Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What’s Your Final Answer?

Written by: on March 2, 2014

Here is another multiple choice question for you. This question was the million dollar question answered by a young man who was a contestant on the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”  So here is your opportunity, not to win a million dollars, but to gain the satisfaction of answering it correctly:

Which insect shorted out an early supercomputer that inspired the term “computer bug?”[1]

A: Moth

B: Roach

C. Fly

D. Japanese Beetle

Well it turns out that this young man answered the question correctly and he was the youngest person in television history to win a million dollars on the game show. So I have to ask, “What is it about these game shows – Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Deal or No Deal, Wheel of Fortune, to name a few, that leave people mesmerized by money?  What drives people to be willing to risk a large amount of money and prizes or to even risk losing it all for the chance to win it big? Stupidity? Selfishness? Greed?  The pursuit for happiness?

Perhaps one of the greatest illusions of our day is that you can have it all!  Yet it seems that in today’s culture the message has gone from “I can have it all” to “I must have it all.” The world and culture in which we live in tells us that to have unsatisfied desires is unacceptable.

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in thebook, The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, state that as a society we are spending record amounts of money on luxury goods, vacations, designer clothing and household comforts.[2] Yet anticonsumerism has become one of the most important cultural forces across every social class and demographic.[3]  So how can we denounce consumerism yet still find ourselves living in a consumer society?  What if countercultural rebellion, rather than being a consequence of intensified consumerism, were actually a contributing factor? [4] In other words the counterculture’s ideas of rebelliousness and being “cool” have become the focus of consumerism.

The authors suggest that people spend money not on things that help them to fit in, but on things that allow them to stand out from the crowd. In other words people want to look and feel superior, cooler, connected, smarter, and richer than others. Thus, consumerism becomes about competition not conformity. People may start out being happy with what they buy or obtain, but eventually, those things fail to produce lasting satisfaction.

According to Thorstein Veblen, an economist and sociologist, the fundamental problem with the consumer society is not that our needs are artificial, but that the goods produced are valued less for their intrinsic properties than for their role as markers for relative success.[5] You may begin with the goods producing tangible, permanent gains in individual satisfaction (clothing, shelter, food) but once these basic needs are met, the goods become valued increasingly for their ‘honorific’ properties. The goods now serve as markers of social status. (116)  In Veblen’s view, consumerism is essentially a collective action problem – a prisoner’s dilemma.[6]

Yet, the competition is not limited to status seekers and social climbers. Some people are not interested in outdoing their neighbors; they just want to have a respectable standard of living. However, as Heath and Potter suggest, their consumption takes the form of ‘defensive consumption’ since they are trying to avoid humiliation.[7] So basically, one persons’ attempt to retain a decent living standard forces the others to spend more in order to acquire superior status.(117)

Veblen calls this behavior ‘wasteful’ because eventually everyone winds up back to where they started. Moving up involves bumping someone else down. So the time and energy people take in trying to obtain status becomes ‘wasteful’ and does not generate any improvements in ‘human well-being on the whole.’ [8]

So what is the answer to the million dollar question? If you answer (A) Moth- you are correct. I can recall the moth being in the scriptures as well: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in to steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[9]    Jesus is warning us about earthly possessions.  He is not saying anything against money or possessions.  The concern here is about priorities.  Whom do you love?  Whom do you trust?  When the priorities become skewed, the questions about love and trust begin to be answered with the markers of social status. They become our “lifelines” and our “final answers”.  So what’s your final answer?

[2] The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, (Chichester: Capstone Publishing Ltd., 2005), 101.

[3] Ibid., 101.

[4] Ibid., 102.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid., 116.

[7] Ibid., 117.

[8] Ibid., 116.

[9] NIV, Matthew 6:19-21

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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