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31-Dec-2014 New Year’s Eve

Wednesday 31 December 2014 Leave a comment

Another New Year’s Eve. I dropped Dawn off at the station as she was working, so we left home at 5.10am. Not a good start but other than a swim with all 3 girls I haven’t done much. I like it like that. I am meeting Dawn as she comes home later tonight and we will go out then.

My resolutions for the coming year ? In general I think I have improved myself over the last few years. But here’s my main aims :

  • Drink more water – I probably don’t drink enough. I don’t drink cordials or sugary fizzy drinks and drink just an average amount of coffee. But sometimes I am more dehydrated than I should be.1
  • Drink less alcohol – as it happens I drink very little alcohol, as in the past year I probably had 20 standard drinks over the whole year spread reasonably across the year (a bit more in the December social season). However I really dislike drinking and I usually feel like crap even after one drink. I would be totally teetotal other than I only drink to fit in at social occasions and should just have the balls to say “no”.
  • Running consistently – When I get back to running, I want to aim at consistency and probably fewer races as I think that a lower level mileage and big races is contributing to me getting injured. Certainly when you can’t run, you would trade all the races in the world to just be able to run injury-free again. The simple pleasures in life!

Anyway here is an article I clipped from last year, which got me thinking most of this year about drinking less. Not that I was ever like this, but I like being hard-core about stuff like this.

Sobering night out highlights the horrors of our lushy lifestyle

Like a great slab of the population of Australia, I got rotten this festive season. I’m talking wobbly in my heels, slurring and gibbering sloshed. And while I thought I was having fun at the time, I wonder in hindsight whether I really was.

I certainly know I wasn’t the morning after, when I was woken by a stranger who had crashed on my couch, asking me to let her out of the locked front door. When I couldn’t find my handbag – which I hoped still held my keys – in any of the usual places, my new friend/couch surfer said I should retrace my steps after coming home. But I couldn’t. It was all a blur.

Eventually the bag was found under a pile of jackets that didn’t belong to me. They were next to several half-empty bottles of wine and a dishevelled display of empty beer cans. It seems I had hosted an after-party to the Christmas bash I had attended. Which was very generous of me, considering I couldn’t instantly recall who the guests were.

Some might laugh hearing this, others simply zone out because it’s the same old thing they hear day after day. The reality is that right now, there are literally thousands of Australians recalling how wasted they were last night, believing their excess to be amusing. But here’s the sad fact: it just isn’t.

I don’t think it’s funny I lost count of how many shots I downed on my recent night out. I don’t think it’s humorous that someone I barely knew slept on my lounge – it was reckless and dangerous to allow it. And I don’t think it’s in any way a laugh that I couldn’t immediately recall getting home.

I’m also sure that in all of the gibber I no doubt spouted there was little that would have been relevant or interesting. And I don’t think for one minute that I would have looked chic with panda eyes, Joker lipstick, red-wine teeth and bird’s-nest hair, looking and smelling like I’d just stepped out of a skip.

I could say I’m too old to act this way, but that’s irrelevant. No one looks good smashed – no one. I don’t care how young, pretty, handsome, affluent or intelligent – all drunks are the same: ugly.

I say this because since my big night, I have been abstaining from drinking – well, OK, limiting myself to safe driving levels of consumption. And oh, what a bloodshot red eye-opener it has been.

Take, for example, a pre-Christmas catch-up with dear friends this week. After struggling to find a park, I had to walk several blocks to the restaurant. It was 7pm and already I saw young girls in dresses too short and heels too high staggering and screeching on the streets. They were surrounded by young men similarly messy, some shirtless. They seemed to be heading out rather than returning from their night out.

And so, after a lovely dinner, I headed back to my car. It was probably 11pm and I swear that in the four or five blocks I had to walk, I witnessed the following: a girl with her dress hitched to her waist urinating in the gutter in front of a group of laughing onlookers; a young man vomiting against a tree; a loud, violent scuffle outside a bar between two blotto men; a couple pashing in full view of outdoor diners, the man’s hand down the clearly inebriated woman’s bra; a middle-aged man with an open pizza box dropping slices as he staggered, before being tripped up by a pesky gutter.

I also saw a woman screaming obscenities at her boyfriend before kicking over a garbage bin and leaving its contents strewn across the road. When I asked the woman if she intended to pick up said rubbish, she told me I could ”f—” myself and called me an ”ugly c—”. Charming.

Then, to top things off, there were three men loitering by my car who, as I approached, asked if I would like to fellate them.

Is this really what a fun night out has become? If so, I’m staying in and staying sober because it not only disgusted me, it left me feeling depressed.

Why? Because I realised that the atrocities of the few blocks I had travelled were being repeated all over Australia; that this is what now constitutes socialising in this country. And it made me despair for the generations to come, because even though drinking to excess was a rite of passage for my generation too, things have deteriorated.

This is not just a case of me being older and believing, vainly, that I wasn’t that bad, statistics show that binge drinking is increasing, especially among young people.

A 2012 report by the Victorian Auditor-General revealed alcohol-related violence and health problems cost the state $4.3 billion each year. It showed that ambulance attendances to alcohol-related incidents had increased by 219 per cent from 2009-10 to 2011-12. What’s more, the increase was 329 per cent for people aged up to 21. Add to this a 93 per cent increase in emergency department presentations (191 per cent for those up to 21) and it’s pretty clear we don’t have a problem with drinking in this country, we have a full-scale epidemic.

It is disturbing to think of just how many Australians suffer the short-term effects of alcohol – hangovers, headaches, nausea, shakiness, vomiting and memory loss – on a regular basis. Then there’s the behavioural problems – falls, assaults, car accidents, unplanned pregnancies, loss of valuables, overspending, time off work, relationship breakdowns. This is before we even get to long-term health concerns, such as addiction, liver and brain damage, and death.

I am grateful that my recent binge made me sober up and realise that while a few drinks with friends is fun, more than that is not.

So, with New Year’s Eve approaching, I plan to have a happy one, which means no hangover the next day, no strangers on my lounge, and no ouchy regret. I wish you and yours the same.

24-Nov-2014 Mumbai Vegetarians

Monday 24 November 2014 Leave a comment

I read a great article in the LA Times about some Mumbai vegetarians. In a very meat-centered world, it is great to notice people somewhere, anywhere tipping the balance back towards vegetarianism. When I was in Rishikesh and Vrindavan in India the whole city was vegetarian (and alcohol-free) and it’s just great to feel part of the majority rather than the minority.

The rest of India is still about 50/50 with vegetarians so is just great to travel around.

Mumbai’s strictly vegetarian enclave gives flesh-eaters the evil eye

In a roughly 2-square-mile patch containing some of India’s priciest real estate, a firm and sometimes militant vegetarianism prevails. Most residents of this old-money section of South Mumbai are Jains or devout Hindus, and not only do they not eat flesh, but they also don’t want it anywhere near them. Eateries serving meat and seafood are all but banned, and stories abound of certain apartment buildings refusing to consider prospective residents who are what Indians call ; sometimes with more than a soupcon of judgment ; non-vegetarians.

They’re pretty fascist about it, says food writer Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi. I’ve seen Bengali friends and others complain that they’ve tried to move somewhere and the building says, ‘Oh, you are fish-eaters, you’ll smell up the place, so we won’t give you the apartment.

A menu by prominent restaurateur Sanjay Narang that included tandoori chicken and lamb curry ticked off neighbors in an apartment building on an exclusive boulevard fronting the Arabian Sea. Narang shuttered his ground-floor establishment in 2005 after residents above reportedly spat on his patrons, dropped nails on them or keyed their cars. So what’s a global food and beverage behemoth to do in such circumstances? If you’re Starbucks ; which seems intent on cracking every lucrative Indian market ; you go with the flow. The coffee chain’s new outpost off palm-fringed Marine Drive doesn’t sell the local-style club sandwiches or murg kathi wraps ; flatbreads stuffed with spiced chicken; found at dozens of other Starbucks in India. The brightly lighted display case contains only meatless fare: a hummus and pita platter, a spicy red bean sandwich, a mushroom and sun-dried tomato filling on ciabatta.

There are no potatoes, onions or omelets in sight, either, in deference to Jains, who eschew not only meat but also eggs and root vegetables plucked from beneath the earth. Muffins, cakes and pastries made with egg are clearly labeled, in keeping with Indian law.

It’s a Jain area, explained Sanjay, a young barista. Their preference. Starbucks’ Indian office did not respond to questions. But the menu is clearly in line with snack shops and ice cream stalls in the neighborhood that bill themselves as 100% pure veg, including doughnuts that come in eggless varieties. If you open a non-veg restaurant there, said Sanghvi, even if they don’t force you to shut down, you will shut down eventually because the richest people in the neighborhood are vegetarian and your business doesn’t survive.

India may be overwhelmingly Hindu, a religion that regards the cow as sacred, but national surveys suggest that less than half the population is vegetarian. Mumbai, as India’s long-standing commercial capital, is home not only to native Marathis but also sizable minorities of Muslims, Zoroastrian Parsis, Christians from western India and Bengalis from the east ; all generally non-vegetarians. Some of the city’s best-loved dishes include meat and seafood: Persian-inspired lamb cutlets, aromatic chicken biryani and the pungent dried fish known as Bombay duck. But perhaps because of metropolitan Mumbai’s sheer density ; 21 million people packed into a narrow strip along the Arabian Sea ; residents have carved out enclaves where they can live among those who eat and worship as they do.

The penchant seems to run strongest in South Mumbai near Marine Drive, a sea-hugging thoroughfare that in British colonial days was dubbed the Queen’s Necklace because its streetlights resembled a string of pearls. Patrons line up outside Veg and Proud restaurants that promise Jain Food Available. Many of the gently decaying old apartment blocks are occupied almost exclusively by Jains or well-connected merchant families from the neighboring state of Gujarat, who are strict vegetarians. (Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Gujarati, served visiting heads of state an all-vegetarian menu at his inauguration in May.) The influx of these groups has not sat well with some native Marathis.

Marathis don’t get accommodation of their choice because they are Marathis and non-vegetarian, local lawmaker Nitesh Rane said recently. He was attempting to explain a tweet in which he urged Mumbai residents to start cleaning up all the Marathi hating gujjus from there once for all.

The Starbucks sits near a series of Gujarati-owned diamond boutiques and sweet shops and next to the Shree Krishna Hindu Merchants Club, a members-only establishment named for a Hindu god. The club naturally forbids meat (although it was long known for hosting underground high-stakes card games). To the west lies Malabar Hill, the city’s toniest district and site of a famous Jain temple, where many grocers don’t stock eggs and the handful of stalls that sell frozen meat and fish have faced occasional pressure to close. Basant Todi, whose family runs Kurries and Burries, a fast-food place across from Starbucks, said: Ninety percent of the people in this lane are Jains. If you have non-veg items, they will avoid you.

His tiny, colorful eatery features a typically eclectic Mumbai menu, including nachos and tom yum soup. But whereas its first location, in a suburban office park, serves Thai curries and khao suey, a Burmese noodle dish, here it has excised those dishes because they require onion and garlic. You can’t make a Jain khao suey, Todi explained. There are rare exceptions to the meat-free zone. An outpost of Domino’s Pizza, which once took chicken toppings off its menu, is currently non-vegetarian. And then there’s the venerable Kobe Sizzlers, which has been serving chicken, lamb and seafood stir-fries out of a buzzing ground-floor location for 35 years. Owner Urmila Sheth, a Gujarati grande dame wearing pearls and a giant diamond-studded nose ring, said hers was one of the first stir-fry restaurants to open in Mumbai. As the neighborhood has become more gastronomically conservative, her meat-heavy menu appears to have been grandfathered in. Yet even Sheth has recently converted to vegetarianism after deciding she couldn’t stomach the idea of a chicken being slaughtered. Her son, who helps manage the business, eats everything, she sighed, but Sheth no longer dines at her own restaurant.

I can’t stand anyone eating fish at my table, she said.

26-Oct-2014 Living in the First World

Sunday 26 October 2014 Leave a comment

There was an article in the paper today I wanted to highlight. This is not just something I “liked” but it resonates to my very core and I believe in passionately and have taken positive steps to change my life because of. Refer link here.

A common criticism of our political leaders is they’re “out of touch” with the general public yet, if you examine the preoccupations of average Australians, they suggest we’re the blinkered ones.

As forces both destructive and constructive, powerful almost beyond comprehension, roil across the globe – be they religious, geopolitical, environmental or technological – the unruly rump of our population is more focused on silly TV shows, sport, their smartphone, sandwich fillings and property prices.

Why? Because this is their defining reality, living in the gilded First World bubble enveloping this country.

As reported by Credit Suisse recently, Australians are the richest people in the world, with 1.23 million of us now millionaires thanks to high property prices. The rest of us, however, still eat lavishly, never have to look over our shoulder in fear and can take long, hot showers whenever we want.

These “simple pleasures” which we accept as our birthright were the stuff of dreams for almost every person on the planet before the Industrial Revolution and remain so for much of the Third World.

Necessities we once bled for on a daily basis – food, safety, shelter – are now “bare essentials”. Our “needs” are so embarrassingly filled, we dream up new ones at a pace that litters streets with TVs, gas barbecues and white goods bearing cheery “still works fine” notes.

A T-shirt and thongs (with jeans) will get you into most bars in the country and a good number of offices on mufti day thanks to the beneficence of climate and our unassuming culture. The glut of natural resources we need only scratch red dirt to recover will see out our lifetimes at least.

The luck of the lucky country has not only held, it’s deepened, broadened and hardened into heedlessness of pretty much every major global issue – until an Ebola case lands at Tullamarine, a jihadist appears in Bankstown or a deceased airline passenger happens to be an accountant from Brisbane.

You can learn an enormous amount about a person if you know what holds their attention. As a predictor of behaviour, the attentional state is pivotal.

If your attention is focused on cake, it’s a good chance you’ll eat similar. If your attention’s on the body of a certain single person at a party, it’s a fair bet you’ll instigate flirtation. Can’t get machetes and shallow graves out of your mind? Let’s pass on the second date, eh?

Societies are no different and what holds their attention offers significant insight into behavioural trends.

A fortnight ago, all four stories on the landing page of a national “news” site recapped a reality TV show. More Aussies now know the specs of the iPhone 6 better than the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider. We seek “inspiration” from cooking and renovation shows in massive numbers as we get fatter, spending more time couch-bound.

When we do get angry, it’s not about people starving or going insane in offshore detention – it’s over a poorly phrased tweet on Q&A, a stupid T-shirt in Woolworths or bicycle lanes.

We have access to more information than ever, yet the majority of us remain wilfully ignorant of the forces shaping the headlines – power and money – and the inescapable fact that – on a world level – we’re the fattest, smuggest cats of all.

The concept of the “global village” we’ve been sold since the ’60s seems rather farcical when a good slice of its population never even bother to look out their window.

 

2-Oct-2014 War on the living world

Thursday 2 October 2014 Leave a comment

George Monbiot is one of the best journalists around today – he writes an uncomfortable truth, well-reasoned, not necessarily shouting slogans from rooftops. Luckily he has a great platform – a prime gig on the wonderful Guardian newspaper. His stuff is linked here.

Today he posted a great article here and of course it’s best to click the link and go read it on the Guardian as you get great pictures as well.

It’s time to shout stop on this war on the living world

Our consumption is trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce

This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.

If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?

In fairness to the modern era, this is an extension of a trend that has lasted some 2 million years. The loss of much of the African megafauna – sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyaenas and amphicyonids (bear dogs), several species of elephant – coincided with the switch towards meat eating by hominims (ancestral humans). It’s hard to see what else could have been responsible for the peculiar pattern of extinction then.

As we spread into other continents, their megafauna almost immediately collapsed. Perhaps the most reliable way of dating the first arrival of people anywhere is the sudden loss of large animals. The habitats we see as pristine – the Amazon rainforest or coral reefs for example – are in fact almost empty: they have lost most of the great beasts that used to inhabit them, which drove crucial natural processes.

Since then we have worked our way down the foodchain, rubbing out smaller predators, medium-sized herbivores, and now, through both habitat destruction and hunting, wildlife across all classes and positions in the foodweb. There seems to be some kink in the human brain that prevents us from stopping, that drives us to carry on taking and competing and destroying, even when there is no need to do so.

But what we see now is something new: a speed of destruction that exceeds even that of the first settlement of the Americas, 14,000 years ago, when an entire hemisphere’s ecology was transformed through a firestorm of extinction within a few dozen generations, in which the majority of large vertebrate species disappeared.

Many people blame this process on human population growth, and there’s no doubt that it has been a factor. But two other trends have developed even faster and further. The first is the rise in consumption; the second is amplification by technology. Every year, new pesticides, fishing technologies, mining methods, techniques for processing trees are developed. We are waging an increasingly asymmetric war against the living world.

But why are we at war? In the rich nations, which commission much of this destruction through imports, most of our consumption has nothing to do with meeting human needs.

This is what hits me harder than anything: the disproportion between what we lose and what we gain. Economic growth in a country whose primary and secondary needs have already been met means developing ever more useless stuff to meet ever fainter desires.

For example, a vague desire to amuse friends and colleagues (especially through the Secret Santa nonsense) commissions the consumption of thousands of tonnes of metal and plastic, often confected into complex electronic novelties: toys for adults. They might provoke a snigger or two, then they are dumped in a cupboard. After a few weeks, scarcely used, they find their way into landfill.

In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption. We use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created.

We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly. Yet the extraction of the raw materials required to produce them, the pollution commissioned in their manufacturing, the infrastructure and noise and burning of fuel needed to transport them are trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce. The loss of wildlife is a loss of wonder and enchantment, of the magic with which the living world infects our lives.

Perhaps it is misleading to suggest that “we” are doing all this. It’s being done not only by us but to us. One of the remarkable characteristics of recent growth in the rich world is how few people benefit. Almost all the gains go to a tiny number of people: one study suggests that the richest 1% in the United States capture 93% of the increase in incomes that growth delivers. Even with growth rates of 2 or 3% or more, working conditions for most people continue to deteriorate, as we find ourselves on short contracts, without full employment rights, without the security or the choice or the pensions their parents enjoyed.

Working hours rise, wages stagnate or fall, tasks become duller, more stressful and harder to fulfill, emails and texts and endless demands clatter inside our heads, shutting down the ability to think, corners are cut, services deteriorate, housing becomes almost impossible to afford, there’s ever less money for essential public services. What and whom is this growth for?

It’s for the people who run or own the banks, the hedge funds, the mining companies, the advertising firms, the lobbying companies, the weapons manufacturers, the buy-to-let portfolios, the office blocks, the country estates, the offshore accounts. The rest of us are induced to regard it as necessary and desirable through a system of marketing and framing so intensive and all-pervasive that it amounts to brainwashing.

A system that makes us less happy, less secure, that narrows and impoverishes our lives, is presented as the only possible answer to our problems. There is no alternative – we must keep marching over the cliff. Anyone who challenges it is either ignored or excoriated.

And the beneficiaries? Well they are also the biggest consumers, using their spectacular wealth to exert impacts thousands of times greater than most people achieve. Much of the natural world is destroyed so that the very rich can fit their yachts with mahogany, eat bluefin tuna sushi, scatter ground rhino horn over their food, land their private jets on airfields carved from rare grasslands, burn in one day as much fossil fuel as the average global citizen uses in a year.

Thus the Great Global Polishing proceeds, wearing down the knap of the Earth, rubbing out all that is distinctive and peculiar, in human culture as well as nature, reducing us to replaceable automata within a homogenous global workforce, inexorably transforming the riches of the natural world into a featureless monoculture.

Is this not the point at which we shout stop? At which we use the extraordinary learning and expertise we have developed to change the way we organise ourselves, to contest and reverse the trends that have governed our relationship with the living planet for the past 2m years, and that are now destroying its remaining features at astonishing speed?

Is this not the point at which we challenge the inevitability of endless growth on a finite planet? If not now, when?

21-Feb-2014 Grabbed my attention

Friday 21 February 2014 Leave a comment

Here were 3 items that were all in the news today that I found quite significant.

1) Is Russell Brand right? Are we disenchanted by politics? [link]

Obviously I am huge fan of Russell’s so it’s no surprise I read this nor that I think it’s significant. Less than a quarter of people said they “tended to trust” the government in 2014 and there has been a significant drop in those who believe voting is the only way to have their say since the 1960s, according to a new report. Is Russell Brand right?

I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.

2) South and North Korean relatives reunited – in pictures [Link]

North and South Korean family members separated since the 1950-53 Korean war have met in the first reunion ceremonies for three years. Reunions are being held at North Korea’s Kumgang Mountain resort. What can you really say about the indescribable anguish of being separated from your family for 60 years?

koreanreunion

Photo of relatives Lee Son-hyang, 88, left, of South Korea and Lee Yoon-geun, 72, of North Korea are reunited.

3) Prehistoric forest arises in Cardigan Bay after storms strip away sand [Link]

Skeletal trees of Borth forest, last alive 4,500 years ago and linked to lost kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, appear at shoreline. I think the amazing thing about this, other than being a totally fascinating news story, is that no matter how well we think we know the world – the reality is that we know nothing, we humans have been here for just an incredibly small % of the earth’s existence, no matter how smart we think we are.

Borth forest remains, Cardigan Bay

Gales hitting the west coast of Wales have uncovered these oak, pine, birch and alder trees dating to 6,000 years ago.

13-Dec-2013 What it all means

Friday 13 December 2013 Leave a comment

I was up at 5.15am and went to Cronulla to swim with Stu & Steve again. Just perfect out swimming – weather was great – warm & sunny, sea was warm and clear. We swam from South Cronulla to North, then re-grouped then swam back the can at South before heading back in. Estimated water temp was 21-22C. Heaps of fit people running, swimming, boot-camping etc. Had a quick breakfast sitting in a cafe on a sunny corner in Cronulla. Everyone there had been doing sport of some kind, nice music playing – just feeling so lucky to be in a great place and be able to have these great experiences.

Whilst there I read this article in the Guardian – Let’s admit it: Britain is now a developing country

Elite economic debate boils down to this: a man in a tie stands at a dispatch box and reads out some numbers for the years ahead, along with a few micro-measures he’ll take to improve those projections. His opposite number scoffs at the forecasts and promises his tweaks would be far superior. For a few hours, perhaps even a couple of days, afterwards, commentators discuss What It All Means. Last Thursday’s autumn statement from George Osborne was merely the latest enactment of this twice-yearly ritual, and I bet you’ve already forgotten it.

Compare his forecasts and fossicking with our fundamental problems. Start with last week’s Pisa educational yardsticks, which show British teenagers trailing their Vietnamese counterparts at science, and behind the Macanese at maths. Or look at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness survey of 148 countries, which ranks British roads below Chile’s, and our ground-transport system worse than that of Barbados.

Whether Blair or Brown or Cameron, successive prime ministers and their chancellors pretend that progress is largely a matter of trims and tweaks – of capping business rates and funding the A14 to Felixstowe. Yet those Treasury supplementary tables and fan charts are no match for the mass of inconvenient facts provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the WEF or simply by going for a wander. Sift through the evidence and a different picture emerges: Britain’s economy is no longer zooming along unchallenged in the fast lane, but an increasingly clapped-out motor regularly overtaken by Asian Tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan.

Gender equality? The WEF ranks us behind Nicaragua and Lesotho. Investment by business? The Economist thinks we are struggling to keep up with Mali.

Let me put it more broadly, Britain is a rich country accruing many of the stereotypical bad habits of a developing country.

… and on it goes! …

Obviously to a large degree, it’s pretty similar in Australia although the mining boom has minimised some of the worst aspects.

However it struck me that I always gravitate to reading the Guardian and now with a digital radio in my car, listening to the BBC World Service. (I know that makes me sound like a middle-aged tragic!). Of course a lot of the music I still listen to is overwhelmingly English however looking around me at this cool little spot in Cronulla, there is just no way I’d want to be living in the UK.

So what does it all mean … I have no idea, just stumbling through life trying to do my best and to keep healthy and happy and keep enjoying it.

11-Dec-2013 Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out

Wednesday 11 December 2013 Leave a comment

I read this in the newspaper today : Buying more stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It is socially destructive and self-destructive although as usual the comments are a great read too.

I so agree with it.

That they are crass, brash and trashy goes without saying. But there is something in the pictures posted on Rich Kids of Instagram (and highlighted by the Guardian last week) that inspires more than the usual revulsion towards crude displays of opulence. There is a shadow in these photos – photos of a young man wearing all four of his Rolex watches, a youth posing in front of his helicopter, endless pictures of cars, yachts, shoes, mansions, swimming pools and spoilt white boys throwing gangster poses in private jets – of something worse: something that, after you have seen a few dozen, becomes disorienting, even distressing.

The pictures are, of course, intended to incite envy. They reek instead of desperation. The young men and women seem lost in their designer clothes, dwarfed and dehumanised by their possessions, as if ownership has gone into reverse. A girl’s head barely emerges from the haul of Chanel, Dior and Hermes shopping bags she has piled on her vast bed. It’s captioned “shoppy shoppy” and “#goldrush”, but a photograph whose purpose is to illustrate plenty seems instead to depict a void. She’s alone with her bags and her image in the mirror, in a scene that seems saturated with despair.

Perhaps I’m projecting my prejudices. But an impressive body of psychological research seems to support these feelings. It suggests that materialism, a trait that can afflict both rich and poor, and which the researchers define as “a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project“, is both socially destructive and self-destructive. It smashes the happiness and peace of mind of those who succumb to it. It’s associated with anxiety, depression and broken relationships.

There has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. For example, a series of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in July showed that as people become more materialistic, their wellbeing (good relationships, autonomy, sense of purpose and the rest) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises.

In one study, the researchers tested a group of 18-year-olds, then re-tested them 12 years later. They were asked to rank the importance of different goals – jobs, money and status on one side, and self-acceptance, fellow feeling and belonging on the other. They were then given a standard diagnostic test to identify mental health problems. At the ages of both 18 and 30, materialistic people were more susceptible to disorders. But if in that period they became less materialistic, they became happier.

In another study, the psychologists followed Icelanders weathering their country’s economic collapse. Some people became more focused on materialism, in the hope of regaining lost ground. Others responded by becoming less interested in money and turning their attention to family and community life. The first group reported lower levels of wellbeing, the second group higher levels.

These studies, while suggestive, demonstrate only correlation. But the researchers then put a group of adolescents through a church programme designed to steer children away from spending and towards sharing and saving. The self-esteem of materialistic children on the programme rose significantly, while that of materialistic children in the control group fell. Those who had little interest in materialism before the programme experienced no change in self-esteem.

Another paper, published in Psychological Science, found that people in a controlled experiment who were repeatedly exposed to images of luxury goods, to messages that cast them as consumers rather than citizens and to words associated with materialism (such as buy, status, asset and expensive), experienced immediate but temporary increases in material aspirations, anxiety and depression. They also became more competitive and more selfish, had a reduced sense of social responsibility and were less inclined to join in demanding social activities. The researchers point out that, as we are repeatedly bombarded with such images through advertisements, and constantly described by the media as consumers, these temporary effects could be triggered more or less continuously.

third paper, published (paradoxically) in the Journal of Consumer Research, studied 2,500 people for six years. It found a two-way relationship between materialism and loneliness: materialism fosters social isolation; isolation fosters materialism. People who are cut off from others attach themselves to possessions. This attachment in turn crowds out social relationships.

The two varieties of materialism that have this effect – using possessions as a yardstick of success and seeking happiness through acquisition – are the varieties that seem to be on display on Rich Kids of Instagram. It was only after reading this paper that I understood why those photos distressed me: they look like a kind of social self-mutilation.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons an economic model based on perpetual growth continues on its own terms to succeed, though it may leave a trail of unpayable debts, mental illness and smashed relationships. Social atomisation may be the best sales strategy ever devised, and continuous marketing looks like an unbeatable programme for atomisation.

Materialism forces us into comparison with the possessions of others, a race both cruelly illustrated and crudely propelled by that toxic website. There is no end to it. If you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment. The material pursuit of self-esteem reduces your self-esteem.

I should emphasise that this is not about differences between rich and poor: the poor can be as susceptible to materialism as the rich. It is a general social affliction, visited upon us by government policy, corporate strategy, the collapse of communities and civic life, and our acquiescence in a system that is eating us from the inside out.

This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.