Sun, 09 Mar 2003

Consumerism: Fighting the greed us

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

"Your wants, desires, needs and wishes/will be duly noted/processed, filed and cataloged/labeled and encoded," sings American singer/songwriter and Tracy Chapman in her latest album, Let It Rain which was released last year.

The song titled Hardwired, is a broadside against the pervasive nature of consumerism.

Known for strong political messages in her lyrics, Chapman said that now there was this notion that people can sell you anything just by convincing you that you need it.

"And not only will you be content with that, you might also degrade or debase yourself in some way so that you can have it. And that just seems even more corrupt than selling something no one really wants or needs. They subvert people's real wishes and desires. Not only do they empty their pockets, but they may in the transaction lose their real sense of self."

Tracy may have a point as records show that in 1999 American citizens spent US$8 billion for cosmetics while 1.2 billion people in the world have to live on just one dollar a day.

The condition is worsened with the fact that 20 percent of world's population live in developed countries and consume 80 percent of world's resources while at the same time producing 80 percent of world's toxic waste.

These startling facts come courtesy of Suara Hati Ibu (Voice of Women's Hearts) during its anti-consumerism declaration in conjunction with the 2003 International Women's Day on Saturday.

Some 30 concerned women, accompanied by a few concerned men, read the declaration on Saturday at one of the entrances of Plaza Indonesia in Central Jakarta, which could well be considered the "mecca" of consumerism and materialism in Indonesia.

The organizers believe that since most local women are usually as ones who handle the household cash-flow have the role as educators and even pioneers to reduce such excessive consumption.

Mega Prianti of Suara Hati Ibu told The Jakarta Post that we all were exposed to advertising which had driven many of us to excessive consumption.

"It is not that we should not go shopping, but instead we should buy what we really need instead of what we think we need, merely because a slick model on TV convinced us.

"The reason why we choose International Women's Day to declare such a moral movement because we, women, are agents of change at least in our neighborhood and families," she said.

Unfortunately, many women who are privileged to become agents of change are indifferent. President Megawati Soekarnoputri would fall into that category, according to many women. Long-criticized by women activists as doing very little to fight for gender equality, Megawati has never shown much interest in the celebration of this year International Women's Day.

Another leading activist, Karlina Leksono said the declaration was meant to start a cultural movement against consumerism as one of the roots of the rampant corruption here.

"Consumerism drives us to buy things that we don't really need. At some point, most of us have to resort to corruption to bring in enough money to support such a destructive habit.

"That's why we need a moral reminder saying that consumerism is something dangerous," she added.

Karlina emphasized that consumerism also denied citizens the right to better quality urban public spaces as all available plots of land were turned into shopping malls.

The idea of launching a moral movement is the fruit of prolonged discussions among the activists who happened to be mostly women.

Contacted separately, chairwoman of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), Indah Suksmaningsih, told the Post that she agreed with the idea although the term used was incorrect.

"The term 'consumerism' actually means efforts to become a critical consumer who is not only asking for his or her rights but also aware of over consumption which can deny the others' rights of getting goods or service.

"What we should really fight is consumptivism or materialism in which people buy things just for the sake of shopping instead of really needing the goods," she added.

Indah pointed out that nowadays the cancerous materialism has emerged here more notably during the Megawati Soekarnoputri administration.

"People no longer feel awkward when they show off their wealth by buying the latest models of luxury cars while at the same time poor people have to wait in long lines to get their rations of rice or kerosene.

"After the Bali bombing, the government decided to shift the holidays to enable people to take more vacations. The question is do we all have the money to take longer vacations," she added.

So whether it is an anti consumerism or anti consumption or whatever the term should be, it would be nice if we remember other people in our nation when we do our shopping.