by Leo Babauta
Many of the problems we’re experiencing as a society come from manufactured desire. Obesity, debt, financial crises, an overabundance of stuff, consumerism, global warming, and so on … they happen because we are never content, always wanting more, and can’t control our desires. These desires have been manufactured by advertising and chemicals (french fries having chemicals that make us want them, etc.).
Advertisers have studied the mechanisms of human desire, and have perfected the craft of making us want things. Children watching a cartoon, for example, will eat more snacks if there are ads for food during the cartoon (it doesn’t matter what kind of food), as opposed to ads for other products. People who see the iPad can’t control their desire to buy one, because they’re so cool! Cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, food, travel, you name it, we have been trained to want them by advertising.
How does a human being, or a society for that matter, fight such desires? It’s pretty damn hard. Try walking through an Apple store, or walking by the food court with its smells of fresh pizzas or cinnamon buns, or watching television, without desiring. Some people can control themselves, or have trained themselves to associate these things with negative thoughts (fattening, greasy, plastic, superficial, etc.), but most of us aren’t that disciplined.
The answer is that, just as the desires have been manufactured carefully and with much effort, we must manufacture content. In ourselves, and in society.
How would we do that? I’d start by removing yourself from places where advertising is so pervasive: TV, magazines, malls. Find ad-free content, or at least minimal advertising: public radio, or ad-less blogs, etc. Find ways to spend your time without having to go to the mall. Avoid shopping websites. But even beyond that, I think we can reach others to show them how to be content.
Manufacturing content means developing a strong, consistent message … something along the lines of “You already have enough”. Or better — I can’t say I have the answers here. We would want to reach people who are about to give in to their desires, perhaps on television or in the malls or on the Internet. We’d need a campaign that would drive this message home, and educate people about the dangers of manufactured desire, and show people how to find contentedness.
Imagine a big white billboard in Times Square with the simple message: “You already have enough.”
Imagine that we bought ads on Amazon, that appeared before people bought something: “You don’t need that, my friend.” OK, so Amazon would never allow an ad like that on their site, but you get the idea.
Imagine that credit cards came with the message “You don’t want debt” printed on them.
Imagine an iPhone operating system that detected when you’re about to go shopping on a website, and told you, “Be content with what you have. Let go of desire.”
Imagine if McDonald’s drive-thrus were lined with billboards that read, “Don’t be a glutton. Eat less, eat sustainably. Don’t supersize, simplify.”
Imagine if children were taught not that they need to go buy the latest Disney toys, or video game system, but to enjoy nature, to live life simply and fully. Contentedness comes naturally, in the absence of manufactured desire. But getting back to that natural state might take some work.
With apologies to Noam_Chomsky.