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Disposable Society

Bottled water, smart phones, car leases and even marriages, does anything really last anymore?

As I continue learning daily about the marketplace around me I cannot help but notice the absence of messages promoting quality and value. What seems to be there instead are messages about price and speed. More subtly, there are messages encouraging instant gratification. While this is certainly not a new phenomenon, I have started to take a particular notice to it lately.

What is quality really? I read a seminal work once by Robert Persig called “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” that talked a great deal about quality. In one of the discussions, the author posits that quality is something everyone can distinguish but cannot define. For example, we can set quantitive metrics for quality for things we can measure, but who decided those were the right metrics?

Perhaps what quality is then is something more democratic. If the majority of opinions agree on certain attributes and their values then those are what represent quality, at least to those who agree.

Along with the notion of quality is value. There is much conversation about values these days and that, I believe, is a good thing. What is value? My personal definition for value is action oriented as well as thought oriented. Choices reflect values. I heard a preacher once say that if you want to know what your values are to look at your checkbook and your calendar.

To link these concepts in some way let us consider this. What we value personally is that which demonstrates or promises to demonstrate the attributes of quality that we consider important. When persons whose values agree come together as a collective then the group’s values are viewed similarly. This is especially visible with group oriented stereotypes such as with the political labels “liberal” and “conservative”.

Beyond the labels, what I believe I see is a modern ethos of instant gratification and disposability that extends into many areas of life. Today it seems that everything is disposable. The idea of enduring hardship now for benefits latter seems laughable in many contexts. Creating something durable now almost seems old fashioned.

What is concerning to me about our disposable society is that the idea of disposability is extending beyond just material goods into relationships of all kinds: jobs, family, marriages, friendships. It’s as if the coldness of science and economics have infiltrated human relationships. It’s now all about happiness.

If something doesn’t make us happy we just throw it away and get another. If the replacement doesn’t make us happy we throw it away and get another.

On the surface we have outward optimism, hope, the pursuit of happiness and the like. Those are desirable things to be sure. If we accept disposability of these things along with the other things then what have we left? Are we at risk of an endless spiral of quick hits of short lived happiness? There is a word for this: addiction.

My view is this: there is absolute merit in pursuing the ultimate good. What is ultimately good is certainly up for public debate however, what is true does not depend on public opinion.

I would assert that the attributes of that which is ultimately good is not something that is disposable but something that lasts. Something that endures. Something that you can count on and depend on to be there no matter what.

Are we still interested in making things that last? Are we willing to do what it takes now to receive the fruits of our efforts later? Will we allow the disposable society to throw us out with it? Let’s hope not.