Consumerism vs. Stewardship

September 26, 2011 | 79 comments
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The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer.

We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old.  We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here?

One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and its accompanying work ethic and the accumulation of capital and the subsequent rise of capitalism.

One aspect [of the concept of calling that arose during the Reformation] was unequivocally new: the fulfillment of duty in vocational callings became viewed as the highest expression that moral activity could assume. Precisely this new notion of the moral worth of devoting oneself to a calling was the unavoidable result of the idea of attaching religious significance to daily work (39-40).

The motivation to accumulate wealth was the desire to have confirmation that one was saved. Unlike Catholics, Protestants had no priest to confess to and receive absolution of sins, so the status of soul was in doubt, which was a very uncomfortable position to be in spiritually (60,66).

Restless work in a vocational calling was recommended as the best possible means to acquire the self-confidence that one belonged among the elect. Work, and work alone, banishes religious doubt and gives certainty of one’s status among the saved (66).

As American culture has become increasing secular, it has lost the religious motivation to accumulate wealth. Money is now its own end.  There is some evidence that we are also losing our work ethic, as we require immigrants to do the hard manual labor and backbreaking work we are no longer willing to do ourselves.

Weber’s insights are applicable to the LDS church because we, like those early Protestants, retain a general belief that wealth is a sign of God’s approval. The Book of Mormon makes this claim explicit, with a warning (see Jacob 2:18-19, Alma 4:6, Helaman 12:1-2, and especially 2 Nephi 28:21 for examples). Modern revelation reinforces this message:

D&C 38:39 And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.

Hugh Nibley saw that we modern saints have become far more like the Nephites in their prideful phase than is good for us, and condemned us harshly in Approaching Zion (a book I find even more discomfiting to read than The Miracle of Forgiveness).

As Americans, we accept without reflection that we need a washing machine and dryer and disposable diapers (and cutlery and plates and bibs and towels and bags and really, what product hasn’t had a disposable version made of it?). We assume that we must keep our homes and public buildings at a temperature that is comfortable for t-shirts (or suits) all year long and accept that bottled water must be a good idea. A durable good is one that is expected to last three years (2). Planned obsolescence and disposable goods are a critical component of our economy.

This is the American consumer-driven disposable culture. It is this culture that is in conflict with environmental values. The peculiar Mormon culture that has evolved through our doctrine and history should naturally align with environmental values, not consumer demands. As latter-day saints, we need to not be turned off  by terms like “environmentalist”.  But as many saints are, let’s use the word “stewards” or “stewards of creation”.

I practice my stewardship on the home front, with the work I do every day to care for my family. I live the gospel, and show respect for God’s creation and my stewardship obligations through the quiet acts of trying to live a responsible, sustainable life. I know many saints who do the same, but don’t think of it in the terms of the environmental movement.

My hope is that through my writing, I can help these saints to recognize the environmental value of the work they already do, so that we can all move past the divisive language to embrace our stewardship of the earth. Most of my posts are brief meditations on the simple work of living: baking bread, hanging laundry to dry, canning tomatoes. They are not scholarly; rather they are reflections on my life as it is lived with the hope that I can come closer to meeting God’s expectations for me.

1. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism: The Expanded 1920 Version Authorized by Max Weber for Publication in Book Form. Roxbury Publishing Company. Los Angeles, CA. 2002.

2. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durable_good)

79 Responses to Consumerism vs. Stewardship

  1. Don on September 26, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Good post. As I look back on life, I think money has been the single greatest contributor to unhappiness, sin, evil, loss of life, harm to others, you name it. We refuse to learn the lessons of the scriptures, we equate material wealth with spiritual wealth. We create imaginary escape clauses to make ourselves feel better. Satan could not have done anything worse to us than we have done — and continue to do — to ourselves.

  2. Dan on September 26, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Prosperity Gospel…truly pernicious stuff.

  3. dangermom on September 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

    “Weber’s insights are applicable to the LDS church because we, like those early Protestants, retain a general belief that wealth is a sign of God’s approval.”

    I suppose that’s true sometimes, but I hope it’s not a general belief. IME most of the really super-good humble righteous amazing people I know are also poor. (That is not to say that poverty makes one good; 3 years of severe financial struggle have not made me noticeably more righteous. But I’ve never noticed a correlation between wealth and goodness.)

  4. Julie M. Smith on September 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I’d be curious to hear your reflections on the intersection of stewardship and feminism. Baking bread and canning in an un-air-conditioned home is not exactly conducive to female liberation.

  5. Sam Brunson on September 26, 2011 at 10:20 am

    But Julie, doesn’t it depend on who’s doing the canning, why the house is un-air-conditioned, and why the canning is happening (I ask, after having canned a lot this summer with my wife in a largely-un-air-conditioned apartment)?

  6. Aaron R. on September 26, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I do not believe that the American work ethic is being lost but it has shifted slightly, although there is certainly a class divide between how these notions of subjectivity are valued in American culture. However, I would argue that they are rooted in this same ‘spirit’ which Weber discussed. Further, rather than the religious motivation for accumulating wealth dying it appears to have been reconfigured. Thus the same virtues of the Protestant ethic are still present in American culture but now there is a certain ambivalence toward wealth. It is certainly still seen to be an almost inevitable consequence of the Protestant ethic (especially, as you note, in Mormonism) but it is not to be explicitly sought after. Thus wealth is still used to judge whether the ethic is present but it cannot be the reason for possessing that ethic.

  7. chris on September 26, 2011 at 10:51 am

    If your central question is this, “It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old. We live in a disposable country…How did we get here?”

    Would you accept a dull-drum market-based answer?

    If you want to repair a TV, you have to pay a TV repair man between $50-$100/per hour to repair it. If you want to repair your shoes, you have to pay a shoe repair man $50-$100/hour to repair it. If you want to repair your coat, you have to pay a tailor $50-$100/hour to repair it. You get the point.

    Now, all of these jobs might not take an hour, and some might take 2 or more. That’s not including parts, which for electronics like a TV get expensive, especially because there is no industry to stock spare parts for LCD TVs.

    If you want to make a new TV, you pay a Chinese factory worker between $4-8 an hour to make it. And so on for every other item listed above.

    As the economy has become more specialized and globalized, we’ve gotten more efficient. It’s not a negative thing that I can replace a pair of shoes for cheaper than I can pay a shoe repair man to sit around all day waiting for the off chance that I come in and ask him to repair my shoes. With the repairman, you are not only paying for their productivity, you are paying for their productivity, for that excess capacity that they have to sit around and wait for you to need to repair something.

    I view this as a positive development, even as I can agree with you that consumerism is far too excessive.

    It’s a simple economic answer that doesn’t require sophisticated takes on philosophy, but just understanding that 2 is greater than 1. Now, I realize you can tie this back into your main point about seeking for riches. And it could easily, and is often, carried to that excess.

    But I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. We really can and should be able to “make do” with less. I see it as a positive development that I can buy my LDS garments for far less than previous generations, and free up excess funds to help others, or have extra time to help others.

    The question becomes whether we actually make use of the blessings God has made available to us (more time, more discretionary income) to bless others.

  8. chris on September 26, 2011 at 10:55 am

    With the repairman, you are not only paying for their productivity, you are paying for their productivity…

    should be

    With the repairman, you are not only paying for their productivity, you are paying for their UNproductivity…

  9. KLC on September 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I think I’m with Julie Smith, you have some interesting thoughts but you lost me when you presented washing machines and dryers as examples of profligate consumerism.

  10. Brandon on September 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Rachel-

    Thank you for the post. I need the harsh but true reminder that I “accept without reflection” a very comfortable life.

    Chris-

    From an dollars-and-cents standpoint, I agree with your answer for buying new rather than fixing old. This approach, however, fails to answer if buying new/fixing old is beneficial as a whole. Just because something helps the short-term bottom line doesn’t mean it is moral. If I understand Rachel correctly, she believes that non-economic (spirituality, health, happiness) factors must also be considered.

  11. Amira on September 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I think there’s a balance between time- and labor-saving devices and appliances that benefit women and stuff we have that is simply convenient. You will never convince me that it is in women’s interest to not have access to a washing machine if she chooses to use one, but I’m unconvinced that dryers are more than a convenience. I think every house ought to have running hot and cold water and a toilet and drains (hauling water inside and back out for a family of five is no picnic), but three bathrooms for a family of five seems excessive to me. I wish all the people in the world burning coal or other nasty things to heat their homes and cook their food could have access to clean and safe energy sources. But that doesn’t mean that I think it’s a good idea for American families who aren’t shoveling coal to keep their homes at a constant 72 degrees all year.

    I’ve also discovered that if I’ve never lived without something, I tend to waste it. I suspect that many Americans have no idea how much we really consume in comparison to many people in the world.

  12. chris on September 26, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Brandon,
    “non-economic (spirituality, health, happiness) factors must also be considered.”

    I agree to be an effective judge, you have to not be so myopic as to look at dollars and cents. Which is why the last sentence of my comment comes into play.

    You also have to factor in blessing that can come from more efficient allocation of resources, such as being about to give thousands of dollars more to needy individuals, and having an additional 8 hours per week to help others, and being able to have time to attend church every Sunday. Does this get done across the board? Nope, and to our condemnation I might add.

    I’ve heard dozens of old timers in farm country say there are more men at church these days then there used to be when they were growing up. Cows, irrigation, etc. all “needed” to be tended to. Imagine if we’d decide that we don’t actually need that plasma TV, or Xbox, etc. but wanted to consecrate that money for holier purposes.

    I do not believe we’d suddenly be holier individuals if the consumerism were done away with. In fact, I think we’d be more than ever focused on making ends meet, as when the cow that you’re planning on sustaining you through the winter gets out late Saturday night, the “temptation” is to go out and look for it on Sunday morning or fear you may starve all winter.

    Maybe some day we’ll figure out how to balance the wealth of blessings we’ve received and put them to holier purposes.

  13. Bryan in VA on September 26, 2011 at 11:58 am

    “as we require immigrants to do the hard manual labor and backbreaking work we are no longer willing to do ourselves”

    America has many problems but I don’t believe that forced labor is among them. Do you have any examples of immigrants working hard manual labor and backbreaking work against their will? I’d give up my desk job for a manual labor occupation if the wage and benefits were high enough.

  14. Jax on September 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Rachel,

    A fantastic post.

    I think the equation of wealth equally righteousness isn’t unique to LDS people, but is a symptom of LDS people unreservedly accepting US culture. In the US if someone tells you that somebody “is very successful” it’s universally accepted that that means they are wealthy. Success is equated to wealth, and if you mean something different with the phrase you have to specify “success in school”, “successful family”, etc. The default position though is that success IS wealth accumulation.

    The most common train of thought that I see on this is: righteousness bring blessings; wealth is a blessing; therefore wealth = righteousness. Lost is the idea from Jacob that the only reason to accumulate wealth is to bestow it on the less fortunate. The thinking there is: righteousness brings blessings; wealth is a blessing; therefore anyone without wealth is not righteous and is undeserving of my help.

    What I’d love to know is what it would take to turn us from seeking wealth as a blessing and instead seeking the other blessings/gifts listed in the scriptures such a knowledge, wisdom, healings, faith, testimony, love, discernment, etc. Anyone have any thoughts?

    Godspeed the day when someone says “Bro. Jones is very successful” and everyone nods their head in understanding that Bro. Jones has a great family, is well educated, and is incredibly happy.

  15. Alison Moore Smith on September 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Interesting post, Rachel. Welcome to you! :)

    …as we require immigrants to do the hard manual labor and backbreaking work we are no longer willing to do ourselves.

    I tend to reject the idea that someone is “requiring” someone else to do work. How do they enforce that Anyway, I’m always interested in the notion that there is work “we” [presumably Americans?] won’t do. What are those things?

    I have done the following for pay (not including work at home):

    • picking fruit
    • house cleaning
    • laundry
    • ironing
    • landscaping
    • weeding
    • mowing
    • aerating
    • dish room work
    • fast food
    • mall kiosk sales

    My husband has done the following:

    • yard work
    • construction
    • field and other farm labor
    • oil rigging
    • grocery bagger
    • door to door sales

    Currently two of my kids work fast food and another does odd jobs, babysitting, and sells home-baked goods, etc. They have also done painting, sod laying, etc. (Our oldest, now in graduate school, has a computer programming job.)

    I can think of lots of jobs I’d prefer not to do, given a choice. But I can’t think of any I wouldn’t do.

    My husband and I no longer do those things for pay (although we still do some for free!). Is that a sign of “losing our work ethic”? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it’s a sign that we preferred other kinds of work, so we spent lots of resources to become educated and learn skills to allow us to do other work most of the time. In other words, we didn’t used to have a choice in what work we did. So we created a choice — through years of hard work, I might add.

    The peculiar Mormon culture that has evolved through our doctrine and history should naturally align with environmental values…

    I suppose it would depend entirely on what “environmental values” you are referring to. I have a hard time telling what environmental values actually are.

    For example, you decry a washing machine, but presumably you didn’t walk to give your speech at Sunstone. Is the carbon footprint I add by cleaning my family’s clothes in 20 minutes instead of five hours unacceptable, but the carbon footprint you add to speak at a conference acceptable? And what about all the other speakers, attendees? And the electricity? And cleaning? And…

    As the environmental movement becomes more and more a religious cause, it will need to define those core principles. Right now, it seems mostly to be “everyone should give up what I’m willing to give up” or even “everyone else should be wiling to give up what I say they should give up.” As long as Al Gore has multiple enormous homes and flies around on a private jet to spread the “good word,” I’ll have a hard to taking his call to stop driving to work in my evil car very seriously. (Even though I’ve worked from home since 1987.) Ed Bagley, Jr. is at least fairly consistent. :)

  16. Brandon on September 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for expounding Chris.

  17. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Just got back from class, so I’ll start responding.
    @ Brandon #13–By require I mean that we need it to be done, we are often not willing to do it ourselves, so we require someone else to do it for us. That is not the same thing as saying we compel others to do the work.

  18. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    @Julie #4–I’ve had a lot of time to think about this as I’ve baked bread and canned without air conditioning over the years. As I am a stay at home mom, I’ve struggled with the tedium of much of the work that must be done. But the more I am able to invest skill and craft in my work, the more value it has for me, and thus, the more worthwhile I feel about doing it. Cooking real, slow food is an example of this. Anyone can throw together a prepackaged instant dinner, that does not give you the same sense of satisfaction that cooking a meal from scratch does. The shortcuts and conveniences in effect alienate you from your work, and the simple pleasure that should accompany it. At home with toddlers for years, I needed every sense of accomplishment I could get because there were no external sources of praise or accomplishment (good grades or promotion at work) that would give me that psychological boost I needed.

  19. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    @Chris #7 I agree that economically it often makes sense to just buy new. But I think this encourages a wasteful attitude generally, especially as it becomes the default position. For many things, people in my generation don’t even consider repair as an option, and thus don’t even check to see if repairing an item makes financial sense.
    I also think that quality matters. We bought an old house because it has good bones and character, even though it requires more care and repair than a comparably priced new house would have. But it is worth restoring and caring for. Our hand carved wood door gets dinged up and has to be cleaned and have the stain touched up ever season. It’s worth doing that work. Our back door, which is a cheap modern piece of junk, is not worth that much effort or expense.
    As Brandon said in #10, there are non-economic factors that must be part of our decision making that can lead to greater satisfaction with the work that we do and the things we choose to own.
    As a side issue, I also am afraid that an economy that is based on consumption is ultimately unsustainable.

  20. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    At Allison #15–I don’t think washing machines are bad, but I do think we Americans take it for granted that we should have one. And because we take it for granted, we are not sufficiently grateful for it. And without gratitude, we tend to be careless and wasteful.
    I struggled for years with the sense of failure in regard to what I see as my environmental stewardship obligations. To have a sense of what you should be, and to recognize that you fail to be that is Kierkegaard’s definition of despair. And there are enough of the positive commandments that I consistently fail at (love your neighbor, do good unceasingly, etc) that the thought of having one more area in my life where I was certain to fail was just too depressing to handle.
    But I do believe that we each have a responsibility to do the best we can with what we have. And each of us can do better. Latter-day saints believe in improvement and progression, and I find this very hopeful.
    I do not believe that my actions are the categorical imperative. It is my imperfect struggle to be better at doing what I believe. More of my thoughts about judgement environmentalists are at LDS Earth Stewardship. http://ldsearthstewardship.org/2011/08/i-cannot-condemn-you-a-lesson-from-yoga-to-stewards/

  21. Julie M. Smith on September 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Rachel, I’m a SAHM who chooses to cook from scratch and can food, so I get where you are coming from on the pleasures of those pursuits, but I am also a little uncomfortable with the idea of telling any other women that that is the choice that she should be making. I guess I don’t see much difference between the 50s-era “all women should be fulfilled as homemakers” and the modern “all women should be fulfilled as low-environmental-impact homemakers.”

  22. Sonny on September 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    “I struggled for years with the sense of failure in regard to what I see as my environmental stewardship obligations.”

    Note to self– Add environmental stewardship obligations to my list of failures as a member of the church, particularly when I now need to balance the guilt of turning on the air conditioner with the guilt of telling the crying kids they will just have to sweat it out until the weather changes.

  23. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I am uncomfortable making normative statements, which is why I haven’t said “all women should be fulfilled as low-environmental-impact homemakers.”

    I can say that I have found more fulfillment as a relatively low (to American middle class standards) environmental impact productive homemaker than I did as a more consumer driven, disposable goods type of homemaker. I do not expect my experience to be universal, but I do think it can be useful to consider others’ experiences and adopting what will be useful in your particular life and situation.

  24. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I am going to comment only on one thing Rachel said.

    Mentioning bottled water in a discussion of environmental stewardship is an example of losing proportion. First of all, bottled water is clearly no more wasteful of anything than bottled sodas, or orange juice, or milk. We could go fill up our own gallon jugs of milk or orange juice at the store, but we buy it in disposable containers for convenience. We could have milk in reusable bottles delivered to our homes (a service that still existed in Idaho Falls two years ago when I lived there), but we forego that for other reasons.
    The use of the petrochemicals that go into making plastic bottles is certainly not more harmful to the environment than other uses of the source materials.

    Plastic bottles do not fill up landfills. They are squeezed down so they take up very little space. Much more landfill space is consumed by newsprint in discarded newspapers and phone books. Besides, there is no real lack of land for landfills, certainly not in the arid West. The actual rate at which landfills are filled means the US has over a hundred thousand years of capacity. And the fact is that future generations will be able to mine landfills for resources (if the price justifies it).

    There are times when plastic bottles of water are a lifesaver, such as when a disaster like the Japan tsunami hits an area and destroys its local drinking water resources. Bottles can be transported en masse as well as by individuals, and stored at room temperature.

    I have a strong suspicion that the public mythology about bottled water is a tremendous joke being perpetrated by someone. A decade ago, a junior high school student in Idaho Falls named Zohner (son of an Idaho National Laboratory engineer) did a science project in which he surveyed people about the need to ban “dihydrogen monoxide”, in which he accurately quoted statistics about the number of people killed and injured by that substance. The great majority of people favored the ban. “Dihydrogen monoxide” is H2O–water.

    In my personal view, the concern about the impact of another chemical that is fundamental for life on earth–carbon dioxide–is way overblown. Among other things, the greenhouse warming effect of H2O is greater than that of CO2, but the models that are used to project future warming of the earth do not deal with H2O because the countervailing effect of cloud formation is beyond the ability of the scientists to calculate. The Correlation between the steadily increasing levels of CO2 during the last 150 years, and the lack of warming in the last 15 years, along with the 40 years of COOLING that took place from 1935 to 1975, is NOT the slam dunk that the popular new media like to make out it is. The fact is, climate scientists have NOT been able to make accurate forecasts of global climate and temperature during the last 15 years, so why should we think they have a lock on predicting where it is going over the next century? None of the alleged disasters due to global warming has actually happened yet. At the most, it is a slow motion issue, and there are many things, even on a global scale, that are more urgent. The most significant thing any of us can do about future warming is to raise intelligent healthy children who can solve the problem–if the next ice age has not started–with the science that will be available to them in 50 years.

    Frankly, people have enough to worry about in keeping their own families fed, clothed and housed, and shouldn’t make the alleged “global” impacts of their purchases a large factor.

  25. Tim on September 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    It’s interesting how anti-environmentalists try to turn everything into an argument about Al Gore and global warming–even a post like this, that doesn’t even mention global warming in the first place.

    As far as water bottles go, I think they’re important to focus on for two main reasons–first, they’re a recent addition to our wasteful habits. They’ve become much more popular in the past 10 years or so. And second, it’s usually very easy to get water from the tap instead. If we could get good milk, soda, orange juice, etc. from taps found in everyone’s homes, we’d have good reason to complain about one-time use bottles for those drinks too. Since it’s just as easy to fill up a reusable, good quality water bottle with clean water as it is to buy and use bottled water, there’s not much point in bottled water. Tap water does the job just fine–and without the waste.

  26. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    While I do recognize the usefulness of bottled water in certain circumstances, I do not think it is a responsible choice at all times, especially if chosen simply for the sake of convenience, not a matter of necessity. I agree that there are many other plastic bottled products that are just as wasteful as plastic water bottles. I concede that there is a time and place for disposable, convenience products, and for that, I am thankful for them. But I think Americans in general rely on them far more than is necessary or beneficial, for ourselves and the environment.

    The water survey is funny. In a similar vein, my local seed store has a faux warning label sign about the dangers of carrots. From your story, I take two points: 1) there is risk in everything, and a lot of it we’re just going to have to live with, and 2) most lay people are confused by scientific jargon and cannot use it to make rational judgements. (That doesn’t mean that scientists don’t know what they are talking about.)

    I find the evidence for human caused global climate change compelling, but I don’t think it would be profitable to pursue that as a topic of discussion.

    As for plastic bottles filling up landfills, I have actually seen landfill pits filled with nothing but sorted plastic bottles that consumers intended for recycling. It was disheartening to think that so many people had sorted their recyclables and they still ended up in a landfill, and it was personally discouraging. That is one of the main reasons I have little faith in government policies to effect positive change, especially with respect to the long term issues, like the environment. It is also why I believe in personal responsibility and the preferability to reuse or use less when possible, rather than rely on recycling.

    I do believe that we should make the “global” impacts of our purchases a factor because I believe that we have the divinely appointed of stewards of creation, which means that we will be held accountable for the ways in which we fail to protect, misuse, or exploit the natural resources of God’s own created earth. We must strive to be good stewards, and I can’t see how being wasteful is consistent with that.

  27. Bryan in VA on September 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    FWIW, 1973 Nobel Prize winner for physics, Professor Ivar Giaever just resigned from the American Physical Society (APS), where his peers had elected him a fellow to honor his work. He resigned over the APS stance on Global Warming. Among other things, Professor Giaever stated:

    “Incontrovertible is not a scientific word. Nothing is incontrovertible in science.”

    and

    “I am Norwegian, should I really worry about a little bit of warming?” he said. “I am unfortunately becoming an old man. We have heard many similar warnings about the acid rain 30 years ago and the ozone hole 10 years ago or deforestation but the humanity is still around.”

    and

    “Global warming has become a new religion.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/8786565/War-of-words-over-global-warming-as-Nobel-laureate-resigns-in-protest.html

  28. Peter LLC on September 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Plastic bottles do not fill up landfills. They are squeezed down so they take up very little space. Much more landfill space is consumed by newsprint in discarded newspapers and phone books. Besides, there is no real lack of land for landfills, certainly not in the arid West. The actual rate at which landfills are filled means the US has over a hundred thousand years of capacity. And the fact is that future generations will be able to mine landfills for resources (if the price justifies it).

    So we’re kind of like dinosaurs whose waste will one day end up being a profitable growth engine. I hope my descendants appreciate what we’re doing for them. Plus, anyone who’s sped across the Nevada desert on I-80 knows that landfills as far as the eye can see can only improve upon the existing landscape.

  29. Bob on September 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I see technology as a race against world population. Stop modern advances, and billions will die.
    It seens only simple cultures have been able to destroy themselves.
    What some of you describe as the good life__I would call The Great Depression.
    ‘Canning’ is good only when you have something to ‘can’.
    This is me saying __I like the modern world. :)

  30. jsg on September 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    This thread suffers from a bit of multiple personality disorder. My favorite part of Rachel’s post is the thesis that the motivation behind work in America has evolved, and not in a healthy direction. My occupation is what might be considered high-skilled labor (molecular biology), and I find a great deal of satisfaction in it. But nothing substitutes for owning a plot of soil and working it (even if with a mere hand trowel). Work is more than an income, and even more than a product–it’s just good for the soul. Some combination of intellectual labor and physical labor makes work good for the whole soul. I don’t feel “a religious motivation to accumulate wealth,” but I do feel a religious motivation to work.

    Just as there are varying forces that motivate work, there are different reasons to consume less. For me it is a combination of providence and charity. My great desire to get out of debt and help my neighbor and church means that I’ll be eating out less and my home computer is going to have to last a couple more years than it maybe should. Environmentalism is a minor factor influencing how much I consume. Considering this, I think that decreasing wasteful consumerism can be accomplished by encouraging any of the various motivations that happen to resonate with your particular audience. One does not need to be converted to environmentalism to become a part of the solution–because the problem (in my opinion) is not environmental. It is human. What is at stake is not ultimately the earth, but good, moral, healthy society.

    Rachel, this could have been a nice three-installment post: “Stewardship over Work, Wealth, and World.” This way, we could have taken it one topic at a time.

  31. Jax on September 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    As I read the argument where buying new is more economical because of the cost to hire someone to repair it I wonder it isn’t assumed that we fix things ourselves. That would require an increase in knowledge by our people (a good thing!), would develop skills with all sorts of tools and mechanics, and would cost less as well. The argument shouldn’t be between replacing and paying for repair, it should be between replacing and fixing it yourself.

  32. Alison Moore Smith on September 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Rachel #18:

    Anyone can throw together a prepackaged instant dinner, that does not give you the same sense of satisfaction that cooking a meal from scratch does. The shortcuts and conveniences in effect alienate you from your work, and the simple pleasure that should accompany it.

    I have done scratch cooking. I can honestly tell you I have never gained a sense of satisfaction from scratch cooking, canning, or anything like that. I don’t think there is a “should” with regard to pleasure in homemaking. To me, all of the above are means to ends, not ends in themselves. Cooking is about eating for me. Period. End of story. Food prep is just a necessary evil. We have four requirements: speedy, spartan, salubrious, storage. Accomplishing those four are what makes me feel pleasure. And then getting on to better things.

    Now, working up a good piece of code for a client’s site — that’s serious pleasure. Or singing for some group and making them happy. Yes. Or doing a service project — especially with my kids, where they can SEE the benefit of their work. Good stuff. Or playing board games. Or talking to people. Or public speaking. Or…

    At home with toddlers for years, I needed every sense of accomplishment I could get because there were no external sources of praise or accomplishment (good grades or promotion at work) that would give me that psychological boost I needed.

    Rachel, I think it’s great that you found this outlet. I think it’s great that you found things you love. I have six kids (“baby” is 7) and totally understand the need for a sense of accomplishment. My mom gained much satisfaction in the things you mention. She was bright and educated and also the best cook in town (pies to DIE for). She would have died before she used something as appalling as potato flakes! She was a fabulous seamstress and accomplished pianist and canned everything in sight. And our house was always spotless.

    It’s what sounds like conflating environmentalism (of one sort or another) with righteousness that bothers me. Just as I spent my early adulthood realizing that I don’t have to be a great cook or seamstress (or enjoy crafts or scrapbooking or some other horrendous past time) to be a “good Mormon,” I also don’t think we have to cook from scratch to be good stewards.

    I agree that it’s good to hear how others approach these things. It’s a complex issue with many possibilities.

  33. Alison Moore Smith on September 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Rachel #20:

    I don’t think washing machines are bad, but I do think we Americans take it for granted that we should have one.

    Sure we do, and we also take for granted that we have teeth that aren’t rotting out of our heads. People get accustomed to the status quo, whatever it is. But I’m not sure how wanting to own X to do Y is the cause of “the American consumer-driven disposable culture.” At least not any more than is wanting canning jars in which to do canning.

    I actually reflected a lot on which washer/dryer to buy when I bought them in 2003. And as recently as Friday night at our RS retreat, I actually told someone how grateful I was for them. :)

    To have a sense of what you should be, and to recognize that you fail to be that is Kierkegaard’s definition of despair.

    But what is it that you “should be”? The despair in the environmental movement seems to come from a lack of actual principle or foundation. Probably because it’s really hard to make explicit statements about what is good and what is bad in this regard.

    But I do believe that we each have a responsibility to do the best we can with what we have. And each of us can do better.

    I agree completely. I just think it’s difficult to state, for example, that bottled water (which we don’t use, btw) or some other convenience it not good stewardship. I think it all comes down to opportunity cost. What is the alternative? For some people it might be. For some it might not.

    If I were to ask you why you drove (presumably) to Ogden for the conference, what would you say was the reasoning? (I’m not picking on that, I drive a car, too. It’s just what appears to be an inconsistency.) How do you “justify” such a use of fossil fuels and creation of pollution?

    The point being, that you probably DID have a “good reason.” I hesitate to tell others their reasons aren’t good enough in most cases. :)

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post and for putting up with my way-too-lengthy comments! :)

  34. Jax on September 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I don’t feel “a religious motivation to accumulate wealth,” but I do feel a religious motivation to work.

    If only we all felt that way for that is a good and right feeling.

  35. jsg on September 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Jax–But I do desire money more than is perhaps good for me.

  36. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks, Allison. We have one car that we drive as little as possible. We did drive to Ogden for the symposium; it was our summer vacation this year. For day to day activities, we walk (to school, work, grocery store, restaurants, library, church) or ride the bike. Having a walkable community was the key factor for which house we chose to buy (and I realize that not everyone has this luxury of choice).

    It is hard for me to talk about environmental values because I feel I fail to live up to my personal ideal far too often. But I’ve decided to approach it as I do Christianity: I am not perfectly Christ-like, yet I consider myself to be Christian. To call myself Christian is aspirational as at least as much as it is actual. Likewise, to call myself environmental means that I believe in principles of sustainability and the intrinsic value of creation, even though not all of my actions are consistent with such a belief. So I am an aspirational steward.

  37. Rachel on September 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    jsg-thank you.
    “One does not need to be converted to environmentalism to become a part of the solution–because the problem (in my opinion) is not environmental. It is human. What is at stake is not ultimately the earth, but good, moral, healthy society.” –I love this.

    The word “environmental” is fraught with all kinds of negative connotations in LDS circles, largely due to politics. But if we can get beyond that divisive language to our positive cultural values of thrift, self-sufficiency, and provident living, we will in effect be better stewards of the earth and its resources as well as more productive members of our community. We build a healthy society, in a healthy world, by being hardworking and responsible within our individual spheres of influence.

    An excellent talk on this issue is by President Kimball called “Family Preparedness.” It was great to read this as an adult and realize that my entire childhood and worldview had been shaped by the ethics he outlined in 1976. http://lds.org/ensign/1976/05/family-preparedness?lang=eng

  38. Jax on September 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    jsg,

    So do I. Reach for the ideal, fail with reluctance, and trust God to compensate.

  39. Matt Evans on September 26, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    It’s essential that in considering our stewardship that we also recognize human labor as a limited natural resource. Every hour spent washing clothes or repairing a broken appliance is an hour less spent teaching a child, comforting a friend or enjoying the woods. Advances like washing machines and mass-produced goods allow us to put our time to other pursuits, which many don’t capitalize on, but which give us the opportunity to read, write, travel, eat, live and love like no generation before. The modern world has allowed my kids to camp in several countries — and I don’t regret that those experiences came at the price of giving up the agrarian society where we raised our own food and darned our own socks.

    It’s also essential to recognize that the modern economy has made people all around the world wealthier and healthier than any of their ancestors, too, because the global economy spreads the wealth by spreading the work. Economic isolationism hurts the poorest the worst; Chinese workers and their children have gained the most from the shift of textile work, and would be hurt the most if textile work were to leave. Chinese parents are thrilled to now be able to provide their children 200 more calories per day than they could 20 years ago, and that change is due solely to our sending more work to China.

    P.S. I greatly enjoy the $6-actual-cost-per-pound tomatoes we harvest from our square-foot garden, even though they’re not as good as the ones I get from the farmer’s stand down the street, but I recognize that having a hobby garden is a luxury that I’m fortunate to be able to afford.

  40. Kent Larsen on September 27, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Chris (7) gave an incomplete explanation of the economics in 7, IMO. Unfortunately, most manufacturing in the world today relies on materials or processes that the manufacturer doesn’t pay the full cost of replacing (although that full cost isn’t always easy to determine). For example, mines pay the cost of taking metals and other substances from the earth, but nothing for what it would cost to create them again (as if you could). Nor does the cost even reflect the difficulties we might face when we run out of these substances.

    I don’t know what adding these costs into a manufacturing process would be, but I do believe that many manufactured goods would end up significantly more expensive — making repair more attractive.

    Another issue that complicates the economic analysis is whether or not most goods are manufactured to be repaired in the first place. Most electronics are manufactured so that it is difficult to even open them up, let alone with any kind of diagnostics that might help find the problem. The fact is that such “features” are simply not valued by the marketplace, which gets back to Rachel’s point, I believe: We have shifted to a culture that doesn’t want to be bothered with repair. We’d rather just throw it away and get another. I wonder what would happen if consumers demanded goods that can be easily repaired. I’m sure manufacturers would find a way to give consumers what they want.

  41. Alison Moore Smith on September 27, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Great points, Matt. Well said.

    Rachel #36:

    It is hard for me to talk about environmental values because I feel I fail to live up to my personal ideal far too often. But I’ve decided to approach it as I do Christianity: I am not perfectly Christ-like, yet I consider myself to be Christian.

    I love that last statement. Good analogy.

    My point — which isn’t specifically toward you, but toward “the movement” itself — fits in with that. We are all imperfect Christians, but we still talk about Christian values extensively. We can’t even define ourselves as “imperfect Christians” unless we know something about what a “perfect Christian” looks like.

    Environmentalism feels like a moving target to me. Not from you, at all. You not only respond with poise, but sincerity. And it’s so nice to be able to discuss this rationally. But generally — as a cause — it seems mostly like a way to direct the behavior of others and to garner power positions — or a way to assuage guilt by getting collective movement to make up for personal behavior.

    If we don’t know what a “good environmentalist” looks like, I don’t know what to do with the idea that we “should be environmentalists.” Thus, my questions about “environmentalist values.”

  42. Russell Arben Fox on September 27, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Rachel, this is a beautiful post, and it has sparked a fine and thoughtful comment thread. So thanks very much.

    In regards to the whole tangle of issues bound up in “stewardship,” “simple living,” “sustainability,” and all the rest, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about an argument for the moral and intellectual superiority of doing comparatively “simple” (that is, non-automated, non-corporate, material) work with one’s own hands. It’s an argument that I think can be strongly supported within the Mormon tradition. Check out one stab I made at it here.

  43. Bob on September 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Alison Moore Smith,
    My son-in-law is one of the most wasteful Consumer of things I know. Yet, he is one of the top men working for the City of LA in Waste Management. He just spend two days in front of the City Council getting two hundred million dollars for pumps that turn Waste Water into Useable Water. Is he an environmentalist? He would never call himself one.

  44. Sonny on September 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Another factor in the whole buy vs repair dichotomy, depending on what the item is of course, is the ever more rapid pace of technological change. I probably could have fixed my first computer (Atari 800) the first time, but it wasn’t long before I no longer would be able to find parts to it, and besides the introduction of DOS-based PC’s was a huge leap ahead in functionality. Then it was not much longer before Windows came around. The 5 1/4″ floppies were replaced by the better 3 1/2″. Zip drives were better still for storage capacity, then CD ROMs, flash drives, DVDs, etc, all providing for abilities that were unimaginable by most even 10 years prior. Mapping the human genome would have been impossible without the leap in technological achievements that I suspect were in large part consumer driven. So let’s not forget that as with so many things in life there is always good as well as bad with about anything.

    But having said that, I do understand the bad with consumerism run amuck, and frankly I don’t know what the proper balance is. However, I can say that I *will* keep up with the latest technology because my job depends on it, and when it gets too hot, I will turn on the air conditioner.

  45. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Allison-
    It sounds like we need to define what LDS environmental values would look like. George Handley has done an excellent job at this in his BYU Studies article “The Environmental Ethics of Mormon Belief.” (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/BYUStudies/article/viewArticle/6758) He makes the doctrinal case that Mormon theology has a strong, albeit currently unemphasized, component of regard for and responsibility to the earth on which we live.

    When we lived on Long Island, I was one of the few SAHMs. Because we had one car that my husband needed for his work, I walked everywhere. I took care of my kids, cooked, baked, wove, sewed, and did most of our non-food shopping at the local thrift stores. Because of this lifestyle, my very liberal neighbors regarded me as a crunchy, liberal earth-mama type. The exact same behaviors were seen by the members of our ward as being an example of a super conservative Molly Mormon.

    Because of this, I think that if Mormons ever talked explicitly about the environmental side benefits to living the Mormon lifestyle according to the counsel of our prophets, we would recognize ourselves to be a green people. We are told to grow a garden for the value of that work, self-sufficiency, and produce it creates. Accompanying side benefits we sometimes hear are the appreciation for the aesthetic value, gratitude, and wonder at God’s creation. Side benefits we don’t hear about over the pulpit are about eating local and avoiding pesticides, transportation costs, and quality of the food. Other examples of provident living practices that have the potential for strong environmental side benefits include following the Word of Wisdom (eating herbs and fruit in the season thereof, eating meat sparingly), being thrifty, which according to Kimball in the talk I referenced earlier, includes learning the skills to repair and then maintain our possessions.

  46. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Russell-
    That was an excellent book review. I’ll try to get a copy from my library tonight.
    As of now, I can’t make a case for intellectual superiority for the hands on work I do. I have been able to find creative outlets in some of my work–drafting weaving patterns, figuring out how to make needed and useful things out of things on hand, but most of the day to day work presents little opportunity for rigorous intellectual exercise. I tried–I had the most precisely stacked dish drying rack ever. It was a little engineering puzzle. But with only so many possible combinations of dishes, that quickly became just a matter of efficiency, not pleasure. The case I could make is that my work allows me time to think and reflect. I have time to settle into my own thoughts in a way that would be much more difficult with other occupations.
    As for moral superiority, I’ll have to think about that too. Is it a matter of right conduct to work with your hands, to build, nurture, maintain, and repair? This work can be part of a moral life, but is it requisite to live morally? Or does it promote the morality of the worker? I’ll keep thinking on this.

  47. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I do think it’s interesting that while washing machines have come up in this thread, clothes dryers have not. Is that because the two are inseparably connected in our collective consciousness or because you recognize that for most people who own them, they are not strictly necessary?

  48. Bob on September 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Rachel,
    My first year of my Montana mission, we had 22 straight days of -10 temperatures__but no clothes dryers. Ya, dryers are nice to have.
    As a boy,I helped my mom do the washing. I was the ‘wringer’ boy. It was great to hang wrinkled wet clothes. they would dry hard as a rock. Then we would bring them in. It was great fun to iron when all your clothes were 100% cotton, wrinkled, and rock hard. My job was to wet them down, roll them up, and put them in a bag over night. (No steam irons at that time).

  49. Bob on September 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Rachal, When I was in Boot-Camp, we ironed with a hot lightbulb. Also great fun.

  50. Ben H on September 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    I am convinced that the American work ethic is being lost. My students make me worry a lot on this. I agree that increasing secularization has had a big impact.

    I would also bring up the way in which our public discourse has become dominated by economic theories of prosperity as defined by the flow of money. Witness cash for clunkers: we destroy vehicles that still run fine, and say we are wealthier because we spent a bunch of money to buy new ones? That is nonsense. The GDP only measures the movement of goods, and so anything that lasts is invisible. This deeply misleading religion of wealth as an abstraction has done serious damage.

  51. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Bob-I fully recognize that dryers can be wonderful appliances, especially in the circumstances you described, as well as other very humid, wet, and/or extremely cold places. Where I live now in the arid American west, a clothes dryer is not at all necessary. But if I still had one, I’d probably use it out of sheer laziness on my part. It’s much easier to go with the flow of the dominant culture, even though in this case, hanging clothes to dry takes no more time and effort on my part than drying and folding them would, and I save a small (tiny) amount of money by not running an electric dryer.

  52. Bob on September 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Ben H:
    We turn our clunkers in for newer cars in CA because the old ones can’t meet the Smog rules or fixed to do so.
    The nation is better off when we are building new cars than not.
    I grew up in the 50s. A generation of want (The Depression, the War was ending). People HAD to work then, now the worked for things, houses, cars. The nation grew. The people loved their things.

  53. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Ben-” The GDP only measures the movement of goods, and so anything that lasts is invisible. ” Amen to that.

    The GDP also ignores the contributions of people who do unpaid labor in our society. That includes stay at home parents, adult children caring for aging parents, and other caregivers. It drives me crazy that because my work is not quantifiable in terms of a paycheck, it is not valued in our economy. And it frustrates me that we tend to think of value solely in economic terms. Kent pointed out some of the faults of this system in #40.

    I would love to see more people adopt a different theory of prosperity. Instead of prosperity being the ability to spend money, why can’t it be acknowledging that we have enough to meet our modest needs, being grateful for that abundance, and sharing with our neighbors? I know that there are a great many people in this world who, because of circumstances beyond their control, struggle to meet needs more modest than any middle class American can imagine. Of course, if we suddenly recognized that we actually need far less than commercial demands dictate that we want, and stopped purchasing unnecessary consumables, then our entire economy would collapse. And I don’t have a good solution for that.

  54. Bob on September 27, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Rachel, You can’t just ‘fold’ 100% cotton line dried clothes, you have to iron them! (at least in the 50s). My jeans would come off the line and stand by themselves!

  55. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I line dry all of our clothes, and I almost never iron. Occasionally a shirt will get ironed, but I use the iron more when I sew than at any other time. Part of that is because fabric blends are different now than they were in the 1950s, and part is because dress standards are generally more relaxed. Sometimes I use fabric softener for jeans and towels, but mostly I just shake them out and the stiffness relaxes. And when I pull dry clothing off the drying racks or clotheslines, they are easy to sort and halfway to being folded already.

  56. brian larsen on September 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    To continue the “washing” tangent: I just spent the last three months hand-washing and line-drying clothes in West Africa for my family of five, with no refrigerator, no hot water, no microwave – basically almost no convenience. But compared to those around us, we had it made – a house with electricity (most of the time) and running water (most of the time). To wash clothes by hand took time, for sure. But it can done, and is in most of the world, as part of the day’s work. Heck, I did it on my mission for two years.

    One under-addressed aspect of the rise of modern convenience is the decline of the community as a support system to basic survival. Dare I say most of the world still understands what it is like to live without such convenience and they still are happy and understand (perhaps better than most of us) what really matters in life.

    I currently live in a student-housing complex with foreign (mostly Asian) students being far and away the majority – and many of them line-dry their clothes during the spring, summer, and fall (Iowa) even though some of them own dryers.

    On the topic of work: I know someone very well who works for Google who struggles with his job because he doesn’t feel as though he is producing anything of value – but the benefits he receives give him time with his family, etc. Anyway, I believe in work, but productive, fulfilling work with less (though sufficient) money should beat the opposite any of the week. Too often, fulfilling/productive work with sufficient income is not the goal for most people, even in the church. Just last week someone in my ward told me how they wondered would it be like to pursue their dreams, but their dad had repeated that damning phrase “but you can serve better in the church if you make more money.” I hear stories like that on a near-weekly basis. To each their own.

    I just left a place where people asked us for our peanuts bottles (which were recycled gin bottles) when we left. Americans largely no little of want.

    I think Rachel wise in avoiding the ‘global warming’ debate. Regardless of that debate, Mormon doctrine definitely supports the idea of being responsible stewards.

  57. Jax on September 27, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I don’t want to see a loss of the ‘work ethic’, just a loss of the ‘work for money’ ethic. We all have to work, but it seems that the least helpful work I’ve ever done, or seen done, was the work that someone was being paid to do. Work I do on my own if FAR more useful both to me and to society than anything I’ve ever been paid to do.

  58. Bryan in VA on September 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Rachel,
    One area that might unite us Free Marketeers and the Environmentalists is the Chinese currency manipulation issue. China keeps its currency artificially low against the US dollar in order to keep its imports cheap in the US. A free floating currency would make cheap disposible Chinese goods a little more expensive (and, as an aside, would also benefit Chinese consumers a bit by making US goods cheaper in China.) The US Senate is currently taking up this issue (in part, to avoid addressing the Obama jobs bill.)

  59. Amira on September 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Brian #56 (hi from Kyrgyzstan and I hope you’re all doing well in Iowa),

    I also just spent some time living as a family without most conveniences Americans are used to and I agree it can be done, but I would *never* say it’s a good solution for women, and it’s usually women who are doing most of the work. So much of women’s time is wasted in many parts of the world.

    I have no doubt that you helped with the laundry, but most women who are washing the clothes by hand don’t have that luxury. Not having hot water in West Africa in the summer isn’t a big deal, but not having it in Russia in the winter is no picnic, especially if you don’t even have cold water running in the house.

    I can never argue for returning to that basic a lifesytle after living a piece of it because it meant that at least eight hours of my day was spent doing things that in the US would have taken me 2 at the most. And I certainly didn’t iron line-dried clothes, my children have three outfits each and wear everything at least twice, and I’m quite accoustomed now to pouring cold water over my head to take a shower.

    There has to be a better balance than that. And it doesn’t involve every family needing two or more cars, huge houses, hot water on demand, and multiple washing machines or dryers.

  60. brian larsen on September 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Amira,

    You follow times and seasons, how nice! To be clear, I WAS the one doing the laundry and cooking and watching the children :-) I’m not arguing that washing clothes by hand is ideal – but I also wouldn’t say it was a waste of time, it had to be done; I felt good doing it. It’s nice to have a washing machine, but not required to live a fulfilled life. Of the things that Marx got right: values get all screwed up as people are removed from the immediate work required to produce something. I don’t envy your cold times in Kyrgyzstan. Laundry was, without a doubt, much easier in my circumstances. Sadly, women largely are the ones doing that work, and I don’t propose it as a solution to anything (except for my bad back – weak muscles). I wish such convenience for everyone. I agree whole-heartedly with your last paragraph. Balance between convenience and stewardship should be the goal. Someday we’ll get there.

  61. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    I agree with Brian and Amira that we need balance. But before we can find that balance, we have to see where we are out of balance. We cannot become luddites: it’s just not feasible. But we need to take responsibility for our technology, to evaluate the costs that are generally externalized. We must use our technology consciously, or we will be slaves to it. (I must give credit to these particular thoughts to my husband and Albert Borgmann.)

  62. Rachel on September 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Bryan in VA-I think that kind of policy change could help. It would be very unpopular to tell American consumers that the price of their commodities is going to increase, and while some essentials will go up in price, most the “cheap disposable Chinese goods” are definitely not essential to life and well being.

  63. Stephen Hardy on September 28, 2011 at 3:27 am

    This has been an interesting string of posts, but for me somewhat frustrating to read. This is because of what I would call the “evangelical” or “proselytizing” nature of the post.

    Stephen Carter, a professor of law at Yale University, wrote a book called “Integrity” which is a great read for anyone who wants to consider the importance of integrity. In it he says that to have integrity you need to complete three steps:

    1. Decide what is right or correct.
    2. Do the right or correct thing, and then
    3. Publicly state why it is you do what you do.

    He believes that the third step is the hardest to do right and to do well.

    This post adds a fourth step to this process:

    4. Insist that everyone do what you do.

    This is the step that makes me chafe. You may enjoy doing the laundry on a rock in a stream in February in New Hampshire. Don’t ask me to. You may enjoy caning tomatoes in an un-airconditioned home in August, but don’t ask me to. In exchange, I won’t insist that you become subject to decisions that I make.

    It is OK to explain why you do what you do. I invite it and I enjoy it. I like seeing what makes you tick. In fact, you may convince me to reconsider the decisions that I have made.

    Purchasing bottled water, TV repairing, shoe repair, paper or plastic (or bring your own sack) all represent decisions that we make that have both local (they can impact someone’s career)and global ramifications. However, reasonable arguments can be made in reference to either decision in many cases.

    So, let me know the principles upon which you make your decisions. Let me know why you do what you do. I enjoy it. But don’t ask me to home school (I would be bad at it, believe me, and I think that for many many many it would be a terrible decision.) Don’t ask me to cook from scratch (although I do it often, and enjoy it.) Don’t ask me to get rid of my TV (In fact, I have not owned one for about 15 years.)

    Get it? At least for me, its helpful to know why you do what you do. Leave the proselytizing out. Smart, principled, honorable, people of great character may disagree with you and do something else. They aren’t inferior, only different.

  64. Stephen Hardy on September 28, 2011 at 3:30 am

    By the way, I am not blind to the irony of me insisting that you not insist that others things.(!)

  65. Chadwick on September 28, 2011 at 5:34 am

    I am currently on a work assignment in Bangalore, India. We have a washer, which is nice, and also have electricity most of the time, which is also nice. No dishwasher. No dryer. Hard water. The solution here? Get a maid!

    We tried to NOT get a maid and gave up after one month. We now have a maid. She’s a member of the LDS church and she does our cooking, laundry, dishes, and also plays with the kids. At first we felt horrible about it. But we got over it.

    The fact remained that we felt we had better things to do with our limited time together and with our two kids than wash dishes by hand. And we also employ someone, which is great for us because the market demands less than $2/hour for her service, but we’ve given a sister in the gospel meaningful employment. And we do not feel like we are missing out on some important life function by forgoing washing our dishes.

    Maybe people will probably think us lazy. And they are probably right. But oh well. I only have so many waking hours a day and washing dishes and rescuing the hanging laundry from the monsoon are not high on my priority list for how I want to spend my life.

    It’s also interesting to note, here we are quabbling over what constitutes stewardship over the earth. Here people wash clothes by hand, make food from scratch, live without electricity, etc. Good stewards of the Earth? Hardly, at least in India. Here people go to the bathroom anywhere/anytime they feel the need, throw trash in the road rather than look for a waste bin, and do not seem at all concerned with the consequences of these actions.

    Being a steward means also taking care of our waste, but I guess since in the US we are past that point, we nitpick over how long our commute is or how long we water our lawn. There could be worse things to be worrying about in our care of the planet. As a whole, I think Mormons and Americans do care about the planet, even if they won’t admit it due to the political ramifications of doing so.

  66. Naismith on September 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Chadwick, your reasoning makes perfect sense, no reason to apologize or defend.

    My husband served a mission where he had a houseboy, cook, and housekeeper. They did all the shopping, which can be time-consuming in a place with no supermarkets. Leaving the missionaries more time for the work.

    Our family hires a cleaning service for many of the same reasons you state. We pay a much higher wage in the states, but it is still worth it to us to have more time to spend with family and church service. And it does provide an honest job for someone.

    Yes, I’ve been criticized here. But I doubt those people spin the cotton to weave the cloth to make their own clothes, so I don’t worry about it. We all have to make choices that work for us.

    One of our daughters moved into her first apartment, and it is interesting because two of the girls were raised in family’s that recycle, two were not. One was emptying the dishwasher and said, “Why would anyone run an empty can through the dishwasher?” Well, to recycle it without attracting bugs, of course.

    Our town does do a pretty good job of finding market for our recyclables, but even if they didn’t, it saves us a lot on garbage costs. We get charged by the size of trash container, but can put out as much recycling as we want, including office paper, shampoo bottles, flattened cereal boxes, etc. And we compost for the garden.

  67. Rachel on September 28, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Stephen, I think you make a wonder point. I haven’t read “Integrity,” but I agree with the steps you have outlined. I struggle every day to life with integrity; none of the three steps are easy. I spent years avoiding that third step; it’s only lately that I’ve begun to publicly state what I attempt to do. This post is one such attempt.

    I do advocate that we all question the assumptions of our consumer driven culture. Perhaps this is why you think I “insist everyone do what [I] do?” Because I think we should all examine our habits and lifestyles from time to time to see if they are in harmony with the gospel. So I concede that in that aspect, I am proselytizing.

    But as far as specific actions are concerned, I’ve tried (apparently failed) to make it clear that my actions should not be considered normative or prescriptive for everyone because 1) as an imperfect person, my actions are full of compromised principles and shortcomings, and 2) I recognize that the best action varies by particular circumstance.

  68. Peter LLC on September 28, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Get it?

    Yeah, I got it. You’re not inferior, just suffering from an inferiority complex.

  69. Rachel on September 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Chadwick and Naismith, I think it’s great that you are able to employ others. I see nothing that is inherently wasteful in that.

  70. Rachel on September 28, 2011 at 7:40 am

    #68-Sorry Peter LLC, you lost me.

  71. Rachel on September 28, 2011 at 8:38 am

    @ Stephen Hardy
    I’ve been thinking about your comment more. I think that just stating what I do (step #3), carries with it the implicit assumption that others should emulate me. So even if I explicitly state that my actions are not to be considered universal, the fact that I’m speaking about them at all will lead others to assume that is what I intend. Do you see any way around this?

  72. Bryan in VA on September 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

    One area which seems like conservatives and environmentalists would agree is the need for small government. The US is currently in a recession which at its root was brought on by the federal government artificially proping up the US housing market for decades (creation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, steering mortgage money to “underserved” markets, politicians supporting Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac donating to supportive politicians, and a whole lot more that there isn’t room for here), which in turn allowed unscrupulous businesses offering toxic mortgages with implicit government backing, and unwise individuals borrowing more than they could afford during that period of easy credit. (This is all well documented in the book “Reckless Endangerment” by NYT reporter Gretchen Morgenson.) The result of this government excess is millions of homeowners underwater on their mortgages and hundreds of thousands of empty foreclosed houses and a US government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of well over $100 BILLION so far. How much open space is gone because of this government fiasco alone? There are many other areas where the federal government intervention ends up as a net negative overall (i.e., ethanol price supports, agricultural subsidies, failed Solyndra loan, etc.) which are too numerous to address here.

  73. Stephen Hardy on September 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Rachel:

    This three steps to integrity process is interesting, and I have talked about it in church on a number of occasions. Its the lesson I keep on hand when I am asked to teach at the last minute.

    I have suggested that we spend a lot of time on step 1 in Primary, and that we spend a lot of time on step 2 in the youth programs. We spend the rest of our lives on step 3. Step 3, for example, is all about missionary work, which is, of course, proselytizing in its purest form.

    Of course it isn’t that simple, and we can spend years on each step, and indeed we should continue to refine our steps 1 and 2. But step 3 is hard.

    I don’t think that explaining why you do something is the same as convincing them that they ought to do the same thing. You can say it openly: “I was not happy with “X” and for this reason, I did “Y” and it worked for me. You may also struggle with “X” but there are other solutions to that problem.” For me step 3 is a life-long struggle with knowing how to present yourself to others, how to engage others, how to teach, while staying humble and teachable yourself.

    I certainly can’t do it well.

  74. Rachel on September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks, Stephen. I’ll keep working on it. Please be patient with me as struggle through this. It’ll likely be a life-long struggle for me as well.

  75. Sonny on September 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Rachel,

    I concur with Stephen. I also felt that the important message of becoming less materialistic got lost to some degree because it seemed as if the OP was suggesting that we should follow what you have outlined for yourself, even though you never said it explicitly.

    The great thing, in my mind, with the approach Stephen outlines is that the important point gets made while giving the listeners/readers room to figure out for themselves how to apply the point to their lives, at this particular point in time, and ponder how *you* did it without feeling it is being pushed on them.

  76. Sonny on September 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    ….and thank you for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post! I have already started to trim back on my consumerism, but I know I can easily do better with minimal effort.

  77. brian larsen on September 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    In Rachel’s defense to Stephen (and Sonny), I see nothing in her post that “insists” that we follow her particular modus operandi, only some definitions, that we should be more aware of our consumerist activity, and that she hope that she “can help . . . saints to recognize the environmental value of the work they already do.” Hardly advocating much ‘change’ or conformity to her at all. It seems to me that those who feel as though she is pushing something on them are responding to something, something that matters – but not something stemming from her, rather something brought on by their own situations/beliefs.

    I, for one, like to hear other people’e meditations on how they live and what they get from it. Rachel has been very diplomatic and transparent. Thanks for the post.

  78. Stephen Hardy on September 29, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I tend to over react. Even I agree with Brain, and therefore disagree with myself. Rachel wasn’t insisting that we do what she does. She really was doing what I hope that I can do: Explaining what you do and why you do it.

  79. mfranti on October 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    “One under-addressed aspect of the rise of modern convenience is the decline of the community as a support system to basic survival.”

    This is a big deal and I thank you for making that observation. Berry would be proud.

    It’s a pity Americans think they’re too good to partake in supporting their community and that ‘basic survival is beneath them. They’re just too busy and important toiling away in front of a computer screen.

    Also, pity that most of the commenters on this thread refuse to admit that they are completely dependent on oil.

    These are the same free market religionists that’ll tell you how they’ve pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and are completely self-sufficient because they currently have a job. Nevermind all the circumstances and people that made it possible for them to live this life of comfort.

    Oh, and one more thing…it’s fascinating how some people are just too important to spend their precious time washing and doing the chores necessary for survival, but it’s OK if the Bangalorean sister spends her time doing it. Wow! It’s great to be a white person with a few bucks and be so..so…entitled. The message: Americans are better humans.

    Rachel, you’re a brave soul for tackling this topic among this crowd. You have my respect.

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