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Conspicuous Consumption

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Because I am a huge comedy fan and was saddened by the recent passing of George Carlin, I have been watching many of Carlin’s comedy vignettes on television and on the Internet. One of his central themes throughout the years was that of materialism. George was never too shy to poke fun at our country’s insatiable and gluttonous desire for things. He observed again and again that Americans will work tirelessly for material things, pack their houses to the brim, and then find themselves needing to buy a bigger house to accommodate all of those purchases. The jokes about inane spending always got a laugh for George because it invariably rang true for the audience.


Other comedians have also had a big tease regarding materialism. I once heard Robin Williams say during a standup routine to a woman in the front row that her necklace was very beautiful and could coincidently easily feed the entire nation of Thailand. Similarly, in the British comedy television show Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders leaves her home for a holiday wearing every conceivable signature piece of England’s Burburry line of high-end plaid wear: raincoat, luggage, scarf, handbag, hat, and umbrella. The writers are making their own statement, of course. Conspicuous consumption is funny, if not somewhat tragic.


I recently saw a YouTube interview with musician Seun Kuti discussing the lack of resources in his home country of Lagos, Nigeria, Africa. He talked about the challenges inherent to daily life for his countrymen. His candidness about the suffering in his country stands in stark contrast to the bottomless desire for expendable things we seem afflicted with in the United States.


Many people are now coming to appreciate the life philosophy of minimalism. We don’t need to live as monks or ascetics to embrace this simple way of life. We can clear out our belongings and donate them to charity using the criteria “Does this item add real value to my life?” We can choose simple but expressive wardrobes. We can choose to live in homes and drive cars that are the right size for us and no bigger.


In the end, living a life driven by material desires is no laughing matter. After all, we can’t take it with us. My Grandfather Chris said he never saw a Brinks truck following a Hearse.

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