We have a problem – well we have several but this one is a pretty big one.
We have built our society on this model called Capitalism – or in other words, the least wrong approach we could find. The problem is, it relies on people to be consumers – the bigger the better, so we can make profits, the more the better, which get distributed to shareholders, the fewer the better. In a nutshell, without consumers, we are f•cked.
Now back in the day of the hunter/gatherer era, that wasn’t a bad thing. The more we had, the better chance we had of survival. But we have not evolved in line with our environment.
Our environment, no longer means we have to deal with sabre toothed tigers (not unless you want to use that as a metaphor for other things…..). So, consumption manifests itself in much more negative ways, such as obesity, greed, and waste (another seriously big problem, which I will come to later).
At its heart, it is driving a culture that judges people by what they do and do not have, which drives ego’s, individual gain over collection achievement and a transactional approach to life, which is quite literally killing us. We have never been so wealthy and yet we have never been so unhappy – just check out the suicide rates, it’s soul-destroying. And here’s the real irony. In order to have consumers, we have to have money. In order to have money, we have to have jobs. In order to have jobs, we have to have consumers. It’s a circular situation, a bit like nuclear fusion – it remains stable whilst all of the components are in place, but once you start removing them, we are headed for disaster.
We have always looked to do more with less. Great outcome, lower costs and more profits, for those few shareholders, who get to benefit from them. But this doing more for less is being taken to a whole new level. Just take a look inside an Amazon warehouse to see what it means in reality – how many robots does Jeff Bezos own? It is estimated that at Amazon’s current rate of growth, 76,000 people will no longer be required in the retail sector in just one year (taken from Scott Galloway’s book ‘the four’). So, what happens to all of these people? If we do not find new roles for them, this also means 76,000 less consumers, as they will simply have no money to buy things with. This quote from Scott Galloway, the author of the amazing book ‘the four’, pretty much sums it up for me:
What’s clear is that we need business leaders who envision and enact, a future with more jobs – not billionaires who want the government to fund, with taxes they avoid, social programs for people to sit on their couches and watch Netflix all day. Jeff (Bezos), show some real f•ckin vision.
Now, even if we put the whole issue of job re-invention/re-distribution to one side, we are still left with two other massive issues, created by our current approach to running the world: a disconnected society and a planet that is on its knees.
Disconnection has occurred because we are living in a materialistic, consumer-driven society, where I have is more important than I am. It is creating over-inflated egos, an epidemic called ‘living up with the Joneses’, soaring depression rates and a new mass killer – loneliness. Just read Johan Hari’s life-changing book ‘Lost Connections’, to really get a sense of what individualism v community means for us all. Again, Scott Galloway sums this up perfectly for me in another quote from his book ‘the four’:
It is conventional wisdom that Steve Jobs put a ‘dent in the universe’. No, he didn’t. Steve Jobs, in my view, spat on the universe. People who get up every morning, get their kids dressed, get them to school and who have an irrational passion for their kids well being, dent the universe. The world needs more homes with engaged parents, not a better f•ckin phone.
Whilst we remain driven to be consumers – which it’s pretty easy for the marketeers to persuade us to be, seeing as it’s part of our DNA, we will keep buying more and more and wasting more and more. That means we will keep sh•tting on our planet, in massive proportions. When the planet is so screwed, it is virtually uninhabitable, where will we put those cools gadgets, hang those designer clothes and grow the food we need to feed ourselves?
Screwing the planet, it nothing short of a death mission. It needs to stop. And the only real way to make it stop is to tackle consumerism. When it comes to the planet, less is most definitely more. It’s really quite simple – stop buying what you don’t need, re-use what we already have and focus our new technological innovations on saving the planet, not lining the pockets of shareholders.
We managed to make smoking in public places completely unacceptable – the marketeers did a brilliant job of tapping into our emotional instincts on this, to be fair, it’s also how they got us to smoke in the first place. The same needs to be done for consumerism. And part of the vision that Scott Galloway talks about, for making more jobs, should be driven by the need to save our planet and re-connect out people.
So, whether we like it or not, our current model is killing us from three angles: job destruction in the pursuit of profit, dis-connection in the pursuit of materialism and killing our planet in the pursuit of stuff.
I believe, we have a truly unique opportunity to turn the tide here. We need to work from 3 core principles, to redefine our modus operandi:
- We need to truly understand that profit is only as good as the value it can create, for the planet, society, and individuals – in that order
- We need to replace consumerism with actual need, less is more, not vice versa and always look to re-use, not to make from new
- We must replace the shareholder model, with a more equitable and long term strategy of creating and sharing profits for the benefit of many, not the lucky few.
That’s how I think we can truly start to make a dent in the universe.
And no, I haven’t even started on the impact social media is having on our lives, the manipulation of our sub-conscious and the dilution of our ability to think for ourselves. I’ll leave that for another day. But if you fancy a head start on this, just watch the Great Hack, currently available on Netflix.
Here’s to making our dent in the universe.