The imperative of our civilization is “consume and produce”. The reward that the system has in store for who abides by this commandment is a myriad of unnecessary goods. No matter how much it is deserved, this reward is made of resources that are stolen by creatures who need them for their very survival. In spite of this high cost, superfluous goods do not make us even one inch closer to happiness. On the contrary, the promise of this phoney reward is instrumental in enslaving us and making us constantly unsatisfied. In order to be able to pay unnecessary goods, we are forced to work more than necessary and to lead an existence under the constant pressure of success.
Superfluous needs and unhappiness
Superfluous things are not an evil per se. Superfluous things can be pleasant, provided they are obtained spontaneously and without excessive effort. The problem is the desire of superfluous things, that is to say, when desires are felt as absolutely necessary needs. Desires are thus “superfluous needs”. The addiction to superfluous needs, and in particular to superfluous needs that cannot be self-fulfilled, is harmful because it prevents one from being self-sufficient. Who is not self-sufficient cannot be free. And there is no happiness without freedom.
As the number of the needs perceived as necessary increases, achieving peace of mind becomes unnecessarily difficult. When superfluous needs dominate over necessary needs, as it happens in our civilization, unhappiness is a very common human condition. In many cases, one does not realise one’s own unhappiness for sheer distraction. Indeed, it happens that happiness is often confused with oblivion of unhappiness, and many people are unhappy without even being aware of it. Relenteless activities of production and consumption, i.e. hard work and fun, commonly perceived as pursuit of success, make it difficult to develop any form of inner awareness. Yet most of the people are wore out by the frustration of unfulfilled desires and by the stress that the fulfillment of desires involves.
Most people believe that being able to get a well-paid job is the solution to this. But far from being a solution, this is the beginning of other problems. First of all money alone can also make more damages than good. Money indeed kindles new desires, whose satisfaction brings new stress, in an endless vicious cycle. Differently from necessary needs, the fulfillment of desires never gives the expected satisfaction. If one has cold or is hungry, heat and food can eliminate completely the pain coming from unfulfilled vital needs. Yet there is nothing that can really fulfill a desire, because desires are not in our bodies, but in our mind. A mind that does not take the sufficient time to think can conclude that the fulfillment of a desire has not brought satisfaction because of the modesty of the results (possessions, pleasures…) achieved. Here is where the trap begins. Because as a consequence of that, the thoughtless mind can go further concluding that it is necessary to enjoy and consume more, in order to be happy. Thus, it is also necessary to secure the resources for this immoderate consumption and the result is an immoderate work. The more one feels unsatisfied, the more one will consume. The more one will consume, the more one will produce. Thus the door of the cell is shut.
In our society there is not a simple habit to superfluousness, but a real injunction to it. The only moral imperative in the civilization of consumerism is “enjoy”, which is to say: “consume”. A live is perceived as fully lived only when it complies with this obscene call. Fear of death, omnipresent in every civilization because part of human nature, seems to have been removed from our collective consciences. It looks as though people either have forgotten that they will not live forever, or they do not seem to care. With respect with previous ages, when the appointment with Death was short of an obsession, a superficial observer may say that a fully materialist and hedonist society as ours has managed to overcome the fear of Death. Yet at a more careful analysis, one can notice that fear of Death has just changed face. Nowadays it is not Death itself to scare, but the fear of not having enjoyed enough when Death will come. Death is dreaded only if She arrives before of the enjoyment of pleasures. Death is dreaded inasmuch as She hampers consumption and enjoyment. Conversely, if one enjoys, i.e. consumes, then one has no reason to be afraid of Death, because when Death will come, life will be “fully” lived. Consumption and enjoyment of superfluous goods have become the experience that gives meaning to our lives, a sort of an existential “mission”. If this hedonistic mission is accomplished, Death is no danger: “life was one, I bought and enjoyed as much as I could. Now I can rest in peace”.
The moral injunction to enjoyment and consumption brings a significant contribution to the unhappiness of our age. This injunction condemns people to a constant status of anxiety. Millions of people pour into psychologists’s waiting rooms with the same self-diagnosed problem: “I cannot enjoy life”. And if they cannot enjoy life, life has no meaning. They seldom suspect that the problem is not their incapacity to enjoy, rather their vulnerability and submission to the obscene call, that commands them to enjoy.
The post-industrial economic system is based on a huge productivity of useless goods. In order to survive, this system has needed to remodel the contemporary individual according to its necessities. What was needed was an individual that was a consumer before being a human. An addicted to consumption was required who could absorb and endless mass of products and services. A continuous economic growth can indeed persist only if there is a continuous consumption. A continuous consumption can exist only if it is possible to create needs wherever there are no needs. An indefinite economic growth can be pursued only by creating dissatisfaction wherever there is satisfaction, because who is satisfied does not buy. It is necessary to create shortages wherever there is plenty, because what is plentiful cannot be sold, and what is limited can be sold at a better price. For the system based on unlimited economic growth, everywhere there is no shortage, a regretful lost chance to generate profit and to contribute to the economic growth has been lost.
This economic system requires an individual who live only for consumption, who enjoy goods and pleasures which require limited resources, and who be ready to work hard, i.e. produce, in order to enjoy these goods and pleasures. In other words, a human individual who live for his/her own unhappiness and for the destruction of the planet. Pier Paolo Pasolini meaningfully defined the ideology that supports this economic system as consumerist hedonism. Consumerist hedonism is the principle for which people are artificially kept unhappy, and the Nature systematically destroyed without any need. Happiness does not buy, and hence must not even produce. But if people are unhappy will buy and work, consume and produce.
Why eliminating superfluous needs
For these considerations, the removal of superfluous needs is for us a practical spiritual choice that allows escaping the trap of consumerist hedonism and the endless anxiety that it causes. Knocking down the injunction to enjoyment, which is carefully drummed in our minds since early childhood, it is possible to redeem our lifetime and to discover another meaning to the existence, a much more tranquil life. By eliminating the need of superfluous, we disarm unhappiness.
Furthermore, we believe that it is not possible being happy, if the price of our happiness creates unhappiness in other beings. Consumption creates pain or discomfort to other creatures. It burns resources that other living beings need for their survival, depriving them of freedom that each creature of the Creation deserves. Sunlight, wind, rain, trees, rivers, green meadows were made for everyone, not just for us. Taking away these things from other beings in order to fulfill one’s own stupid unnecessary desires and then expecting to be happy is very short minded.
Besides these spiritual motivations, there is also a material one: the elimination of superfluous needs make self-sufficiency easier. A widespread problem among intentional communities that aim to self-sufficiency, and which often seals their fate, is the limited availability of monetary resources. In order to secure a sufficient monetary flow, only two alternatives exist: either to develop economical activities finalized to the production of a money income, or to reduce the needs. The development of larger economical activities brings about the unnecessary complications of life that we want to eliminate. Thus consuming less is the easiest way of becoming rich.
They do not fear those who demonstrate against them, because they know how to ignore. They do not fear those who expose and discredit them, because they know how to silence. They do not fear those who use violence, because they know they can reply with even greater violence. Not only are they invulnerable to any “democratic” protest, but they even grant the freedom to perform these kinds of protest. In such a way, the subjugated can feel themselves free, being allowed to vent off all the frustration originated by the enslavement of their existences. The prisoners can shout their dissent, they are given the illusion of having the power of changing the system at the next political election, by eliminating corrupt politicians and promoting morally integer leaders. They are confident that with time civilization and progress will continue to improve human well-being, just as it happened in the last 3000 years of our glorious civilization. So after having expressed all their indignation against the system, on monday morning the prisoners will go back to work with a lighter spirit, heartened by the liberties conceded by the Power, and so a new productive week can start. After a couple of weeks of hard work, every rage and frustration will be forgotten, and the mind will be set on the next family visit to the shopping mall, where sales have begun in the meantime.
We do not want anything of all that. We refuse any freedom that is granted, because accepting granted freedoms means accepting one’s own submission. Freedom cannot be given as a free coupon in a supermarket, it cannot be given in the form of a product ready for the consumption. Freedom can only be conquered spiritually, because we are the greatest obstacle between us and Freedom.