Last week the story that Lord Simon Wolfson, the chief exec of 'Next', had been moaning about "millennial shoppers" and their diminishing enthusiasm for spending money on material things (Next clothing in particular, we can safely assume) in favour of spending instead on "experiences", fell across my radar. As you would expect from such a person, he expressed the "problem" entirely in terms of numbers. According to "the latest figures from Barclaycard" (standard bedtime reading for a chief executive, probably) "expenditure in restaurants shot up in the last three months of 2016 compared with the previous year" with similar rises in spending on "entertainment, such as going to the cinema". All this apparently leaves our multimillionaire hero "'extremely cautious' about the outlook for the rest of 2017". Not "extremely cautious" in a parents-of-the-3-million-plus-children-in-the-UK-who-live-in-poverty kind of a way, I assume, but extremely cautious nonetheless. More a perhaps-he'll-decide-not-to-use-his-bonus-to-plug-the-pay-gap-between-him-and-his-employees-this-year kind of a way. Which, of course, he has every right to do, doesn't he? Or not to do.
Now there's no need for me to go down that road to make the point I want to make here. Some people are multimillionaire chief executives of successful businesses. Personally I don't begrudge them that (much) and I've never much cared for the neo-socialist vitriol spewed at "The 1%" (TM) as if the inequality that exists between them and the rest of us were always, by definition, their fault. I'm more interested in the assumptions underneath this type of thinking - assumptions expressed in Lord Wolfson's comments, on the right (he's a Tory peer, believe it or not) as well as in the standard criticisms of "wealth inequality" that we hear repeated ad nauseum, and without much reflection, on the left. Crudely put, those assumptions boil down to this: some people have too much money, while the rest of us have too little, and if the have-too-muches would only share with the have-too-littles (voluntarily or otherwise), everything would be much better for everyone. There'd be no more multimillionaires (boo hoo) but no more children in poverty either. Utopia achieved. Hooray.
Whether or not this is true does not concern me in the least. I have lost all taste for the bitter back-and-forth between left and right on such matters as 'entitlement', 'equality', and 'wealth'. As if all that politics was really about was who gets how much money, when, and why. As if all that really mattered was not whether or not we are spending money at all, but only what we spend it on. (Note the fetishisation of capital-E 'Experience' is just as prominent in consumer culture as the fetishisation of stuff, and that we are all just as susceptible to it). I'm trying to imagine a world beyond money, a world where value - real value - is contained in something much more, well, real than the means of exchange. More real, even, than the things themselves being exchanged.
And it's a terrible irony that in our slouching towards Utopia we came to value anything else. But that's what happened, and here we are, in the empty pursuit of objects, and of the means by which to acquire more objects. Even our experiences become objects, memories to accumulate and 'share' with 'friends' - people with whom the only thing we really share is envy. We can do better than this. We haven't quite worked out how yet, but we will. We have to.
Today I reached a kind of milestone. I got rid of the last of my excess stuff.
|Stuff, bags thereof.|
There's a very handy little app called 'Gone for Good' here in the UK, that allows you to quickly find local charities that will collect your clutter for free. Posting the picture above alerted the local British Heart Foundation man + van, who arrived this morning to take about ten bags of clothes, books, kitchen items and other miscellaneous junk off my hands and into the hands of people who can hopefully do some good with it. It was a great feeling - not just the unavoidable, self-congratulatory warmth that comes with giving to charity - but the feeling of going back inside to a flat that no contains virtually nothing useless. No doubt there's more pairing down to be done (it becomes an obsession) but I feel like I crossed another bridge to wherever I'm going next.