From top: Christmas shopping in Grafton Street, Dublin 2; Dan Boyle
Throughout my adult life I’ve moved house no more than half a dozen times. I’ve never enjoyed the experience. Outside of the effort involved there is something almost soul destroying in seeing your life reduced to a number of boxes. An occasional smile is given on finding a photo, a newspaper clipping or a well thumbed much read book, but mostly the content of the boxes often ask more questions than they answer.
The most obvious question is why? Why have I acquired so much along the way, so much that doesn’t seem to have any ongoing value? As I get older the longest and slowest lesson I’ve had to learn is that doing things is worth far more than owning things.
It’s a well worn and excessively used cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness. It sadly remains a philosophy that still informs how economies are structured and how they are seen as being successful.
At this supposed time of human achievement it seems we have been reduced to ‘we are what we buy’. A strong economy cannot exist, we are told, unless we consume and continue to consume. We are mere economic actors whose job it is to push economic activity further and higher.
All this results of in is clutter. We are the box fillers of the future. For as long as economic success is determined as how much we buy, then ultimately what satisfies us will be subject to diminishing returns.
In today’s global economy that only thing we can be certain that money buys us is other money, in other words debt. This is the ultimate paradox of modern life. We buy so much that we don’t need on the basis of wealth that we don’t properly define, wealth that in reality is borrowed from the future. Or as told to me over the years by several romantic co-conspirators of mine – we can’t continue to go on like this. Like those conversations the reassuring statement that ‘it isn’t you’ sugarcoats the deceit. Except that it usually is us.
Minimal changes in our lifestyles could bring about a considerable impact without major changes in our collective quality of life. That’s the positive distillation of the Green message.
Some would argue that there is no real choice. To continue consuming as we are, means consuming resources that are becoming all too scarce on this all too finite planet we share. Soon we may no longer have the luxury of continuing to buy luxuries.
More are realising that the future, the short term future is a very uncertain thing. The Green movement has gathered to preach, preach the operable word, this message to a sparse number of believers. There is a danger has been that such a doom laden approach has also alienated many. I would like to think that a Green future can be, should be, must be a happy future.
Apocalyptic narratives don’t persuade. They push heads even further into the sand. There is a comfort in doing things as they’ve always been done. Persuading people to do otherwise in such circumstances is, and always be difficult. But in making do with less of much of what we never needed, we begin to do more with what can be shared between us, and then begin to own less.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Dan Boyle’s new book ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.