Did you know that our American consumer culture was specifically created by economists? I had no idea.
This is just one of the remarkable things I learned when I (finally) sat down to watch "The Story of Stuff" with Annie Leonard. It was a truly eye-opening video, well-done and interesting. I have been putting off watching it since...well...I bookmarked it back in January. Please do not wait 8 months from today's post to go and watch it.
Actually, go watch it now. I'll wait.
Okay...you're back? Good. What did you think?
The part that was most striking to me was when Leonard quotes Victor Lebow, a 20th century economist who said:
"Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."
She goes on to explain about the concepts of "planned obsolescence" -- that most stuff is just destined for the trash bin as it's being made. Computers, cars, ipods, radios, cell phones, you name it. We're just waiting for the next model. There's a whole bit in the video about the seasonal variance in women's shoe heel-size; it's completely done so we can see clearly when someone hasn't bought into the latest fashions.
I have to tell you: this movie strikes a chord in me for so many reasons. Obviously, we all know we use too much stuff. We all really want to do better. Some of us try harder than others and we take on personal challenges all the time to try and improve our "green-ness."
Aside from the environmental impact, however, I'm even more struck by the concept of obsolescence not in things but in ideas. Each week, constantly, Jews are studying and reading the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. The same words, the same book that has been studied for thousands of years is still being read and discussed on a consistent and regular basis all over the world wherever Jews are. Not obsolete at all! Pretty amazing in our "throw-away" society, isn't it?
(Not only do we read the Torah, but we also cherish reading from the scroll, a scroll that is hand-written on parchment over a period of about a year. It's not something that we can just whip off an assembly line! And reading it from a computer screen, while possible, just isn't quite the same.)
It makes me very proud to be a part of a people and a culture that have survived and thrived, that have kept the idea of "planned obsolescence" at bay for quite a long time.
I hope we can keep it that way.
That's my Tuesday Torah this week.
What's yours? Leave your link in the comments below.