Making it all work

For some reason, I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about advertising and marketing. I know they are not the same thing and I am lumping them together, but my excuse for this is that they both seem to want to persuade you (and me) to do something which makes money for someone else. Typically, marketing and advertising try to encourage us to use our money to purchase either a thing in the case of advertising or a lifestyle in the case of marketing. I suppose that is an oversimplification but I am not a qualified marketing person.

Sometimes when I think about this, I think about all of the things I don’t really need that I might purchase. Other times I think about the role which advertising and marketing has in keeping the ‘system’ which provides all of our livelihoods, going. If I stopped buying then this would cause unemployment and lead to failure in our system of survival. Other times I think that I don’t really choose what to buy I am always persuaded to buy something. Advertising and Marketing are certainly a challenge to any degree of free will I might claim to have. What do I really want, what do I really need, do I always need to buy things to get them or can I make things myself? Maybe things I buy are better than those I could make, but would the things I could make be good enough? There are very many questions associated with human life on the planet and how it has evolved and how it can be sustained.

I can’t really move on without pointing out one other thing which occurs to me within this context. This other thing is just how clever marketing and advertising people actually are. Marketing for instance seems more like a science now, drawing on human psychology in a significant way to manipulate my (and your) thoughts. These highly trained and qualified people can be very good at their work. Do you really think that the idea to buy something has just sprung into your head as a completely original thought? Well, you are undoubtedly wrong, the idea was put there by someone else. A new kitchen, and extra toilet, some fashionable clothes (because the ones you have are not now fashionable), a new car, even a new house, and the list goes on.

The words need and want are completely different. Real need is brought about by some situation or condition which threatens your ability to survive in a reasonable way. Yes, the word reasonable here can easily be manipulated by those marketing executives, but you can think about this yourself. I read some quote recently which went something like this. It is the sign of an educated mind that it can take on board a new idea without adopting it. It went something like that anyway but it is really quite profound. One of the things it means is that you can be exposed to marketing pressure without actually agreeing that you need things or even want the things being marketed.

Yet this is not really the point of this discussion (one sided discussion). The point is to consider how the world (with humans in it) can survive if we either carry on consuming excessively or if we break our system, stop consuming, and create chaos as a byproduct. How long would my bath last if I never replaced it, the people who bought my house after me, never replaced it and the people who bought the house after them… and so on? Actually, I think it might just do OK, but not so for the bath manufacturers. We humans have become really quite clever and we can make things which last many lifetimes. But we don’t seem to want to make things which last because this might cripple our economy in doing so. So, we consume and we manufacture to be consumed, and if we can’t do that, we make things unfashionable after a while.

Unfortunately, we humans, have now become aware of a new factor to add to this difficult equation. If we don’t consume, we might destroy our economy but if we do consume, we might destroy the capability of the planet to support life. This is quite a big new factor and many humans are dealing with it by claiming that it is not true. Yet the same science which has brought us our substantial progress, technology, medicine etc, says that it is true. How do we factor in this new factor? If we consume, we trash the planet and if we don’t consume, we trash the economy. In my humble opinion, since we sort of all rely on the planet for everything, we really must change our economy to something else.

Unfortunately, changing our global economy means changing politics. We, humans, don’t seem to be very good at this. We are basically greedy and when some of us get into positions where we have power, we want more of it and we certainly do not want to relinquish it. It doesn’t matter weather our systems are based on democracy, market forces, communism, dictatorship, religion or anything else, it always results in a few humans gaining power over many more humans and then greed activates.

If you are now thinking that this is the point in the discussion where a brilliant new world order is proposed then I am sorry to disappoint you. Yet it might be possible to list at least a few changes to the way we all live now which are really necessary. I might try to list these to give them some sort of credibility but also so that you can challenge each point yourself to see if you agree or not.

• We need to stop excessively consuming resources. We need to make important things last. We need to make things which can be recycled and we need to ditch fashion and become more tolerant of difference.

• Since we might need to manufacture less and we might manufacture using machines, we need to re-think what we consider to be valued work. People do need responsibilities and goals but this might need to be different from our current concepts of worthwhile employment. Actually, many of the wealthiest people in our societies, get wealthy my moving money around and not by making things. We do need to deal with that as well. Money isn’t real.

• We need to value education, knowledge, science and progress and see these as the main reasons to be human. This of course along with art, literature and other more human centred endeavors such as care and society.

• Exploration and progress are the human goals along with care and compassion.

The journey from here to there is a long way and I am not sure that those in charge really want to go there, let alone design something which will get us there. Those with power now might want more, but it looks like nature will eventually take it all away from them.

John L. Gordon February 2021