For many years, I have been struggling to lose weight, get out of debt, declutter my home and manage my stress and anxiety. I believe all of these issues are inter-related, and they are all symptoms of a culture of excess. What the heck is a culture of excess? A social and economic environment in which the cheaper, easier and unhealthier the food, the more money is spent trying to sell it to you and make it accessible to you. The debt and clutter issues are directly related. In a Culture of Excess, we are bombarded with both advertising for things we don’t need and offers of credit so we can live beyond our means.
Does this sound like I am blaming everything on the culture we live in rather than our own individual weaknesses? I have a two-part answer to that. First, we humans developed over hundreds of thousands of years to seek out sweet, fatty and salty foods and to conserve our energy by expending the least amount of work to accumulate the maximum amount of resources. These were once strengths that enabled us to survive. Then we became so clever that we created foods not found in nature that catered to our natural human survival instincts: refined sugars, flour stripped of its nutrients and fibre which made it easier to chew, agricultural processes that increased the amount of grains in our diet. We created mass production so that very little work could go into each piece manufactured, which increased the volume and reduced the price of goods, How does the stress and anxiety fit in? A Culture of Excess is an individualistic one. It maintains the social status systems of traditional human societies but makes social status more prone to frequent shifts, rather than social status being fixed by birth in most traditional human societies. This is a good thing in the sense that it has allowed people to innovate and explore new ideas and new ways of living. However, ever-shifting social status, a status that must be maintained, increased and proven on a daily basis, is a stressful situation. In traditional human societies, people sank or swam together. Resources were shared. People had a deep sense of belonging to family, community and the land. Today, many people no longer have these deep, spiritual connections. If they do not live up to their family’s or society’s expectations, they may feel like failures. And that is stressful. We strive for thinner bodies, whiter teeth, and more money. We strive to prove ourselves worthy every day.
The second part my answer is this: Although we are engulfed by a Culture of Excess, we must take responsibility as individuals to do something about it. We owe it to ourselves, our families, others around us and our countries, to deal with our own weight, debt, clutter and stress. As individual citizens, we also have a responsibility to push our own culture and country to be healthier through policies that do not let companies poison us or the environment, make fortunes getting people into debt they cannot possibly repay, lie about the goods and services they sell us, or rip off either their workers or consumers in any way. We need healthy public policies.
We need to take both an individual and a societal approach to the issues of obesity, debt, clutter and stress. These are both personal and political issues. As long as the reasons for obesity, debt, clutter and unhealthy amounts of stress are deeply rooted in human nature, there may be some individual successes but we will never be able to eliminate these scourges.
Why should we bother about other people being overweight, indebted, up to their eyeballs in stuff, and stressed out? What happens to you has an impact on me, and vice versa. The myth of an individualistic Culture of Excess is that what we do matters only to ourselves. This is how we continue to systematically destroy the environment through our overconsumption and lack of attention to how the stuff we buy is produced, stored, transported and sold to us.
“Culture of Excess” is a phrase that has been bandied about for quite some time now, and has been written about in an academic way. Jay Slosar is a psychologist who wrote a book called The Culture of Excess: How America Lost Control and Why We Need to Redefine Success. I agree with much of the information and conclusions in Dr. Slosar’s book. My blog is different. It’s about my personal battle, including my zeal as a researcher to find out as much as possible about what I experience. What I have to say is certainly not limited to the United States. Although the US embodies the Culture of Excess, it is not the only country to have developed it. In fact, every country in which a significant number of people have a disposable income is subject to developing a culture of excess. Some of the policy solutions other countries have implemented are worth taking a look at.
There are plenty of self-help books out there that deal with excess as individual weaknesses: how to lose weight, manage your money, declutter, lower your stress levels. Some clever books even recognize the relationship between some of the issues, such as Peter Walsh’s Does this Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? My blog looks at weight, debt, clutter and stress as issues that we do struggle with daily as individuals, sharing some of the best tips I’ve come across to manage the excess in your own life. It also puts the issues in their social, economic and political context, with tips about how to change the world to make it easier for people to avoid the ill health that accompanies obesity, debt, clutter and stress. This blog is about my personal journey to emerge from excess fat, debt, clutter and stress, along with my insights as a public policy researcher along the way. Please join me on this journey.
About the author
Marika Morris, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Research Professor in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She specializes in public policy and community-based research. She believes that taking individual responsibility also means making a positive contribution to one’s community, country and the world.
Academic web site: https://carleton-ca.academia.edu/MarikaMorris