Things carry, and have done so for a long, long time, a physical, psychological and social meaning.
They can give us dissipative structures nutrition, they can communicate who we are, they can bind us together and even symbolize hope, as McCracken shows that things can function as bridges to our highest ideals. This is all important to remember.
But things also carry other effects. Effects on human beings in form of decreasing social and individual well-being and their production and consumption are causing the destruction of our life-supporting ecosystems. Even though our society is as much a producer society and a work society it has been more frequently labelled a consumer society. However that description is not accurate with us surpassing ecological limits and the limits of the things' life-satisfying abilities. Overconsuming society or for that matter overproducing and overworking society is a better fit for the whole picture.
Undoubtably things matter a great deal for our well-being but we have been tricked by our existential unease, where things manage the terror of death, and our neural circuitry built for learning but coopted by an economic system built by us that equaled well-being with consumption of things and os dependent on producing and consuming more of things to be stable.
It all conspired us to put more trust in things and while the detrimental effects gradually kept coming and showing that psychological and ecological “enoughness” had been reached, everyone cheered on. The companies wanting profits, the governments wanting taxes and avoiding unemployment and the people wanting jobs. This is the short story of how we got hooked, hooked on a system that destroys us and our environment. An economic system that puts us humans in a relative positional race of anxiety, where the one who consumes more than the other stays on top, a system that increases the differences between those humans who have and those who have not and a system that makes us overconsume resources from nature and obliterate its ecosystems.
A revalue of things is needed. A change of consumption is needed.
We can really start to recover, repair, reuse, remanufacture and in the last resort recycle. We can learn that accessing have advantages of owning, learn how to share things and learn that there is indeed a limit to the well-being things can give.
However as described it is a systemic change is that is needed foremost and we should replace the goal of our economic system of more and more with a goal of better and better for all.
How will this society unhooked of the strains of consuming more and more look like?
Certainly it can be painful because as Tim Jackson underlines under
“current conditions, it’s tantamount to asking people to give up key capabilities and freedoms as social beings. Far from being irrational to resist these demands, it would be irrational not to, in our society.”
Well if we expand our horizons and admit that consuming stuff as dissipative structures always only been a small part of what constitutes life and being a human being, it could, as suggested by neuroscience professor Peter Sterling, however more be a joyful experience and
“resemble roughly what we do on vacation: more nature, exercise, sports, crafts, art, music, and sex—of the participatory (non-vicarious) sort.”