Recently, in one of those coffee and brazier conversations, I learned that the first time a washing machine entered my family, my grandfather was slow to install it for my grandmother —and I express it that way because the machine always pointed to a female owner— two weeks, not caring that in the meantime she had to knead the laundry with soap in the sink, in an icy little room covered with a uralite roof. From the man’s perspective—who, on the other hand, was an excellent person—this task was in no rush; In that of the young woman with the house on her back and a fish stall to attend to in the food market who was my grandmother, that device meant an improvement in her quality of life that could not be postponed, as she proceeded to complain years before I was born. . And it is that there are things that have filled our exhausted stocks with breath, delimiting the fatigue and giving us precious time; others have made it possible to preserve food or medicines and thus avoid a not inconsiderable number of tragedies, such as the refrigerator; However, in today’s frenzied and voracious capitalism, most of the objects we buy hide diminishing functionality and, when they are really useful, planned obsolescence interrupts them, updating the lack that first generated the acquisition and, as in an infinite loop , throw them away after a few uses. Now that the Christmas holidays are approaching, the cities project the ostentation of their lights and the obligation to give and receive absolutely dispensable things is imposed, it is worth thinking about what consumerism has done to us, at what moment did the possession of the merchandise hostage to its charms to the point of reducing reasoning to mere impulse.
The writer Carmen Martín Gaite tells in Amorous uses of the Spanish postwar (1987) how, in the years that followed the war, the sexual affective customs of everyone, but especially women, ran parallel to the economic evolution of the regime: thus, if at first autarky meant chastity and repression, as the consumer society was penetrating the Franco regime, the oppressed bodies also relaxed, freer for enjoyment. With the advent of tourism, the first cars, television, the morality of the time seemed to stretch like chewing gum, allowing more lewd licenses, as if enjoyment and increasingly all-consuming capitalism were amalgamated into a single concept. Recently, the French economist Frédéric Lordon wanted to explain it from the point of view of environmentalism, qualifying that the error “is to have taken the desire for merchandise for plain desire” and to have believed that, without said merchandise, “desire would desert the world (and take with it color and light)Capitalism or the planet, 2022). Light and color —on our streets lit with very expensive electricity—; anatomies that pursue delight and, moved by immediacy, resort to the slip of the credit card as a shot that calms the addiction; pulsating confusion destined to feed the looting of a planet that is running out of natural resources for so much whim. The other side of the coin, of course, is the perpetual dissatisfaction generated by this throwaway life, the fallacious bet on buying as almost the only path to happiness that has never been achieved, as has been analyzed from philosophy, psychology and other sciences.
In contemporary delirium, numerous studies warn, the accumulation of trifles that will soon become garbage is partially due to a deep loneliness and does not alleviate that feeling of emptiness; we know that the rich, who are most responsible for the great environmental debacle, tend to be quite miserable despite their fortunes -or because of them-; feminism has denounced on many occasions a commercial manipulation that stereotypes women while urging them towards an impossible ideal materialized in fashion, cosmetics, the fantasy of a perfection that ends up degrading; Children who grow up with lots of toys develop less creativity and intelligence than those who grow up with a more moderate number. Regardless of the climate emergency, there are endless arguments for why stopping shopping or, at least, slowing down, would bring unquestionable personal well-being not only to consumers, but also to those constantly exploited people who, in countries where rights do not abound, they make our trifles. On the production side, there should be an end to early expiration, waste and design devised with the explicit intention that the object cannot be recycled, but what is clear is that there is something of the act of acquisition in yes, together with the paraphernalia that accompanies it – the attraction of the marketing, the promising slogans of paradise, going shopping as a routine—, which has taken over our ability to enjoy beyond its framework, caged our imagination and provoking, as Byung-Chul Han would say, the disappearance of the (old) rituals. If, according to the German philosopher, porn has replaced courtship and the mobile phone the rosary, the consumer fever has practically come to build us as citizens, and to socialize us in a desire to show off —brands, trips— that responds more to business interests than to vital needs, which volatilizes the joy created the second of reaching it.
Channeling desire elsewhere seems to me, therefore, not only urgent on the multiple fronts that institutional policy has open to it —ecological and energy transition, mental health crisis, reduction of inequality—, but also crucial as a community strategy of survival, from below, with those who we love and who love us regardless of the decorations and empty gifts. For this reason, in those conversations over coffee and a brazier, or beer and a tapa, I have dedicated myself, in addition to blessing my grandmother’s washing machine, to saying that I don’t want useless gifts, that I prefer that we celebrate in a different way —a meal , the joint visit to an art gallery—, that I am not going to spend money on showing affection or, at least, not on material things. I have dedicated myself, likewise, to explaining that since the day I decided not to have more than what is strictly necessary, I live a little freer, less overwhelmed, without being bothered by any deprivation, although aware that the move of common sense must cross the border of my own will. I have dedicated myself, a lot, to listening to the contrary argument and understanding the symbolic violence that looms against those who cannot afford to keep up with the acquisitive demands of turbocapitalism and feel excluded; to differentiate between the place where wealth is most needed – health, housing, public transport – and where it should be scarce – in tax havens, the pockets of CEOs, the obscene benefits of large companies.
In the end, there is a whole warp of social and fiscal justice that should accompany this paradigm shift, but there is also something beating inside, a kind of respect or natural ethics, a relaxation of forced ties that could make us incredibly happy if we know how to handle it. and, more than limiting it, it would catapult the desire towards limits today unsuspected.
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