To be soaked in materialism, to directly and indirectly champion it, has also brought guilt. I don’t know if I have a right to the vast quantities of materials and energy I consume in my daily life. Even if I thought I did, I know the planet cannot bear my lifestyle multiplied by 7 billion individuals. I believe this understanding is shared, if only subconsciously, by almost everyone in the Western world.
Every last trifle we touch and consume, right down to the paper on which this magazine is printed or the screen on which it’s displayed, is not only ephemeral but in a real sense irreplaceable. Every consumer good has a cost not borne out by its price but instead falsely bolstered by a vanishing resource economy. We squander millions of years’ worth of stored energy, stored life, from our planet to make not only things that are critical to our survival and comfort but also things that simply satisfy our innate primate desire to possess. It’s this guilt that we attempt to assuage with the hope that our consumerist culture is making life better—for ourselves, of course, but also in some lesser way for those who cannot afford to buy everything we purchase, consume, or own.
When that small appeasement is challenged even slightly, when that thin, taut cord that connects our consumption to the nameless millions who make our lifestyle possible snaps even for a moment, the gulf we find ourselves peering into—a yawning, endless future of emptiness on a squandered planet—becomes too much to bear.
When 17 people take their lives, I ask myself, did I in my desire hurt them? Even just a little?
And of course the answer, inevitable and immeasurable as the fluttering silence of our sun, is yes.
Just a little.