You can change an idea. Beliefs are trickier.

by Rebecca A. Watson on November 15, 2009

in capitalism, life, middle ground, needs

A friend of mine had never seen Fight Club. I happen to think it’s one of the greatest movies (and books) of all time. And it’s not just because Brad Pitt kicks a lot of ass while shirtless. And it’s not just because of Edward Norton’s soothing voice as narrator. The book and movie speak volumes for how I feel about consumerism and the American “dream.”

The Empire of Debt by Dee Hon

There are a few lines in the book and movie that speak to me. It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything. Isn’t that the truth? The classic stories of heroes throughout time all begin with a loss so great (family, home, trust) that one doesn’t possibly think the hero can overcome.

But when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, you start to see things differently. Hell, you can do whatever you want. But only with the right mentality. And the ability to see past the fear.

My favorite line from the movie is The things you own end up owning you. I never wanted to forget that, so I branded it on my body. Frankly, I am not a tattoo kinda girl, but this was important to me. And I’ve had more than one conversation about it that ended with “I’m not a big fan of tattoos, but I really like yours.” And that’s how I feel about it. It means something.

So: A friend of mine had never seen Fight Club, and he actually owned the movie. It was in his home. This was while I was staying in Norway, which happens to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

People there tend to be very into fashion. It costs $30 to take the bus. Cigarettes were $20 a pack. (Coincidence I just quit? Hardly.) I hadn’t been able to put my finger on exactly why I felt uncomfortable at times there, but the movie did it for me: I’m uncomfortable with people spending money.

Now we could talk about why that is, but that’s really neither here nor there. What I’m concerned with is my quest to achieve balance in all of this. Just because I have an opinion about owning things does not mean that no one else should. Hell, my roommate owns his house and I’m pretty stoked on that. And I would really like to buy a boat one day, and I convinced him that I should put it in his name.

So is it really bad to own things? Is it terrible to want nice things and to spend money on them? I don’t know. As Tyler Durdin would say: Is this necessary, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word?

Again, I’m thrown back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Where does all of this belong? Is this model appropriate? I’m looking for feedback here. I am open to modifying my ideas here. I don’t know that it’s realistic to all hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

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