Each morning I get up and spend around an hour drinking coffee and talking with my girlfriend. It is a ritual of sorts, a vital part of our days and lives that gives space for topics of all forms to be discussed under the influence of caffeine. We typically put the world to rights before 7am.
This is a short blog about our conversation this morning, discussing a comment we heard yesterday. It was not offensive nor obviously wrong, but it struck something in both of us that felt slightly off. The comment was along the lines of “we need to be providing a certain standard of living to people, central heating, washing machines, dish washers and microwaves are the basic items people require to assure this standard is met.”
I must agree that these sorts of items have become a measurement of how well people live, of one’s standard of living. They differentiate between ‘first’ and ‘third’ world and between the rich and poor here at home. They separate us from the tasks we feel we want to avoid. My question was why do I feel a strong desire to avoid having any of these items? Am I lazy and trying to avoid working for them? Am I cheap and refusing to pay for them? Am I foolishly aiming to diminish my standard of living or is there something else at play?
These items are modern, consumer-oriented tools designed to help the owner get certain jobs done more easily. They are also gadgets that are by no means a requirement of a good life. I wonder, have we been duped into believing that, in buying and owning such things, we have somehow achieved a better standard of living than those without them, regardless of infinite other factors? When did each of these appear on the list of requirements for this alleged ‘standard’? Perhaps we all have different measurements, but it seems that the list changes continuously; not to give an ever-improving lifestyle to the owner of all the gadgets, but to keep the consumer society ball rolling under the illusion of happier and better lives. We are literally buying into this illusion daily when we affirm these definitions with such throwaway comments.
My suggestion is that we each take a moment to carefully consider what the phrase ‘standard of living’ means to us. What should we be aiming to have in our lives to make them wonderful? What should we strive to ensure everyone has access to? Something tells me it isn’t a tumble dryer.
Here is the list we came up with:
Access to healthy food, warmth, access to nature, flexible and fulfilling work, a fair wage, good healthcare, quality education and time with loved ones.
We noted that, interestingly, in our society, there are some conflicts in this list. These are mainly due to the fact that consumer capitalism commodifies whatever it can, thus, ideals such as quality education are generally more accessible to those with the wealth (which may have to be paid for in working too much in a job we do not love, also limiting time to spend with our loved ones). This traps us on the consumer treadmill and in jumping off, we might just break a leg.
The difficult question is: how do we balance our own lists with the realities of the societies that we live in? It is a thought worth exploring, because in finding answers we can begin to escape consumerist illusion and live more truly and freely.