Monday, 3 June 2013

You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, Boys - Part 5 - The Desire To Acquire

Last week I spoke out against poverty, and the idea (among the rich) that it's the fault of the poor that they are poor. I wanted to get that point across first, because it's not true.


However, you know, and I know, that sometimes it is true. There are people who couldn't manage their money no matter how much they had coming in. They'd still be broke, because they would spend it all. Most importantly, they'd spend it on things they really don't need, and not even want particularly badly. Things they lose interest in quickly. A sort of hoarding.

Experts noticed long ago that people spend money to make themselves feel better. You even hear people openly admit they do this, they talk about "retail therapy". They are spending because they are bored, or miserable. There's no real harm in it if it's an occasional thing, obviously, but if it bankrupts a family, then it's no different to a gambling addiction.

I have had times in my life where things were a bit easier, and I was able to spend money more freely, and it is certainly far more enjoyable than being restricted. Having more money than you need is FUN, and you are a liar if you say otherwise. Even if you spend it on other people, or give it away to charity, there is pleasure in that.

There is no pleasure in being short of money. Of having insufficient income to cover your needs. That is why we rail against poverty, so why do it to yourself? Makes no sense. Clearly some sort of short-term pleasure clogs the thinking processes, so that an otherwise intelligent person suddenly forgets there are bills to pay later in the month.

We're not talking about sudden unexpected expenses here. We're talking about people who know full well that their disposable income is actually $20, but spend $200. They spend it on luxury items, not basic necessities, and then, when the rent is due, they go EEK!

So, the question is why?

Well, apart from the psychological aspect described above, some think it's a twisted natural instinct. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Somewhere deep in our DNA, from the habit of millennia, there is a desire to gather. Shopping is the modern version of it. This theory makes quite a bit of sense.

Then there's the idea of keeping up with others. Everyone around you has certain things, and you feel left out by not having them. There is pressure to be seen as "normal", and "normal" people have these things. That is a pretty strong motivation. It even causes people to get into debt, or to steal, so as to have what others have. Regardless of how necessary it is. In some cultures there are rules of hospitality that are expected, and to break those rules is a big deal, but hospitality can be expensive. Gifts can be "expected". So some of this overspending is caused by outside demands.

I also see something I call the "Magpie Eye". It could be any corvid. These birds (crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, jays, and more) are known to find pretty things appealing, and to want to take them home. So there are stories of them picking up jewellery and it being found in their nests. They have no use for it, they are not mistaking it for food, it is simply that they are attracted to colourful, shiny things, and the desire to keep it causes them to become "robber" birds. Humans, of all species, have this trait, and believe me, as person who sells jewellery for a living, I'm glad of it.

I've had a few customers over the years that I know were buying far too much, it was for their own collection too. As a seller it's not for me to say anything, and I'd be a damn fool to turn away business, but I direct my love of colourful, shiny things INTO my business. I don't need a huge collection myself, working with it satisfies all my needs there.

Then there's simple wastefulness, buying things for quickness, or out of laziness, or bad planning.

So there are many aspects to this, and we've all done it from time to time. That doesn't make it right. There are no excuses here. Still, it's the overspender who suffers, not the rest of us (unless we're called upon to bail them out).

Should the rest of us even care? It all helps the economy after all. These are the consumers that advertisers want. People who can be manipulated into buying stuff they don't need. Easy targets. Bleed 'em dry.

And those of us who are bit more careful, are we just being judgemental about how others run their lives? None of our business really. Not our money, not our problem.

It becomes our problem when we have to listen to it. How many times have you had to bite your tongue, when somebody pours out their heart about their financial woes, when you know they've been spending money on things they don't need? If you do say anything, they twist it to make you the bad person, so it's not even worth bothering. They will be quick to call you judgemental if you list the purchases you know about. In fact social etiquette requires that we keep our thoughts to ourselves and show sympathy. It's all back to front, but that's how it is.

So why does it bother me so much? Is it because there is REAL need out there, real hardship, that wasn't caused by foolishness, but by bad luck, by the acts of others, by genuine lack, by injustice, by cruelty, and by the rich and powerful.  Money gets wasted while people go hungry. Society as a whole ends up being "short" due to the actions of some.

It makes no difference, in fact, whether you can afford it or not, if you waste resources. It doesn't matter that it's your money. It doesn't matter if you are apparently the only one who suffers, it's still waste. I hate waste.  If you do away with waste, you do away with poverty. There IS enough to go around. Is that why I get so frustrated by what I see as wasteful spending?

Or am I just frustated that I can't speak my mind? That we have created a society where wastefulness is applauded. Where nobody thinks anymore. Where justification for one's actions has become more important  than admitting one's faults. Possibly all of this.

Maybe I just don't understand it.

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