A Culture in Storage
In the previous discussion on the philosophy of work, I argued that a vast majority of Americans work either to maintain their standards of living or their possessions. In discussing the latter, it often results in the accumulation of stuff, typically collectibles, as individuals conflate their identity with the things they own.
A sense of ownership, of holding claim to one’s possessions, isn’t inherently problematic. The problem arises when it is only through ownership that one feels a sense of personal worth. What results from such beliefs is the conception that the more one owns, the more valuable one is to one’s family or one’s society.
In a sense, though, this conception isn’t too far from the mark. If over the course of my lifetime, I have amassed a lot of possessions, in trying to establish credit with any banking system, I can then use those possessions as assets, to leverage capital, to buy more stuff.
Thus, I can leverage stuff to get more stuff.
The system is constructed such that one’s possessions, irrespective of how dated they may be, retain some worth, and that worth can later be used as leverage to amass even greater possessions. Though the average American collector may not have taken the time to think of the process of collecting in such explicit terms, there needs to be some level of understanding of this system, no matter how latent, for the system to work.
The more one possesses, the more assets one has. The more assets one has, the more leverage one has. The more leverage one has, the more capital one can borrow. The more capital one can borrow, the more stuff one can possess. And the cycle repeats.
There is, however, a very real limitation to a culture that values possessions. Americans have exceedingly found it difficult to purge their possessions, either through charitable donations or throwing unused items in the trash. Americana is bloated with stuff. We have become a culture of storage.
Such high levels of consumption results in an industry of storage facilities and inherently undermines the notion of altruism and the benefits of giving.
Since everything has value, the thought of giving away a childhood toy, which has been discovered in an attic, unused and unopened, would present a very real dilemma. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose the toy is more than twenty five years old. The likelihood that such a toy exists, unopened for twenty five years is very small. Thus, the likelihood that another toy in exactly the same “mint condition” exists is also very unlikely. It is probably best to assume, then, that the rarity of such a toy in such condition would result in an increased value. Later in the discussion I will return to the very important distinction between worth and value, as the two concepts are not interchangeable.
Thus, not only is it the case that our cultural practices support collecting and stockpiling things, it is even beneficial to stockpile unused and unopened things, especially potential collector’s items, for decades thereby increasing their value.
For example, any parent of a small boy between ages four and thirteen during the Christmas season of 2008 knew that the most have item for a boy in this age range was bakugan. Based on cultural practices and the conditions that I have outlined, it would be beneficial for the savvy collector to collect as many bakugan as possible. Moreover, not only should collectors collect these toys, they should not open them. They should be purchased and placed in storage for twenty five years and then resold as collector’s items to men seeking to reclaim the fond memories of their childhood.
What about all the millions of boys and girls without these toys? What about all those that weren’t able to enjoy the holiday season because of their financial inability? Granted, there can be no requirement that we share, but we should recognize the value in sharing, a claim that is often overlooked and trivialized.
Americana does not embrace the value of sharing.
As our obsession with collecting stuff increases, our need for more storage increases as well. As our need for more storage increases, storage compartments also increase to accommodate our increased stuff. As the size of storage compartments increase, the cost to rent them increases. And thus, the more we get, the more we own, the more we have to spend to house the stuff we own.
But just imagine the absurdity of working to preserve one’s stuff in storage. Rather than assuming a minimalist lifestyle and donating excess to charity or simply ridding one’s self of unused things, we have been taught that our things are assets and as such they have an intrinsic value.
There is, however, an alternative, something which Americana has yet to embrace: the value of not seeking value in things. The bitter truth is that things are only valuable insofar as we deem them desirable. And the problem of Americana’s obsession with things is a direct result with our inability to govern our desires.
It is as if the child, full of indulgences, were able to satisfy any and every desire. For children, however, parenting is essential. For government, paternalism is something to be challenged. Thus, Americana’s dilemma is one of balancing desires with good parental guidance without neglect or indulgence.