We have a number problems in this country: the national debt,the quantity of jobs available, the rocky relationship between Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, all of which deserve our undivided focus and attention. There is another problem we face, one that comes close to equaling Rob and Kristen’s emotional rollercoaster. It is a problem that contributes to our social and economic conditions. Our society faces the problem of trying to find the delicate balance between the lack of quality and the excess of quantity that is found in multiple aspects of our culture. Simply put, Americans want more. And they want it to levels of excess that have become problematic and detrimental.
Today, we’ll first look at the causes behind our society’s issues with quality as it relates to quantity. Next, we’ll examine the effects of this epidemic, and finally, we’ll pin-point some solutions that will allow us to balance our growing need for more, with what we actually need, so that we can tip the scales in our favor.
Tipping the scales back towards center may not be as easy as it seems. We are fighting against more than balancing our needs and wants; we are fighting against a way of thinking that has dominated our social understanding of quality versus quantity. In the 1987 movie Wallstreet, corrupt businessman Gordon Gekko tells us that,
Greed is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Unfortunately, what Mr. Gekko says is true. Greed is now what drives our wants and desires, and what pushes us to obtain what we want at any cost. We have entered a time where people pay less attention to what you have, and more attention to how much of it you have. We are blinded by the quantity of the things we own, rather than the quality of our possessions and our lives. According to physicist and computer scientist Carlos Roca in his article “Social Cohesion in a Society of Greedy, Mobile Individuals,” published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Human wellbeing in modern societies relies on social cohesion, which can be characterized by high levels of cooperation and a large number of social ties. Both features, however, are frequently challenged by individual self-interest. The stability of social and economic systems can suddenly break down as the recent financial crisis illustrates.
What this means is that our individual interests are actually breaking down our social structure. Our “me-first” attitude is what directly affects our need for quantity, instead of quality. If we are focused on getting as much as we can, as fast as we can, the quality of what we consume is going to be compromised.
There are many aspects of our society that have been affected by our focus on quantity at the expense of quality. In the business and entertainment sectors, we’ve seen politicians sent to jail for crimes motivated by greed, and celebrities and artists produce material that is at best of questionable quality. One need look no further than politicians like disgraced Illinois senator Rod Blagoivich, or companies like Johnson and Johnson, which in 2007 reported illegal activity to the government such as bribing government-paid doctors and health officials to promote sales of medical devices in Greece, Poland and Romania. According to Robert Khuzami, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of enforcement,
For years, the company tried to hide its illegal activities by using sham contracts and off-shore companies to cover its tracks. The Johnson & Johnson’s bribes might have harmed public health in several European countries.
The scariest effect of this mentality is the disregard for the public’s well-being. This side-effect manifests itself in the actions of companies like Johnson and Johnson, but also in what we are exposed to in our everyday lives.
Our country’s obesity rate, for example, is a calling card of society’s issue with quantity. A 2012 report published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that by 2030, 42 percent of U.S. adults will be obese, adding $550 billion in obesity-related medical expenses to healthcare costs over that period, unless Americans change their ways. Our need for more money, more food, and more recognition is literally making us sick. If we don’t work to correct the imbalance between how much of everything we want, versus how much of it we need, we will find ourselves with a lot of stuff, but without the most important things we have – our physical and emotional health.
Back in 1997, Rapper The Notorious B.I.G. told us that,
Fifteen years later, his words, like the rapper, have started to take on an even larger meaning. When it comes to getting our B.I.G. quantity issues under control, we need to change rappers. And by that I mean, change the rap lyrics our country has come to identify with. The iconic group Outkast tells us,
What this means is that we need to be patient and work for good things in our lives, instead of accepting the many mediocre things that come our way. Anthony Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and author of Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference, argues we need to approach solving our attitudes towards the need for excessive quantity from an economic angle. He says that,
When the market’s crashed in 2008, I think people realized just how much we need community. Not only did out of control money put us in a bad situation, but we realized that we can’t rely 100% on 401ks and the market to take care of us. Trying to make so much money so that you don’t need anyone is a ridiculous and lonely pursuit. We need to view our financial returns alongside the society we’re building. It keeps us connected.
As Mr. Levine says, we need to make sure we are focusing on what’s good for our society, not just what is good for us as individuals. We need to remember that greed only leads to excess, which does not translate into having items of quality in our lives, and also, a quality society. The only thing greed leads to is a huge quantity of stuff.
As the saying goes, the best things in life are worth waiting for. And that is what we need to keep in mind when we evaluate what we have in our lives. You may desire more in terms of your financial, social, or personal gains, but that isn’t the answer. The answer is to appreciate the quality of what you have and know that quantity never equals quality.
So, while we still have issues such as our nation’s debt and the job crisis, perhaps these words will reach the ears of the people who hold the fate of our country’s happiness and health in their hands, and it will teach them to love and be grateful for what they have. Here’s looking at you, Kristen and Rob.