NOTHING IN THE WEST SYMBOLIZES GREED, CONSUMPTION AND MATERIALISM MORE THAN A SHOPPING MALL.
From the moment you step into the perfect climate controlled environment and come face to face with an elaborate fountain, wasting thousands of gallons of water, you are struck by everything that is wrong with our society. The artificial nature of this manmade world is designed around the need to induce average people to part with their money as quickly and as efficiently as possible. And, of course, we line up like mindless drones for the opportunity to do just that. Our entire form of capitalism is based on the fact that we spend before we think. Purchasing on impulse, whether we can afford it or not, helps drive our economy, providing jobs for more people who can then spend money they don’t actually have shopping for things they don’t really need. It is an endless cycle that props up the financial structure of the Western world.
So …… you and your friend step into the mall and you are greeted by the sights, sounds and smells of temptation. You have told yourself you are going to make this a quick trip, you only need to get a couple of things, but before long other stores catch your eye and you find yourself going into all types of shops. Before you know it you’ve bought a handbag here and another pair of shoes there and some jewelry which you first thought you would give away as a gift, but now you might just keep for yourself. What was to be a 30 minute trip has now turned into 2 hours and you’ve gotten hungry. You and your friend debate whether to have a full meal at one of the nice restaurants or just grab something quick at the food court. It is a big decision that must be considered carefully since you are both on another of an endless series of diets, but you finally agree to just get some Chinese and Mexican at the court and share. You assure each other that your respective diets will resume tomorrow.
3 short hours later the two of you can barely carry all the bags you have accumulated. What was to be a quick in and out for a few things has now turned into a full-scale shopping spree. You’ve each spent hundreds of dollars, consumed thousands of calories and your feet hurt. You dread walking out into the summer heat to try and find your car among the hundreds of other gas guzzling SUVs but it is the price you must pay for the pure enjoyment of going farther in debt, purchasing things that you’ll never use but that you are sure will add untold happiness to your life. Suddenly you and your friend can’t remember where you came in at. Was it by the high end clothing store or the gourmet ice cream shop? You decide it was the ice cream shop because you remember resisting the temptation to get a couple of scoops when you came in, but now your resolve has weakened, so although you are full, you both decide to stop in and have some dessert and rest your feet before you lug your packages all over the parking lot looking for your vehicle which you only owe 55 more payments on ……
The mall is a wondrous place filled with overweight people waddling along burdened down by packages filled with virtually worthless items. Teenagers and young adults covered in tattoos and piercings hang out trying desperately to look cool and be noticed. Old men sit in chairs waiting for their wives to exhaust their energy and their checking accounts as they fume about the ball game they are missing on TV. Small children run wild screaming with excitement at all the possibilities that their parents are going to say “NO!” to. The employees of the expensive shops treat their customers with total disdain while minimum wage kids work the fast food counters with all the enthusiasm of someone facing a lumbar puncture. Mall cops try to look intimidating but thankfully do not carry lethal weapons. There are couples who are only there to catch an over priced movie that cost tens of millions of dollars to make, created by a series of corporate decisions that have stripped the film of any artistic value. And finally you have the poor who are simply looking for a place to escape the heat but who have no opportunity to join in on this spectacle of capitalism at its zenith.
As we shop, spend and consume in the perfect setting of the mall, on the other side of the world it is a different story. One billion human beings struggle to stay alive on a dollar a day. Each year 10,950,000 of them lose that battle. More than 9,000,000 of those deaths are children, many under the age of five. They die from hunger and related causes, treatable illnesses and preventable diseases…but in actuality they die from the neglect of the other five billion people on earth. We have made the collective decision that we would rather eat expensive food at the mall than to save a child from hunger. We prefer to buy more shoes instead of paying for vaccines that could save countless lives. We feel the need to purchase the latest phones and computers even though that money could dig wells and provide safe water for families. We do our hair, our nails and get tans because it is more important that we look good than for a mother to have medical care so that she can survive the delivery of her baby.
There is a certain sadness that hangs over the mall. People come filled with excitement and anticipation but leave with a feeling of remorse over their complete lack of self-control. Every visit is the same. They come searching for something meaningful but they leave disappointed. Why is this? Perhaps it is because each one of us knows that happiness can’t be found with the swipe of a piece of plastic. We know that there is more to life than piling up as many possessions as we possibly can. We realize that we are chasing a dream that can’t be fulfilled. No matter how much we spend, it cannot replace the need to connect with other people. We are each aware of the terrible poverty that afflicts humanity but too many of us deal with this unpleasant truth by turning away and ignoring it. None of us wants innocent children to have to live and die in squalor and filth. That is why we go to a place like the mall in order to escape from the reality of life, if only for a short time. For a few hours we see the world the way we wish it was, but we know it is only an illusion, and the sadness that descends upon us as we leave and go back to our real lives leaves us feeling empty and disheartened.
WE CANNOT SPEND OURSELVES INTO PERMANENT HAPPINESS WHEN WE KNOW HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF HUMAN BEINGS HAVE NOTHING.