The New American Dream: An Obsession with Property.

“There are thousands of people out there living lives of quiet, screaming desperation, working long, hard hours, at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” -Nigel Marsh

 I recently found the show “Horders.” I’ve been fascinated with TV shows about individuals afflicted with obsessive-compusive disorders manifesting as a need to gather and retain physical objects, even far beyond the point of any reasonable ability to store the objects. It seems to me to be a perfect metaphor for the obsession of most of the first world: more stuff.

It seems tied to the general root of most of what we call “First World Problems”: an overabundance that destroys. (See also: obesity.) The book Guns, Germs, and Steel was written in answer to a question posed to Prof. Jared Diamond by a curious New Guniea leader: “Why do whites have so much cargo [stuff]?” The origins of the cargo of the western world are interesting, but I think the future’s projections for our enslavement to that cargo is also interesting (if arguably more relevant).

Humans have spent most of their history worried about a lack of food, shelter, or clothing; then, the obsession with more substance and sustenance made sense. Suddenly, a lot of people suddenly found themselves with more than they could manage, and still obsessed with obtaining more. Maybe humans aren’t biologically wired to cope with abundance, and certain individuals with some disorders happen to show extreme manifestations of the kind of obsession that drives most of our lives and lifestyles.

This was an interesting TEDx: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XRPbFIN4lk

It’s a misreading to think his message is: “Sell all your stuff and live on the road.” His opening question is “What does freedom mean to you?” I think just because his own answer looked like that doesn’t mean ours must. (My own answer to that question involved freedom to think and write.) The value of his example is in the symbolism: the difference between being bound by debt and material objects that failed to fulfill, compared against the ability to pursue something that satisfies.

This all goes to a different level under the lens of Intellectual Property. Patent trolls (owners of patents who don’t use them but prevent others from making use of them) usually have some kind of economic rationale behind their choices. But I wonder if our culture might be, or become, as obsessed with IP as with personal property and real property. If the goal of the obsession is to build and grow the ideas, it might not be such a bad thing. If the goal is to keep, hide, and only store for the sake of storage, I think this could be devastating.

There are always stories of people owning various nice, prized things, that never get used because they are waiting for just the right time to use them. And so the nice food spoils or the nice clothes are eaten by moths because the moment was never quite right.

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2 responses to “The New American Dream: An Obsession with Property.

  1. Pingback: The New American Dream: An Obsession with Property. | Law, Rhetoric, & Debate

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