In the 1970s George Carlin performed a monologue on the purpose of houses. Specifically, he wondered why people have the need for houses, especially large houses. His observation was that they are simply a place for humans to store their ‘stuff.’
Carlin was certainly correct about that as he was about most things. Of course, in the 1970s people didn’t have nearly as much stuff as they do today. People today buy and accumulate so much stuff that the world is literally overflowing with it.
When I talk about stuff, I am referring to the material goods that humanity produces which is fashioned from the raw material of nature. We take minerals and metals from the ground, wood, rock, oil, sand and other natural substances and transform these in factories and workshops into our world of stuff.
With the rise of China over the last 30 years with its hundreds of millions of factories producing cheap goods, coupled with the rise of mega-stores such as Wal-Mart which sell these cheap goods to the masses- including the poor who previously could not afford many of the fancy electronic toys- we see peoples’ homes filled to the gills with stuff. Yes, you no longer need to be rich to have a lot of stuff! Just a quick trip to Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and the Dollar Store and you too can gaze admirably at all the goods you own!
Mega malls now dot the landscape to feed peoples’ insatiable desire to get even more stuff. (I just returned from Kuala Lumpur which touts itself as a ‘shopping destination’ and has dozens of upscale mega malls). Most of this stuff is cheap, plastic, non bio-degradable, and constructed with planned obsolescence.
What have been the consequences of this meteoric rise in stuff which has been manufactured and transported around the world? We have seen the birth and explosion of storage unit companies. Public Storage is now a huge company with thousands of locations all over the USA. Peoples’ houses are no longer sufficiently large to store all their stuff, so they need to pay for extra space in large storage lockers.
As for all of our discarded stuff, most of it ends up in giant landfills or in the oceans. Cities and municipalities now require garbage collection companies to work around the clock seven days a week to collect and dispose of all our stuff. When I lived in Seattle, the most common sight I saw on city streets was the large garbage trucks which were always loading mounds of stuff into their bowels. Witness what occurs when city garbage companies go on strike. Within two to three days, the streets are so overflowing with our discarded and rotting stuff that people start to riot.
All of the stuff we produce is sold to us in a plastic bag, of course. In fact, the rise of the world of stuff and the rise of the plastic shopping bag have been synchronous. The depletion of natural resources to feed the factories which make our stuff will be the death knell for humanity. The ‘consumer society’ cannot die too quickly.