One thing I have really noticed since being back is how consumption-oriented Australians are. We are trained from a very early age to buy buy buy, and simultaneously to dispose of anything that is broken, or out of fashion by more than 2 seconds. Where have all the electrical repair shops gone? They've been wiped out as people move from a "get it fixed" mentality to a "let's just buy a new one" way of thinking. And Kevin Rudd is willing to hand out $950 to each and every one of us, so we can go and do a bit of spending with govt money (wait, isn't that just our taxes?) to kick-start the economy.
I wonder if it's just me who thinks this is a crazy, unsustainable way of operating. If the economy is reliant on this constant consumption, how are we going to deal with the increasing scarcity of resources? because that, my friends, is the reality of the future. There's a limit to how much consuming we can all do, when that which we are consuming is only available in finite quantities.
But then never mind, because you can just go and buy yourself a new outfit, or a new DVD player, and get another polystyrene cup of take-away coffee, because we're all too busy spending to think about it. And the Economy is the new God, to whome we are all slaves for the Greater Good of Humanity, and someone else will take care of things.
The idea that happiness is a warm credit card and the notion of "retail therapy" are both highly profitable ideals of the post-industrial age. Because if you feel bad, BUY something. If there's an emptiness in your life, go SPEND SOME MONEY, and surely - SURELY - you will feel better! People who think of themselves as ethical beings still don't think twice about purchasing an $8 skirt from Valley Girl that was made in a sweat shop in China, or about updating their wardrobe every "season".
Being in Tonga has helped me to see this far more clearly than ever before. When there is nothing to consume but food, you develop a society somewhat different to our own. Emphasis on family helps fill the void that we Westerners try to plug with designer bags and designer kitchens. Don't get me wrong, I'm not idealising the Tongan way - in fact there is no way I could live like that forever, simply because I haven't been brought up to accept it. I have been brought up to believe that I'm an INDIVIDUAL, the most powerful unit of being in the world, and that it is my basic human right to be happy. The idea of subjugating my own desires for the benefit of the community wouldn't even occur to me - that would be a violation of my Rights as an Individual!
But somewhere, somehow, I hope to bring a less consumption-oriented way of being into my life when I return home for good. I'm lucky to have a partner who has similar ideals, so we'll see how we can work this out in the future...