Friday, January 31, 2014

The Affluenza Series, Part 1: Keeping Up With the Joneses

Although I really do not like to use Wikipedia as a reference source, I do think the definition they have listed there is said rather well. "'Keeping up with the Joneses' is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one's neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to 'keep up with the Joneses' is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority." Cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand created a comic strip, which debuted in 1913, with the same name. I wonder if "Pop" would be surprised that his concept is still flourishing over 100 years later. In the 21st century, though, his concept has evolved into an illness which John de Graaf calls "affluenza". This condition has grown into an aggressive addiction and a subsequent disease that is treatable. It carries symptoms just like influenza and it definitely has horrible side effects, much like you might hear during a pharmaceutical commercial. I would assert further that the side effects can be worse than the disease.

All of us are looking to fill and fulfill something within ourselves where we can be truly happy at all times and in all ways. I think it is simply an innate desire placed within us by God to compel us to seek Him. In the development of our youth we are impressed with what our parents teach us, what we learn in school, the growth of our social lives, and the influence of outside sources like televison, radio, or the internet. All of these factors come together to shape us into the humans we are today.

Your values are the guidelines that set the standards for how will you will live your life. The Bible teaches us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. This is a strong message that my wife and I try hard to impress upon our children and it can be very challenging at times because they do forget this rule and act out of their own self interests. Herein lies one of the biggest issues with affluenza. Our society teaches us that material gain is everything and that it should be achieved at any cost. If you need to use people to achieve your end, do so. If you need to resort to dishonest ways, take them. If you need to "borrow" money to purchase that item to ensure that you appear wealthy to your "peers", buy it. Affluenza has a strange way of making you forget about the welfare of your fellow human being and yourself, for that matter, and keeps you focused strictly on the present moment. There really is no long-term plausible vision associated with "keeping up with the Joneses".                                   

Affluenza has exponentially mutated into an epidemic with the rapid growth of technology. In our quest to experience huge economic growth and change, we have begun to sacrifice the really important things in life. Edward Luttwak, a former Reagan administration official now with the Center for International and Strategic Studies, sums this up with his concept of "Turbo-Capitalism". "The contradiction between wanting rapid economic growth and dynamic economic change and at the same time wanting family values, community values, and stability is a contradiction so huge that it can only last because of an aggressive refusal to think about it." (Affluenza, 49-50)  Simply take a look around you when you are in public, at work, on the playground with your children, and even driving down the road. 

People are so absorbed in their phones, ipads, tablets or whatever their technology of choice that many times we are oblivious to our surroundings and the fact that there are living, breathing people we could communicate with face to face. However, we would prefer to tag them on Facebook and then snap a smiling "selfie" followed up with a fictitious "status" to try and convince your 1600 "friends" that your having an awesome time and "aren't you just jelly, lol?" 

There used to be a time when everyone sat around the dinner table, the family would gather in one room to talk or read together. The result was a strong connection to what was going on with each member's life coinciding with a strong nurturing of family values. Now a typical home might have dad in his study on the computer, the kids zoned out shooting Arab rebels on "Call of Duty", and mom with her faced pressed into her Kindle Fire, reading about a reality she wishes was her own. Are we really better off this way? Will there ever come a time when we will snap out of our material haze?

I will be continuing this series by revealing many of the symptoms of affluenza and then providing shocking details of their side effects. I hope in some way that I may be able to do my part to open the eyes of the American consumer to see how horribly damaging this epidemic has become in the 21st century.

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