Monday, August 04, 2003

Letters, Letters, Letters

This e-mail came in the the other day from Richard Smith:

I am completely for capitalism and individual rights. However, my complaints are with consumerism in America. I see so many overweight, greedy Americans. So many of them risk their lives to be two yards ahead of someone else while driving in an oversized unnecessarily large S.U.V. . I can see the difference between excessive consumerism and capitalism, but is one not an inevitability of the other. I'm just completely disenchanted with American excess. Maybe I have a point maybe you will not even read this email. However If you do then I would like some sort of feed back of any kind about contemporary society, consumerism, and capitalism.
Mr. Smith says that he's for capitalism, but that he opposes consumerism. Let's define our terms. In his letter, Mr. Smith sees that capitalism is connected to individual rights. Capitalism is the principles of the Declaration of Independence applied to our social and economic relationships. That, Mr. Smith says, he supports.

At the same time, Mr. Smith says he opposes consumerism, which I’ll define as preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods. Mr. Smith sites two examples, the SUV, and the trend toward obesity, as symbols of American excess.

Let’s deal with overweight Americans first. For most of human existence, food was a hard-won commodity. Biologically, the only way humans could survive was through the ability to store energy as fat and live off those fat stores in times of deprivation. Now, as a result of political freedom and mankind’s productive genius, much of the world enjoys an abundance of food. For many of us, over-indulging in this abundance runs counter to our biological programming. I, for one, can say that it is very easy for me to put on weight. Thankfully, I finally have learned that it’s pretty easy to take it off. I lift weights to put on muscle and I have lost 40 lbs in since April. I wish I could tell you that it was hard, but it wasn’t—it just required some time, and it will require a little more time to reach my ultimate goal.

Was I living a life of avarice before I dedicated myself to getting in shape? I don’t think so. I certainly wasn’t happy being overweight, but I wasn’t making the intelligent choices given my biological programming and desires. Once I figured out what I needed to do, I just did it.

It’s solving the problem opposite of food abundance that ought to concern us. The world that starves today starves because it lives in war, tyranny, and oppression. I’d rather wrangle with my waste line under capitalism then wrangle with war and tyranny any day.

As far as the SUV goes, John Bragg deals with that topic in fine fashion here. I can add that I recently was with a friend as they bought one of BMW’s latest. Why shouldn’t they put themselves in a vehicle that is built to fit their body like a glove and transport them in comfort and safety if they can afford it? As John observes in his essay, “the SUV is an example of people using the best technology available to enhance their lives.” Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this time expressed in a car and an open road. And to that, this capitalist says, “Amen.”

Mr. Smith’s ultimate question is whether capitalism inevitability leads to avarice. The answer is of course, no. Abundance is not a threat; it is the fruit of hard work and intelligence. If Mr. Smith still questions capitalism, I would urge him to ask himself if he really understands capitalism’s moral basis.

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