Posted on July 8th, 2010 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the most interesting aspects of getting older is watching one’s internal values change.

It’s complex: some values simply solidify (you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same), but I’m sure that others actually alter. Perhaps as one sees more of Life, the more one becomes confident in taking value-laden positions.

A young person’s “I think maybe I feel this way – but I am not sure, no-one else seems to feel that way,” becomes an older person’s “Hell, everyone else is mad!”

I can clearly remember when I was prepared to sacrifice an incredible proportion of my salary so that I could drive a very fast car; now – despite no less liking driving very fast cars – I wouldn’t dream of spending nearly such a high proportion of my income on such a vehicle. And no, that’s not because my loved one would strenuously object, or because the demands of middle age (I am 46, so arithmetically probably past middle age) mean that money must absolutely be spent on something else like school fees or very small soccer boots.

As I write this it is ANZAC day, the day that Australians and New Zealanders remember a time in which men in World War 1 died in a particular battle. I am about as pacifist as it is possible to be when no war has remotely threatened my existence, but I certainly recognise that those men chose (note: ‘chose’) to fight to – in part – maintain the quality of existence I take for granted.

And so today when my wife said that she was making a tiny, simple wreath, and when she said that late in the day when all the formal brouhaha was over, she was going to pedal around to the local WWI memorial with our 5-year-old son Alexander, and when she said that she was going to lay the wreath in an utterly private, no-ceremony ceremony, I thought again about my values.

It’s almost too pat to segue into my next idea, but when Alexander returned from his wreath-laying trip, he said:  “And ours was the only home-made wreath on the memorial!”

And what’s that next idea? It’s this: I feel an increasing repugnance at the madness of our consumerist economy.  I mean, isn’t it patently obvious to even the biggest imbecile that constant economic expansion, in an economy underpinned by finite resources, can have only one ending?

I agree it’s a bit rich writing in an automotive web magazine that consumerism is crazy – when, since the 1950s, the car manufacturing industry has been one of the poster villains of those who think we should be greener and conserve the resources we have.

But perhaps that’s part of what I meant by the solidification of internal values: no longer do I agree that because (nearly) everyone says so, it must be the case.

Apart from the small, personal ANZAC ceremony, the other thing that made me think of these ideas is that today Alexander and I visited the local rubbish tip. We do it about weekly – and I have decided that it’s the very best quality time I spend with my son.

I think it is better than reading bedtime stories, better than birthday parties, better than tickling or playing chasey around the house. It’s better because it’s a personal and close (in that potentially dangerous environment, I hold his hand the whole time), and it’s also a challenging and intellectual experience.

Huh? Challenging and intellectual? At the local rubbish tip?

Yes it is, because the whole time we’re wandering round, we’re wracking our brains to come up with great uses for all the fantastic parts we see discarded.

“Hey Daddy,” says Alexander, “Look at this spring!” 

 “What’s this thing? Can’t we use it?”

“Oooh look, a bearing!”

“We can use that can’t we Daddy?”

And often we can, and often we grab it, the dump supervisor turning a tolerant blind eye to the ‘no scavenging’ and ‘children must stay in car’ signs.

I absolutely and emphatically don’t reject all aspects of our consumerist culture; the Web, for example, I regard as the most exciting and potentially most emancipating invention of my lifetime. Even if I chose to reject many other aspects of our culture (eg by living by barter alone) I would utterly want the Web.

But our current  disregard for the economic, social and environmental costs of all those goods we happily throw away every day strikes me deep inside as simply madness.

When I was a kid I read the science fiction yarn ‘The Year of the Angry Rabbit’. The main plot doesn’t matter here; what sticks in my mind is the vision of industry rapidly manufacturing expensive goods that when completed, were dragged out to the end of a jetty to be pushed into the sea – so that the industry could again begin making those goods. Full employment, a booming manufacturing sector – you get the idea.

So today at the dump when I saw late model TVs in a pile of as big as a few rooms in a (Mc)mansion I feel angst – you can be sure that most of the TVs work fine. 

And when I see on eBay a AUD$15.51 Sony 76cm CRT TV that has “absolutely nothing wrong with it and has a perfect picture” but must go because “we just purchased a new TV” I deeply wonder about a society that will waste such resources for utterly tenuous – and ultimately trivial – ideas like a tiny bit of extra screen quality or a having a somewhat smaller footprint in your lounge room.

People – even those naive and ignorant of what was to come – but who were prepared to die  defending a social order which today we (largely) enjoy…one can feel only respect.

But for those who have become so indulgently soft, spoilt and simply incredibly wealthy that they discard perfectly good working goods to a place that tramples them underground with a bulldozer, well, you gotta bloody wonder about them…

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