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Excusing Super-Consumerism

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Message Barry Tevelow

There has been no response to this open letter to Anne Applebaum regarding her editorial of 1/15/08 in the Washington Post, entitled "Tiny Car, Tough Questions" found at:

click here

Anne, In reading your editorial, it seems likely that one of your goals is to get people to think about the dilemmas that face us as we attempt to deal with the issue of "improving the environment", while also trying to "improve the lives of the poor".

The perspective taken and the method in which a particular issue is framed often serves to greatly influence the possible outcomes. It may be unfair and I don't know your worldview, but I would categorize your perspective in this editorial as that of the mainstream media reporting from a pro consumerist perspective.

You may take offense and point to several sentences where you state that you’re not going to use this particular forum to argue for or against "American Super -consumerism", however although at points you challenge the reader to see the dilemma, you implicitly excuse and support the underlying value system that extols "super-consumerism".

Having made this statement I must now give examples to support this contention, but first I want to explain why this is troubling and why the open letter. When a rabid corporate consumerist makes statements supporting this value system it fits in with their outward persona. When however an objective moderate implicitly supports such a system, while on the surface calling for a balanced approach it is doubly damaging. It shows that the governor is off and that unless a radical shift takes place we as a society have pretty much thrown up our hands and are in effect praying to the gods of technology for our salvation. You are the canary in the mine and at this point the canary of reason and rationality is in serious distress.

Now back to your statements that have framed this question.

In the second paragraph you frame this issue as a choice between two laudable objectives, however the ownership of a car is only laudable given a society that has not considered other transportation alternatives.

You mention later in the editorial that cheap and mass-produced, is what the world currently needs. First mass-produced items using chemicals and fertilizers are not necessarily cheap after factoring in the real costs of their impact on health and the environment. Secondly and this is the standard position and damaging mindset that is constantly on display, we judge and evaluate situations from the narrowest worldview, that consisting of the Consumerist, Capitalistic values, as best exemplified by the American Culture. You have again worshipped at the altar of technology and made it a given that this is the only way we can feed the world. Although you throw in a statement about how some think that this can be accomplished through sustainable means you dismiss this with, "that's not happening in the real world".

Well it's not as long as that's the position our objective moderates are espousing.

Finally you equate richness with "modern means of communication and transport - cars, telephones, computers". To make this statement as a given once again argues that there is no need for debate or thought on this issue, when that is exactly what needs to take place in order to make change possible.

I know that you write for the mainstream media and perhaps this is as objective as you're allowed to be. You may rationalize this with it's better to write a somewhat provocative piece than nothing at all. If that's the case it is sad. It then becomes the responsibility of others to point out the narrowness of perspective with which the mainstream is allowed to present opinions.

Oh, and we'll know that people are serious, when the talk of millions of cars on the road is referring to America not India.

Your comments and if you choose a dialogue are welcomed.

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The author has  founded a non-profit organization, published a newsletter, and conducted Socrates Cafe dialogues.  He is an independent writer, activist and will respond to inquiries.

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