Our Lives as Unhappy Consumers

As we lose touch with the world around us, we become dependent on technology, on quantity over quality, and on consuming rather than experiencing. We should be working to fix that.

  • Boyle tells us that it’s time to unite for social and environmental justice under a new mantra: Resist, Revolt, Rewild.
    Photo by Fotolia/Rawpixel.com
  • “Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi” by Mark Boyle
    Photo courtesy of New Society Publishers

Our culture has fallen prey to obedience. Fallen prey to wanting things because we’re told that we should, to thinking low of ourselves because we’re not society’s ideal, to searching for quick fixes because quantity is valued more highly than quality. What happened to our world? When did we forget to resist this constant turn toward the next best thing? In his book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi (New Society Publishers), Mark Boyle suggests that we’ve become cogs in the machines of industry and economy. He sees that we’ve been conditioned so relentlessly for so long that we’ve forgotten how to interact with the world outside of technology, outside of advertisements for newer and cheaper possessions. We’ve forgotten that efficiency should not come at the cost of our happiness, our mental health, or the health of our environment. This book is here to remind you that change isn’t only possible, it’s long overdue.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

The Tyranny of the Machine

Dante, when composing his visions of hell, might well have included the mindless, repetitive boredom of working on a factory assembly line. It destroys initiative and rots brains, yet millions of British workers are committed to it for most of their lives.

— E.F. Schumacher

Myself and a few hundred like me emerge from a London subway one morning, all busily scurrying along towards some business meeting, appointment or workplace. Most people are plugged into one sort of device or other, with electronic music and not-so-social media sedating the concrete and steel dullness of our immediate surroundings. It is rush hour, and the station is heaving. As I approach the escalator, I notice that a huge crowd is gathering at the bottom, staring upwards, in the same way that a child who does not know what to do will look up at a parent. People are steadily gathering behind them, all looking equally puzzled. At first I thought someone must have had an accident, but it soon became clear that it was nothing more serious than the fact that the escalator had just broken, and had therefore turned into what was known in my youth as a set of stairs. A fully functional set of stairs at that. Yet there they were – fully mature, adult human beings – staring at it completely baffled as to what they should do. It was not until someone (presumably still grounded in their own body) at the back of the crowd shouted “just use your legs” that those at the front started to walk up the motionless escalator, after which those behind trundled along, some looking decidedly the worse for wear for having to spend roughly 40 seconds climbing up steps. Everything I had believed about our current human culture was laid bare in an instant: The Machine has taken us over, mind, body and soul.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon plays itself out in ways much less comical than this. Through the increasing influence of not only the practical functioning of The Machine, but also the application of its underlying philosophy (such as scientific precision, maximum efficiency) to people with emotions, feelings and longings for diverse creative expression, industrial civilization is not just biting the ecological hand that feeds it, it is also biting its own hand.

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