Location: Santa Ana, California, United States

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics and an admitted diet fanatic. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of two interactive workbooks, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual and Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, she also publishes a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge and various weight loss mini-courses. She can be reached at,, or

Monday, August 29, 2005

Overconsumption: America's Guiding Principle

America is a nation based on the principle of over-consumption. We entered a pristine new world bursting with natural resources, long-drained from the old countries we had left. We plundered the hidden wealth of gold, and silver, and oil. We hunted the great herds of bison close to extinction. We dammed the great rivers, bridged the bays, polluted the seacoasts, and instantly felled tress that had taken centuries to mature.

And when we had done, we looked around the world with our voracious appetite, to see what else we could get our hands on. We consume the rest of the world's natural wealth with a terrifying, rapacious attitude: oil, natural gas, timber, steel, rubber, production goods, textiles, automobiles. A major portion of the earth's resources flow into the ever-open maw of the United States.

Can we ever change direction and find a balance between development and conservation?

Diminishing our consumption is going to be painful. It means giving up our spacious SUVs for hybrids. It means adjusting our thermostats to save energy when we would rather be comfortable. It means giving up our luscious steaks and burgers for beans, and rice, and vegetables.

We don't deal well with pain (just check out the analgesic aisle at your local drugstore). We don't deal well with discomfort (that's why we love our central heating and air conditioning). We don't deal well with deprivation (that's why we carry trillions of dollars in consumer debt). We don't deal well with moderation (that's why we're obese).

Can any culture, entrenched in its traditions and beliefs, make a concerted decision to change directions?

It can. Look at the changes wrought by the Reformation, the Renaissance, the age of exploration, the industrial revolution. African culture was forever changed by colonization, India transformed under the Raj, and the great civilizations of South America absorbed and redirected by Spain and Portugal.

America has a choice: it can transform itself through its own deliberate efforts or wait for outside forces (the depletion of oil, the greenhouse effect, the rise of anarchy in starving countries, the development and transmission of ever more virulent diseases) to mandate such a change.

To manage, control, and contain such change, we need to take, individually and collectively, critical actions now.

1. Conservation.

The government is charged with managing our natural resources and enormous tracts of rich land and forests. We may pressure our representatives to protect our environment but we abdicate our personal responsibility when we rely solely on government action.

As individuals, we can take steps, usually uncomfortable and often painful, to clean up our private environment. We can trade in our gas guzzlers for small, efficient, compacts. We can recycle our containers and packages and refuse to buy anything that contains Styrofoam or other non-biodegradable materials. We can pick up the litter that clogs our highways and rivers and beaches. We can adjust the temperature in our homes and offices. We can cut our food consumption in half to allow more food for the rest of the world. We can limit ourselves to two children per couple to reduce the population explosion that threatens not only the environment but our future lifestyle. We can direct our money and our business into companies that focus on green power, efficiency, and "smaller is better" planning. We can learn to live in less space and reward contractors who build smaller, earth-friendly homes instead of wasteful mansions. WE can learn to live in harmony with our neighbors by turning off our boomboxes and incessant cellular telephones to create quiet pools of serenity.

2. Reduced Demand.

The world of commerce exists to meet the demands of consumers, that is how companies make money. To keep making more and more money, new demands must be created. That demand is cleverly generated by the advertising gurus and marketers who have created a throw-away society where everything must be constantly replaced and products just a year or two old are considered outdated and useless.

As individuals, we can fight this money-producing yet ultimately destructive current. We can keep our cars until they wear out. We can update our electronic dfevices instead of replacing them. We can go back to actually repairing things - shoes, appliances, clothes, jewelry, buildings -instead of merely throwing them away into the ever-growing refiuse dumps and oceans and replacing them. WE can develop an attitude that gives social status and personal reinforcement to those who elect NOT to keep up with the Joneses. We can impart social stigmatism to those who exhibit conspicuous consumption and disregard for the environmental rights of all. And we can set self-imposed limits on ourselves by electing not to grab everything we want and learn to focus on what we need.

3. Balance.

We are all familiar with the concept of pork barrel politics. It is an extension of our personal beliefs that we're entitled to something, even at the expense of others who want the same thing. We would all love regulations that control the actions of others that annoy us: "They should outlaw that . . . There oughta be a law . . . Why doesn't somebody stop them? . . ." However, when a law is proposed against something we enjoy, we fight tooth and nail to retain our rights and privileges.

For example, a non-golfer can make a very convincing argument that courses and country clubs are an unconscionable waste of valuable land, used only by the few who can afford to belong, which could be must more efficiently utilized for affordable housing or public parks. An avid golfer would be aghast at the thought of no more rolling greens peppered with little cups.

It's the old "not in MY backyard" way of thinking. Let's build more prisons, but not here. Let's create safe houses for the homeless and mentally ill, just not on my block. Let's build more airports to ease the congestion, but don't take off over my house. Let's build a super dump for our contaminated garbage, but not in my state.

We are willing to go along with almost anything as long as it doesn't infringe on our personal territory. We can develop a more balanced view when we realize that everything is everyone's territory. We share the same planet, the same finite resources, the same wants and needs.

When we move into such a collective mode, we can abandon our long-held territoriality and start to make collective decisions about what is most effective and logical for the most people.

The demand to share the pie equally usually comes from those who have no pie. If the person who already has the largest piece on their plate decides to put it back and share evenly with all, the meal, and the world, can be transformed.


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