've become a big fan of using Amazon to unload old CDs and books (which I find far easier than eBay).


4 Comments:

At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 8:07 AM, Blogger Agen said...

To CR:

Your request has been acted upon. Good luck in your endeavours!

 
At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very very much appreciated - I'm so grateful that you've allowed me to state and taken seriously, my side of the story.

Strangely, it still appears in the Google search but I imagine that will disappear...I hope! If there's anything you would like me to explain then I would be happy to elaborate further. I am currently in contact with the newspaper regarding taking my name from the main site - I don't think they appreciate being criticised but they seem to be taking me seriously.

Again, many thanks

Regards

CR

 
At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in a commentary written by Stephen Pritchard regarding my request - I don't think it alleviates it in any way since yet again my name is mentioned but it is interesting nonetheless

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/observer/archives/2006/07/21/post_9.html

p.s the name removal for your blog doesn't appear to have worked....this still appears as part of a google search on my name...?!

CR

 

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