For a sober end of year

This end of year cannot and should not be one of celebration. Rather, it should be a time of commemoration in sobriety as we silently remember those who have gone too early

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

We are living in the consumerist society, and are therefore expected to consume. What we don’t realize is that in the process we may consume ourselves. In former days, the killer disease tuberculosis was known as consumption or consumptive disease. The most common form was tuberculosis of the lungs. It literally ate away the lungs; in due course, without effective treatment, the patient would visibly shrink as the disease took its toll and finally kill: the disease had consumed the patient. Covid-19 is doing a faster job, as it too attacks and destroys the lungs with overwhelming rapidity.

Lighting a lamp to remember those who have gone too early

A similar rot currently affects the modern world. Consumerism has gone berserk, whetting appetites to beyond normal satiety levels. And in fact, this pathological social trend is also largely responsible for most of the bodily and mental ailments that are on an upswing, what are known as the diseases of affluence – another kind of epidemic, more insidious but no less a killer by the hundreds of millions. Everybody now knows about them: stress, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, depression, dementia and so on.

‘How much is enough? is the title of a book which was published in its ‘Alert Series’ by the Worldwatch Institute in 1992. Its findings and analyses are as relevant today as they were then, perhaps even more because we are in materialist overdrive – and overkill. Noting how people have come to measure success by the amount they consume, the author, Alan Durning, draws attention to a neglected conclusion based upon millennial human experience and wisdom: that ‘after a point, more consumption does not equal more fulfillment.’

Durning decries our ‘expanding appetites for the artefacts of society’ which do not help us to find ‘purpose and meaning in life.’ That is why he refers to ‘synthetic salvation,’ as opposed to the real goal of life which is about finding peace of mind and peace in the heart – and these, as we very well know, have got nothing to do with what we eat or drink, how many objects we possess, how much we can show off and so on. They leave us more in pieces than at peace!

Day and night we are bombarded with messages which stare at us from billboards and are thrust into the privacy of our homes via TV, radio and social media, and which promote a ‘restless craving for more by portraying the high consumption lifestyle as a model to be emulated.’ We associate social status with whatever is bigger and gaudily brighter. In particular, ‘advertisers play on the insecurities and self-doubt of women’ to propose many goods of doubtful worth, let alone the prices!

Even children are not left out, being targeted in various ads which are aimed at the pockets of the parents, alas often too obliging. This cultivation of needs is in fact a breeding of wants: whether YOU want it or not, YOU must have it! It is all right if one can afford (up to a point: for just because you can does not mean that you must), but what if one cannot? Then you chase, maim, destroy, kill if need be to satisfy your artificially aroused appetite.

Social boundaries have crumbled. Society is not like a faceless corporation, where in the interest of productivity and profit the ‘boundary-less’ culture and structure have been found to be best suited. In society, everyone has got certain duties and responsibilities. In the pursuit of rights, these have been forgotten. Children are turned into little adults, and adults beget childish tantrums. 70-year-olds want to look and behave as if they were half the age, forgetting the adage si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait – ‘if only youth knew, and old age could.’

One has only to watch some of the programmes that are shown on TV to appreciate what kind of distortions of the natural cycle of life are being peddled as the norms of so-called civilized living. Instead of aging gracefully and graciously, some people want to live a virtual life of vicarious youthfulness. Pity indeed, at an age when maturity and experience ought to be translated into wisdom for guiding the younger generations towards a more decent, more meaningful life.

All the social ills, symptoms of a profound social disease, that we are victims of are the result of this sustained and excessive multiplication of desires: lust for money and power, drugs, prostitution, rape, theft, breakdown of families, divorces, murders… an endless list. So, if a girl does not respond to your catcalls, you trail her, rape and kill her… whether or not you were ever fit to be her suitor. And then you will find a doctor to declare you insane at the material time, and a lawyer who will vehemently canvass your human rights, and Rights (but not righteous) International will make sure that in prison you receive the 5-star status appropriate to your expectations… Criminals are portrayed as martyrs and instant heroes. Victims become the guilty, and are demonized. Criminals with loaded pockets hire the best lawyers to extricate them and send them back into society to continue their ensnaring and destructive prowls, targeting youth, the frail and defenceless elderly, women’s handbags/necklaces and mobile phones.

If businesses have to advertise to sell, so be it. But it is our duty to educate ourselves and our children so that we maintain a balance when we go out to act on what the TV ads or the billboards try to tempt us with. How many households are in unnecessary debt as a result of the hire-purchase mania? How many times haven’t we heard nou ine alle faire ene ti letour labas, be dans guette-guetter ine achete bannz affaire ki pas ti bizin même à vrai dire… (we just went to do some window shopping, but while looking around we ended picking up things which in truth we didn’t even need). As long as we continue to confuse the pleasure of the senses with true happiness, so long will we go on our useless sprees and steeping ourselves in debt through unnecessary expense. Perhaps the one positive fallout of Covid-19 is that it may put a curb on this mania by limiting people’s outings.

It is an interesting phenomenon of our times that the views of scientific thinkers are converging with those of traditional philosophers and thinkers in condemning most vehemently the fallacy that more consumption equals happiness. A reasonable amount of work, adequate leisure and harmonious social relationships are the foundations of a stable and happy life. Our needs can be met by levels of consumption that do not dig oversize holes in our pockets or devalue our lives. And let us not forget the many hypocrisies of modern society: one billboard says roule brite mort vite – ‘speed kills’ – and hardly some metres away another one will be displaying the charms of this or that brand of alcohol. Of course, there is no contradiction here: consumer society, remember?

The tragedy currently afflicting us — widespread disease and untold suffering, and a mounting death toll as never seen in living memory, should be for us an opportunity for aligning our behaviour accordingly – for this end of year cannot and should not be one of celebration. Rather, it should be a time of commemoration in sobriety as we silently remember those who have gone too early. For the rest of us who have escaped from the mortal spikes of Covid, let us at least choose not to kill ourselves prematurely through consumption overdose.

* Published in print edition on 3 December 2021

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