Affluenza & the Tragedy

Let's define Af-flu-en-za -

“Our condition is too dire to accept the status quo and too urgent to embrace incremental reform” - Faulk

n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

I’m not sure if you are aware, but we are living in very unsustainable times in a very unsustainable way. The population is growing- adding the population of New York monthly; Mexico, yearly; and a new India every decade. The equation I= PxAxT has been created to attempt to measure human environmental impact where:

I= Environmental Impact
P= Human Population
A = Affluence (Consumption)
T= Technology

The equation reveals the interdependent relationship of environmental factors and impacts. From resource depletion to waste accumulation. The growth rate of humans (P) is exponential and if we continue consuming and polluting at the same rates we will literally consume ourselves to death. The equation also reveals the effectiveness of technology (T), the processes we use to get resources and transform them into goods. We use technology to consume more, make that consumption more convenient, and thus more often. Americanism is equated with consumerism which implies everyone consumes and contributes to waste at the same rates, which is not true. Assourdain puts a much needed emphasis on the inclusion of culture as a key factor in affluence and the “transformation of dominant cultural patterns.” Consumption is a way of life that revolves around your personal value system, the assumed “good life,” whatever that means to you, on an individual basis all around the world. However, America and western colonial powers injected the DNA for “affluenza” not only in their respective nations but all around the world through slavery, colonialism, and globalization.

Slavery, in all its forms (colonialism and modern incarceration) — and any system that allows atrocities like slavery to exist — is the quintessential example of the role of cultural disparities in inputs and output and the ramifications of the unfair reality of the tragedy of the commons. Slave masters, all who participated in the institution and still profit viewed slaves as a machine, and when different technologies made production more efficient, the labor had to meet the demand of supply. As long as capitalism exists, classism will too and those who are financially able will continue to further themselves at the expense of the other 99%, the working, and lower classes. The system that allowed and even catered to slavery still exists and in that type of system, no meaningful environmental action can occur when those who run the show don’t want it to. From a historical context in America and majority of the world, capitalism exploits the idea of winners and losers and turns the belief into a way of life and the international state system is passively set up to allow it. The radical Faulk is correct, “our condition is too dire to accept the status quo and too urgent to embrace incremental reform” and the unfair reality of the tragedy of the commons is a manifestation of that allowance.

The 1968 essay, Tragedy of the Commons remains influential because environmental degradation continues. However, capitalism creates two forms of tragedy: the pollution of the common resources everyone relies upon and the tragedy of not having basic and essential securities because you cannot afford them… The effects of global warming is not reflective of its primary contributors. For example, the West over consumes and the east pays the price. The global south, while holding a majority of the worlds’ natural resources, is lagging behind the global north with the global agricultural market being a prime example and major factor in the tragedy of the commons… In the attempt to “save/employ/feed everyone,” we are all being poisoned slowly. Subsidies in one country handicap the well-being of an entire market in another country. Consumption and waste have a direct impact on the food-energy-water-climate creating a nexus, which is influenced by the sociocultural roots of consumption. Developing countries are trying to adopt conventional, western techniques of industrialization to achieve the American Dream and way of life.

No matter who denies climate change, what cannot be denied is our addiction to consumption. The tragedy of the commons is very real and the best way to overcome it is to end the foundational ideology of human separateness and ownership of our surrounding environment instead of coexisting with it and eliminating the concept of waste as a whole. This belief and those kin to it drive capitalistic interests and undermine the democratic foundation of the international state system. Within the past two weeks alone, we have had more than four, once in a century natural disasters occur, from three hurricanes in America’s southeast, Nigerian floods, Mexico’s earthquake… these natural catastrophes will become the norm if we do not change the way we live, our perception and reliance on things to add value to our lives.


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