Are you conscious of your philosophy of life?



December 27, 2007

By Derek Stoffels

Over the last few weeks I have been reading a book called “Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole.” It has been a difficult read but it raises some worthwhile points. The basic thesis of the book is stated provocatively in the title. The author Benjamin Barber asserts that capitalism (read business) has been so consumed with greed that it is destroying democracy. In contrast to that Barber claims that one hundred years ago capitalism and democracy worked well together. At that time capitalism served democracy by reinforcing the values and conduct that are needed for a wise citizenry. In Barber’s words capitalism was “…a needs-serving economic machine,…” Today it is a wants-stimulating economic machine out to profit itself at any cost.

Barber’s asserts that capitalism, out of greed, has been consciously promoting a message that creates an infantile or childish people that capitalism can then manipulate easily and for capitalism’s financial benefit. The heart of the infantilist message is EASY over HARD, SIMPLE over COMPLEX and FAST over SLOW. He cites examples like Shaquille O’Neal and Terrell Owens, as representatives of living out this infantilist philosophy. Play over work and having it all right now rather than later are what people are being trained to pursue. Or as he quotes Dr. David Jones and Doris Klein; “the child wants what it wants when it wants it, without consideration of the needs of others…”

This infantilist message is set in contrast to what Barber calls the Protestant ethos(which he describes as self-restrained, delayed gratification, rationality, and order or HARD, COMPLEX, and SLOW). He argues for a return to that.

I was discussing this with a friend and he pointed out that the market or capitalism can only be successful in this strategy of consumption if people do not have what he called a “counter philosophy.” By counter philosophy he meant a philosophy or approach to life that is different from what capitalism is promoting. His point is that if people have a philosophy of life that is different from capitalism’s then the advertising campaigns will not be so successful. To follow that logic one step further means that if Barber is correct it is because people today don’t think for themselves. They do not have a sense of the true meaning of life. Indulgence becomes the motivating force.

As Christians we are in possession of a philosophy of life that is different than the current one being promoted by capitalism. We recognize that our lives gain meaning only in relation to God. We know that we exist to glorify God and are to work to that end in His kingdom now. As I read the book and reflected on us as Reformed people I wondered if we have let that philosophy of life get covered up by dirt and dust. Maybe we have lost our grip on it or at least relaxed our grip enough that it is sliding out of our hands.

To think that we are not exposed to or susceptible to the extremely effective marketing campaigns of capitalism is to deceive ourselves. Reformed people are by large indistinguishable from unbelievers in terms of our exposure to the marketing of the day. We subscribe to satellite television, satellite radio, watch movies, read the books and magazines, watch the news, surf the internet, play the games etc. At every point along the way we are having the message of EASY over HARD, SIMPLE over COMPLEX, and FAST over SLOW blasted at us over and over again. Having a counter philosophy is not a guarantee of resistance to the message of modern capitalism.

If we pray for Spirit-guided insight and reflection on our lifestyle and are honest with ourselves we can see that we have bought into this infantilist message, this ethos or way of living. We may not have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker but we are definitely on the hook. I would like to join Benjamin Barber in urging us all to recognize what is going on and to turn away from this ethos and return to what he calls the Protestant ethos or philosophy of life. We need to remember who we are, why we are on this earth and very importantly that our children are not our own but are God’s covenant children.

We need to train ourselves and our children to recognize that there is nothing wrong with hard over easy, complex over simple and slow over fast. In fact that ethos or way of life better reflects Biblical teaching about life this side of Jesus Christ’s second coming. Slow life down, don’t try and cram so much into it, don’t try and keep up with the latest consumer items, activities, clothing, holiday destinations etc. Instead put your energy into building things that last, not into a movie like Harry Potter, Shrek, or leisure activities over work. Make the time and energy as families to reflect on what your lifestyle is like and how and where you have let it be driven by EASY over HARD, SIMPLE over COMPLEX and FAST over SLOW. Bring the balance point of daily life to where it belongs. Live the message God gives us in Romans 12:1 and Philippians 4:8-9.

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