In 2002, the retail industry in this country spent $13.5 billion telling us what to buy, and we must have been listening, because in 2003 we spent nearly $8 trillion on all kinds of crap. That's right, trillion. How insane is that? We are the biggest consuming culture on the planet. We buy almost twice as much crap as our nearest competitor, Japan. We spend more on ourselves than the entire gross national product of any nation in the world.It's hard to know where to start on a passage like this. It comes from a position so averse to capitalism, progress, and commerce, I'm tempted to just shrug and blow it off. Of course, I won't.
Look, every one of those transactions that made up that $8 trillion Spurlock describes as "crap" was voluntary. Each party agreed to part with something in exchange for something else he valued more. The overwhelming majority of the time, each party got what he wanted, and walked away happier than he was before the transaction took place.
Why is this a bad thing? Why should we be ashamed of the fact that we've progressed to the point where there are millions of products available that in some way make our lives better? So, Spurlock says, some may actually make our lives worse. Fine. So avoid them. Don't buy stuff. Don't buy "crap." The rest of us will crap up our homes, our cars, our offices, and our wardrobes, and we'll be happier for it.
It's all fine and dandy to don the pretense of anti-materialism. But the simple fact of the matter is, our want of stuff, our pursuit of stuff, and the genius of our forebears to generally leave the market alone has made us the healthiest, most prosperous, most comfortable, least violent society in the history of mankind. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's something to relish. It's something to wish upon the rest of the world.
Not Spurlock. He writes:
What does all that consumption do for us? Does it make us happy? You tell me. If we were all so happy, would we be on so many drugs?We're on "so many" drugs because "so many" drugs are available to us. Thanks to capitalism.
Live expectancy in the U.S. is at an all-time high. The three biggest killers -- heart disease, cancer, and stroke -- are all dropping dramatically. This is particularly heartening with cancer, which is dropping despite our ability to diagnose it earlier. To state without context that "lots of Americans are on drugs" means nothing. We're the healthiest we've ever been. Yes, even with fast food.
Spurlock goes on:
Antidepressant use in the U.S. nearly tripled in the past decade.Again, this means very little. Antidepressant use has risen in part because of breakthrough drugs like Prozac and its "me too" followers have been so effective, and in part because the success of those drugs have gradually eroded the stigma against depression and mental illness, meaning more people are getting treatment, as opposed to suffering in silence or shame. These, again, are good developments.
We've got drugs to counteract the disastrous effects of all our overconsumption--diet drugs, heart drugs, liver drugs, drug to make our hair grow back, and our willies stiff. In 2003, we Americans spent $227 billion on medications. That's a whole lot of drugs!It's disingenuous to say many of those conditions are caused even in part by "overconsumption," much less exclusively. Many are genetic. Many are genetic predispositions triggered by environmental factors. Frankly, the idea that the people on these kinds of drugs somehow deserve the condition they're in because they're gluttounous or greedy is pretty damned offensive. Sure, some drugs may enable us to indulge bad habits without repercussions. So what? Even conceding that that's not a desirable development (and I don't), the vast majority of medical treatments are aimed at ailments no one "asked for."
And only the most rabid of anti-capitalists could find fault with the fact that we now have drugs available to treat the ailments that have plagued us for centuries. Only a smug socialist could consider, "are life-saving drugs a good or bad development?" a question up for debate (all, of course, while selling a movie, two books, and a TV show).
Spurlock goes on like this for another five paragraphs. He blames advertising for our "excessive" consumption, our (alleged) depression, and our general ennui. He concludes with this sweeping statement:
Yet none of the stuff we consume -- no matter how much bigger our SUV is than our neighbor's, no matter how many Whoppers we wolf down, no matter how many DVDs we own or how much Zoloft we take -- makes us feel full, or satisfied, or happy.Bullshit. Tell me, would you be happier with or without your iPod? Do your sunglasses with UV protection make being outside better or worse for on eyes? Do you get more or less enjoyment from the added features producers sometimes add to DVDs? Are you better off with the quality and durability of a DVD picture, or with the grainier, less-lasting properties of VHS? Would you prefer to spend August in D.C. with or without air conditioning? In any case, even if you opt for the less efficient, less modern, less rational answer to any of these questions, that's fine. No one forces you to enjoy any of these conveniences. You may still live like a Luddite in America.
The funny thing is, people like Spurlock can only make silly arguments like these because capitalism has saved them from more dire concerns -- starving to death, for example. Or dying of malaria. Or struggling to make sure his kid lives past the age of ten. Or making sure he has enough meat cured to last until April. There are a few billion people around the world who still don't have the luxury to bitch about the overabundance of life-saving drugs, too many flavors of ketchup, or bemoan the fact that Viagra -- God forbid! -- lets old people continue to enjoy sex well into their eighties.
They don't bitch and moan about too many choices in the toothpaste aisle because they're busy trying not to starve to death.
Wanna' know why we don't have to worry about starving to death anymore? Because of capitalism. Free markets. Consumerism. Consumption.
Our responsibility is not to feel shame for our consumption. Our responsibility is to bring the beauty of markets and the miracle of "overconsumption" to the people who need it.