In Praise of Inconspicuous Consumption
By S M Chen, posted Dec 16, 2015
“Ye have the poor always with you.” – Matt. 26:11
Life isn’t fair.
But that doesn’t mean we should contribute to the state of economic disparity. Christ appears to have at least obliquely addressed that when, in His encounter with The Rich Young Ruler, he enunciated conditions for entry into the Kingdom: “Go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor.”
Even if we believe in a parallel, unseen universe, and in the ineluctability of not being able to take it with us when we pass, many of us find it difficult to deal with the allure of affluence, the seduction of anticipated comparative wealth. (I recall the teacher of a Sabbath school class I used to attend; intelligent and engaging, his mantra was: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Perhaps because I never perceived I had ‘it,’ I never felt guilt over not flaunting).
So I particularly admire those who have overcome the love of money and material possessions. In addition of Christ Himself, who lived a spare, sparse existence of simplicity, there was Siddhartha, founder of Buddhism. And St. Francis of Assisi. More important, in addition to living simply, they went about doing good. The way they lived enabled them to better serve others.
It is a sad commentary on our times that one of the current nonfiction bestseller books in the USA is entitled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I can think of a number of third world countries that would absolutely not be able to relate to that title or concept.
More in our times, Mother Teresa comes to mind. As does the erstwhile President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, who reportedly gave 90% of his salary to charity.
There are countless others, of course, who almost certainly pale in numbers compared with those who spend their lives in the pursuit of accretion, often at the expense of weightier matters. My understanding is that what we do here may well determine where we are in the hereafter.
So it was with particular interest that I encountered an online post about a couple who last year donated half their income (around $128k) to charity. Jeff Kaufman and Julia Wise seem fairly ordinary. However, several things stand out: they don’t own a car, they share rent of a 3-bedroom apartment in MA with another couple, they shop at thrift stores, and they don’t own a large flat-screen TV. In an interview, Kaufman commented, “We want them (their children; they have a young daughter and another child on the way) to learn that other people matter. If someone else is hurting and you can help them, you should.”
The thought occurred to me that, if there is any justice, such people should win the lottery, except they probably don’t play (one wag’s take: your chances of winning are only slightly better if you play).
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, spearheaded a campaign asking billionaires to pledge half of their wealth to charity. Although there were some takers, he also encountered resistance. His comment on the latter group? “These are people who are saying they can’t live on $500 million.”
Speaking of conspicuous consumption, one somewhat unusual example is the recent discovery that someone in Bel-Air, Southern CA, in this time of drought, during which CA has been asked to decrease its water use by 25%, has been using almost a million gallons/month (or 32,000 gallons/day, enough for 90 households), for which they pay around $90,000/year. LA TIMES columnist Steve Lopez has been pursuing the matter and the unknown perpetrator.
14 households in that area use about half that amount, still mind boggling.
I follow this story with more bemusement than avidity; albeit it is no laughing matter. Water is a precious commodity. Bottled water is big industry (the world spends over $100 billion/year on same).
At one time, in the 1970s, when I had bottled water home delivery, the cost of water exceeded that of petrol.
The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy underwent a spiritual awakening in later life, and wrote a number of morality tales. One of his better known, written after novels WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA, was entitled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”
The condensation: after spending the better part of a day walking the perimeter of land he hopes to acquire, the protagonist, exhausted, collapses just before completing his quadrangular journey.
All the land required is that sufficient to bury his coffin.
I rather like this apophthegm: I live simply so that others may simply live.