Wednesday, September 26, 2007

shopaholism: destroying our souls?

Amen Catherine! From The Age:

Spend, spend, spend. It's no way to happiness

Catherine Deveny

September 26, 2007

You'll see them in shopping centres every weekend seeking sedation: people trying to buy their next high.
REDUCE greed. There's your answer. Thank you and good night.

Nothing new, nothing fancy, nothing even slightly original. Here's a tip to increase your happiness. Just stop trying to fill that gaping hole inside yourself with more stuff. Or shelving for the stuff. Or a bigger house for the shelving. It doesn't work. It just makes the hole bigger. Everything won't be fine if you just get new light fittings, replace the curtains or buy a new mobile phone. No one needs 12 doona covers. Everything will be fine if you take a big breath and stop buying crap you don't need with money you don't have to impress people you don't like.

Does anyone else want to slap half the people around you and say "You'd have more peace if you just spent less money"? People complain about how hard they work, how little money they have and how their relationship is at breaking point. And then what do they do? Exercise? Meditate? Work less? Nope. They buy themselves a cappuccino machine they'll only use twice, an exercise bike that will be the most expensive clothes hanger they have ever owned, shoes they'll never wear and then sign up for cable TV. And then put their hand up for more overtime.

Next time you find yourself itching for some retail therapy, think about what would really turn off that desire button inside you, not just put it on snooze. Take a look at your wardrobe overflowing with clothes you don't wear, your shed chockers with tools you don't use or that entertainment unit groaning under the weight of the hundreds of dollars of DVDs and CDs that you've never played. Remember how excited you were and how you truly believed, deep down in the soul of your being, that each purchase would bring you happiness. How it would soothe those wounds of feeling unloved, unappreciated and unhappy. How you had to have it. The thrill of the purchase, the excitement of the homecoming and then the punch in the stomach when your credit card bill arrived.

Middle-class whingers complaining about how hard they are struggling need a good slap. They are offensive to true battlers out there who stock up on their brand of margarine when it's on special and don't buy new socks but mend the ones they have.

Someone handed me $300 cash the other day. It felt like a million dollars. It felt like far more money than 10 times as much sitting in my bank account. Because I could see it, feel it, smell it. These days money is invisible. People don't actually know how much things cost them. If people had to slave away and earn the cash before they could acquire the things they wanted, given the choice and knowing how much sweat it'd taken, they'd go for the cash. The invisible money culture is not only ravaging the environment, it's corroding lives and destroying happiness. Putting it on the credit card or taking money out of the mortgage? It's all invisible money.

I call it the Veruca Salt syndrome. I want it and I want it NOW. People have to have the big house, the new car, the new kitchen, the new clothes NOW. Once upon a time people saved, they waited, they went without. Same happy. Some say more happy.

The symptoms of affluenza, luxury fever and conspicuous consumption can all be alleviated by the simple mantra "I have enough". The worried-well need less, not more. The stressed-out full-timers who live on Mortgagee Mountain, between Default District and Foreclosure Falls, dig themselves in deeper as they attempt to find peace in the purchase of plasma TVs so each member of the family can watch Big Brother in their own room of the McMansion.

People are in debt up to their eyebrows and they tell me it's good for the economy. But it's destroying our spiritual economy. Is this the spiritual recession we had to have? Kids want to lie on the grass watching the clouds roll by with chilled-out parents. Not be dragged through shopping centres by harassed mums and dads trying to anaesthetise their existential pain by purchasing more stuff to plug in and more stuff to store.
On any perfect 25-degree windless Sunday you will find Chadstone, Northland, DFO and all those soul-destroying cathedrals of emptiness chockers with people attempting to sedate. Take two transactions and call me in the morning. They'd be better off spending a few hours sitting in a church. And that's coming from an atheist. Greed and consumption addict people and they spend weekends trawling shopping centres chasing the next hit.

Happy is the man who is content with what he has. And the woman who needs only one pair of good shoes and a library card. Maybe I should follow the advice of the graffiti I read last week: SHUT UP AND SHOP.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

quote of the day

Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had. - Michael Crichton

How true...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

it's valentines day (feels more like groundhog day)

This article seems to sum the whole thing up pretty well. Not perfectly, but pretty well. She hits the nail on the head with the statement, "Sex sells, love gives." Personally, I'm off home for a thumb wrestle. Woooo....

Capitalism still hasn't made love a commodity

If you subscribe to the Picnic at Hanging Rock school of thought regarding St Valentine's Day (it's creepy and we're all going to die), you may take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.

According to a nationwide survey commissioned by the Australian internet gift provider Red Balloon Days, Melbourne women ranked the highest for agreeing that St Valentine's Day is distressing when you're single, while Melbourne men are most likely to acknowledge the day by bestowing flowers on their beloved.
And there, in a sugar-coated nutshell, we have it. The whole, horrible conundrum. An entire 24 hours that we are embarrassed to spend alone versus the even worse prospect of having to demonstrate our most intimate emotions via the unprepossessing medium of a rose in a plastic tube.

When even the best that the experts can come up with is a gondola cruise on the Yarra (E. coli bacteria, Signorina?), or a romantic dinner for two on board the RMS Titanic in Williamstown (tagline: arrive safely this time!), what conceivable hope is there for the ardent amateur?

Unfortunately for those worthy souls who rebel against the commercialisation of love, the alternatives that don't require a financial investment aren't much better. One romance website helpfully lists shared activities that it believes will keep the passion alive in your relationship. Suggestions include playing hide and seek, finger painting and thumb wrestling. While such activities would no doubt be enthusiastically embraced by the likes of Humbert Humbert, personally I prefer something a little more adult. Not triple X you understand. Even an M rating would be fine.

But judging by the following evidence drawn from the romance industry, there aren't too many of us trying to hold out against the business of love anyway. In July 2005 Fairfax bought for nearly $40 million the online dating service, which has almost 1 million members, while last year the aforementioned Red Balloon Days came in at No. 29 on BRW's Fast 100 list. And it's not just the internet that's trading on our lust for love. Melbourne academic Dr Juliet Flesch wrote: "It has been estimated that one romance novel is purchased every few seconds in the English speaking world alone."

As with the majority of philosophical problems in Western civilisation, our ethical dilemma over the commercialisation of love is all Plato's fault. Because of that damn cave of his with its shadow puppets of reality flickering on the wall, while Ideal forms lurked outside enjoying the fine weather, Love came to be considered a transcendental concept, unearthly in its purity. This resulted in the belief that to attempt to either attain or demonstrate Love through mundane, commercial means is wrong.

It's been a long time since Plato was in the cave making bunny rabbit silhouettes for the benefit of an unimpressed Sappho. And in the intervening years, modern advertisers, with the help of Freud, have honed human desire into a lethal weapon, thereby setting up a tension on St Valentine's Day that could perhaps be summarised as Platonic Love for Sale.

It's a curious thing, however, that despite the best efforts of market researchers, powerful global brands, slick advertising campaigns and the complicity of the media, love seems to have a formidable ability to withstand the assault of commercialisation.

This failure of capitalism to co-opt love as an agent in its consumerist utopia may be seen in the constant diversion of love into sex, through the invention of popular "romantic" gifts such as edible undies and chocolate body paint. In the last edition of The Age's relationships supplement introductions, advertisements for pole dancing classes and sex toy parties were also prominently displayed.

Sex sells. Love gives. It's simultaneously a frightening and heartening thought; the only thing standing between globalisation and us is a handmade greeting card featuring a kitten curled up on a heart-shaped cushion, suggestively purring, "I can't keep my paws off you."

Take heart, therefore, from the vulgar St Valentine's Day gifts, the banality of the sentiments in the cards for sale and the sheer volume of the nausea-inducing classifieds, for they are all glorious evidence of love's ability to strip us of our veneer of sophistication.

Transfigured into a simulacrum of Pepe Le Pew, we are left floundering and inarticulate in the wake of strong emotion. When it comes to love, even the twin studs of Commerce and Marketing are reduced to two inept blokes, wandering helplessly through the lingerie section of Myer, muttering, "Not sure. About the size of my hand".

So regardless of your romantic status or attitude towards St Valentine's Day, rejoice in the fact that you're not alone. And on the day in which all roses are red and violets are blue, I suggest that you have a creepy picnic and a thumb wrestle, too.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

3.5 months...but I will be back

If anyone actually reads this...I've been travelling for 3.5 months and not had any chance at all to think, let alone put my thoughts on a PC. That had to do with lack of thoughts and lack of PC within 1.5 hrs of my grasp. Alas, I will be back home shortly and will fire up again.....I think..

Friday, June 02, 2006


I watched Napoleon Dynamite again the other night. I have to share some of the funnier quotes from this low-budget, low-brow but very funny, simple movie. If nothing else, you can walk away saying you saw a movie with no swearing, no sex and no violence (unless you count throwing a steak at someone violence). That in itself makes this film rare.

Napoleon Dynamite: Stay home and eat all the freakin' chips, Kip.
Kip: Napoleon, don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know that I'm training to be a cage fighter.

Don: Hey, Napoleon. What did you do last summer again?
Napoleon Dynamite: I told you! I spent it with my uncle in Alaska hunting wolverines!
Don: Did you shoot any?
Napoleon Dynamite: Yes, like 50 of 'em! They kept trying to attack my cousins, what the heck would you do in a situation like that?

Napoleon Dynamite: Well, I have all your equipment in my locker. You should probably come get it cause I can't fit my numchucks in there anymore.

Napoleon Dynamite: [referring to Deb's milk] I see you're drinking 1%. Is that 'cause you think you're fat? 'Cause you're not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.

Pedro: Do you think people will vote for me?
Napoleon Dynamite: Heck yes! I'd vote for you.
Pedro: Like what are my skills?
Napoleon Dynamite: Well, you have a sweet bike. And you're really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you're like the only guy at school who has a mustache.

Deb: What are you drawing?
Napoleon Dynamite: A liger.
Deb: What's a liger?
Napoleon Dynamite: It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed... bred for its skills in magic.

Napoleon Dynamite – Well, nobody’s going to go out with me!
Pedro – Have you asked anybody yet?
Napoleon Dynamite – No, but who would? I don’t even have any good skills.
Pedro – What do you mean?
Napoleon Dynamite – You know, like numchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.

Classic humour!

the joy of randomness (although randomnity sounds better)

Last night I was at music practice for Sunday morning's church service. Might I say how incredibly lucky/blessed my church is with exceptional musicians. It was Dan on drums, Becca singing, Travis on guitar and singing and myself on guitar. The exceptional applies to the first 3, while I'm more of a musician than exceptional.

Becca, Travis and another mate Shingy are playing a gig (see the flyer below) on Sat night. Shingy was hanging at the church as he and his wife Lia are moving back to Colorado soon and have moved out of their home. So after we'd finished practice we went out and sat on the church couches. Dave had his laptop out with some chords on it and was playing Scissor Sistors "Take Your Mama". Travis joined him and Becca, Jane (who decided to come along for the ride) and Lia sat and chatted.

Lia then suggested we get some drinks and kick back. Her and Jane then took off and came back with a few beers and girlie drinks, and the 6 of us sat around having some drinks, listening to the guys play the same song over and over and chatting. Eventually the guys had enough of playing and while the girls were talking serious stuff, the boys laughed about (amongst other things) randomness (Travis and Maltese fantasy), and watching a comedian dance to 30 songs in 6 mins.

You're thinking "so what?". Well, usually at a practice we come and go, but this was one of those random things where everyone was happy just to sit, spend time and hang rather than get on with their busy lives. I had such a good night just hanging with those guys. The joy was mostly in the company, but also that shared feeling of randomness. I'm sure you'd agree that when you plan a night out and you have a great time, it will never compare to those nights where you just kicked off doing not much, but wound up having a ball.

The more days I have on this earth, the more I realise that joy is 20% about the circumstance, and 80% about pausing to connect the circumstance to the feeling of joy. Like last night: there was nothing remarkable about it particularly. But when you put the combination of the randomness and time with good friends together, it is joy in its purest form.

Praise be to the God of Small Things, the God of Randomness, the God of Joy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

the same but different...but the same...but different

While at dinner with Pete and Becca (that I talked about in my last post), Becca raised a really interesting conundrum that I've often puzzled over. She works in a job where she can't share her faith with her "clients" (she works to help troubled kids integrate from primary to secondary school). She went on a week away with the kids she works with, as well as another Christian guy from her organisation and his kids and a bunch of workers that aren't Christian from another organisation.

What she found on that camp was that in the absence of being able to share her faith, she contributed nothing more to these kids and in no different way to the guys who weren't Christians. In her words "she was effectively just administering a government program". Which is fine if that's your calling, but clearly she feels it's not hers. She spends a year with these kids, then on one day at the end has to end all contact with them. She is not allowed to continue a relationship in any intentional way with them.

Which begs the question: if you have no ability to differentiate yourself as a Christian in your work, should you move on and do something where you can?

Now the conventional answer goes something like: well if you're really a Christian, just the way you act and think will rub off on the people around you whether you're express about your beliefs or not. I don't agree. As Becca said, the guys who weren't Christians cared just as much about the kids and that they have a bright future and often had a longer fuse than she did when they were being brats. There was no way those kids could discern a difference between her and the others.

Then of course the inevitable argument is one of dualism: that that thought process doesn't allow any room for understanding that God may move through people who don't know him. But even if God is working through them both, surely the only way to influence them in a way for God is to communicate that God is behind that love? Otherwise you're an endless stream of love but provide no connection in their mind between God's love exhibited naturally through you, and God. So they know his love, but not him or a way to live the life he wants for them.

I struggle with this because I think what she's doing is vital, I think why she is doing it is pure (which I think is most important to God), but she has no scope to influence these kids life with Jesus. And if that's our mission in life, do we not need to seek somewhere we can?

I know there are a hundred ways to take this argument and none will lead to a solution that sits perfectly well. As Pete said at one point [paraphrased here], "We constantly live in the tension of wanting to do better and do more, but working within the context we have which limits our ability to do it. So in the meantime do we throw our hands up and stop work, or do we just keep doing what we are able to do?" I think this is a valid point too.

I guess I share Pete's philosophy but/and Becca's frustration and confusion on this one.

it must be for real, cos now i can feel

Jane and I spent last night at friends' place. By way of background, he (Pete) is British (in his own words, "kind of from South London, but more posh than that really") and she (Becca) is American but moved here when Pete and her got married a year or so ago. I'll have to post again on that night, because we had some interesting conversations.

After dinner, we got chatting about music and Jane got our ipod out to find a song she was trying to think of. Next thing you know, Becca is flicking through our ipod putting on old songs that she used to love.

Most of the songs she put on were 90's stuff from when we were all teenagers. Many of them were from that all important 1995-1997 period (i.e. years 10-12 for me). What surprised me was the number of songs that were important to Becca in that time, that were also important to me. Songs like Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails (for no particular reason for me), Glycerine (Bush) and Goldfinger (Ash).

Becca grew up mostly in California, so as an Aussie male it is quite weird to think that someone from the opposite sex in another country and context, found the same songs important at the same point (though completely different situations) in their life. As Becca said, "they evoke strong memories, but quite often their not good ones". I could definitely relate to that.

In the words of Harvey Danger: "Fingertips have memories".
In the words of Arundhati Roy: "Smells have memories."
In the words of myself (and the whole premise of Nick Hornby's book, High Fidelity): "Music has memories."

Music has the ability to take you (well me anyway) to a place and time in a very real way. I can remember ways of thinking, friends, fears, likes, dislikes just by listening to a song. It is a powerful thing, but as Becca alluded to, they're not always positive. For her, she actually avoids listening to a whole lot of music alone as it can make her introspective in a bad way. Music has a range of effects on me from taking me to great places, to getting me quite down depending on my mood, the song and the memory (if any) it evokes.

I guess the point of the post is that kind of common ground you can have with someone from a different world, just because you both identify so strongly with the same stimulus. So thankyou Alannis Morrissette, Nine Inch Nails, Ash, Bush for reaching a male teenage boy in Melbourne at the same time but in a completely different way as you reached a female teenage girl in California. It made for a fun night of "awww, I love this song" 's and memories that would otherwise fade to grey.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

dispelling the door-bitch myth

I've just finished reading a great book by Brian McLaren called A New Kind of Christian: a tale of two friends on a Spiritual Journey. I highly recommend reading it, particularly if you've ever questioned some of the stuff you've been taught on Christianity. It clarified some things for me very well.

Anyway, one point McLaren makes is that we have rammed home that Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me (Jesus)." The way I've interpreted this from how people have talked about it is that unless you get the ok by Jesus, you don't go to heaven. I don't know who goes to heaven and who doesn't (anyone who says they do is deluded), but this didn't seem consistent with the God I knew. It seemed almost like a tick-the-box exercise where if you get Jesus, you get saved and you get heaven.

McLaren says that we have misinterpreted this important passage and that when Jesus said "by me", what he meant was not in a door-bitch (a person who stands guard at a nightclub door and randomly refuses entry to people. Generally considered nasty people) sense, not in the sense that you walk up to him, he checks you out, and either lets you in or refuses you entry. "By" can mean "Up to and beyond; past" or it can mean "With the use or help of; through". Same word, big difference in meaning.

This latter meaning makes a lot more sense and I find it far more consistent with Jesus' character. Jesus isn't standing at a doorway letting some in and refusing entry to others. Jesus is the path. You have communion with the Father by walking with Jesus (if you'll excuse the top 10 "most commonly used phrase"). This also links up with something our church pastor says all the time and that is that God's plan for our lives isn't good deeds or living a life worthy of getting into heaven. Jesus came "that we might have life, and have it to its fullest". God's desire is to make us fully human, enjoying human life in its purest expression. This involves an intimate link with our God, our creator. It involves modelling ourselves on the one guy who has had this "full human expression of life" as we can in order that we and others may experience the same. So in modelling ourselves on him and communicating with him, Jesus is our path, our model of how to live a pure human life and that life involves communion with God the Father. So Jesus is our path to the Father, not the door-bitch letting some in and refusing entry to others.

That sounds a lot more like the God I know. You could almost call it good news...


A lot of what follows I was thinking on my walk home from the tube to my house last night. I've been thinking quite a bit about Jesus and entitlement given my devotion (hey, it's on my google homepage) to reading the inspiral blog ( and the mr jones and me blog ( Simon has posted recently on entitlement and the fact that Jesus shed many of his entitlements and to truly follow him, we should consider doing the same (hope I precise'd ok Sime).

I walk past a church on my way home every day and notice that often there are two black, shiny Mercs out the front. I don't know whose they are, but given how often they're there, I surmise they may owned by the pastors or staff of the church. Regardless of whose they are, it got me thinking about middle/upper middle-class Christianity and in particular attitudes I've heard and see lived regarding money. The most prevalent attitude I've heard and seen goes like this: "money's not a bad thing, it's how you use it." The practical interpretation/application of this is almost always "as long as I tithe, it's ok that I buy a new Merc/Commodore/whatever car every 2 years (as is common with many people I know)." To be clear, I don't just mean cars, I mean "stuff" and "things" generally.

One point Arundhati Roy made on Andrew Denton's "Enough Rope" last year (I'm stealing from the Mr Jones blog here) is that one person being paid masses of money is a symptom of something wrong with the world. With so many having so little (many having so little they can't survive), how can we justify one person being paid an amount that could solve 3rd world poverty? Or even a village's poverty?

I'm not sure if I feel it is wrong to buy a new car every year (or 2 or 3 years) [yes, a car is still a metaphor for "stuff" and "things]. However, there are two things I'm ready to stand on:

1) Our view of "masses of money" is awry. I don't believe "masses of money" is a north of $100,000 pay packet or a $1m house. Masses of money is a surplus to your need. I wouldn't want to put a figure on that as we all have different needs, but I think our concept of masses of money is being skewed by
a) the media (which shows us Paris Hilton and Richard Branson as monetary role models) and
b) by an inflated concept of need. Maybe I'll expand another time on those.

2) As is usually the case when society loses the plot, it's not that we have the answer to the question wrong, it's that we've been asking the wrong question. The question we ask is "how can I justify the money/stuff/things I have". To which we quote the Bible "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's" and then we draw a straight line to the Old Testament concept of tithing (giving a tenth of your salary). I think the question is less about justifying what you have, and more one of "Here's what I earn. Here's what I have. My contract with my employer/my parent's will/company's profits legally entitle me to this money. But what will I do with that entitlement?"

Before this post turns itself into a book, let me explain point 2. What do we do with our worldly entitlement to surplus money? First of all I would say that it is exactly that, a worldly entitlement. I'm not sure that Godly principles go into drawing up employment contracts/wills. In fact I've signed a few now and I can tell you they don't. Second of all, we have a choice. Do we grasp that entitlement, or do we forego it for others' benefit? This is an open question worth the asking I believe. It's one I'm asking myself at a time when I'm madly saving for travel, arguably a selfish indulgence, and also thinking about going home to a potentially well paying job.

We are metaphorically the glass at the top of a champagne fountain. The bottle is continually pouring and when we are full, we simply buy a bigger glass. But what if we settled for a smaller glass and when we overflowed the champagne flowed down to the empty glasses, which in turn did the same, until all the empty glasses were full? Or even better, what if we pricked a hole in the bottom of our glass so that the champagne flowed out before we were full?