How Much Is Too Much?

Recently, I’ve been struggling wondering what things are comforts and what are considered necessities.

In our capitalist society, many advances have been made in nearly every facet of our lives. We have cures for diseases that couldn’t have been imagined 100 years ago. We have vehicles, clothes, computers, air conditioning, clean water. So many things that were amazing just a century ago have become completely common place in American society.

It makes me wonder, what things in life should we consider essentials to existance and what is too much? We talk about giving the poor things that are essential in life, but what makes something essential. Just by existing, does a person have a right to the most sophisticated health care possible? Do they have a right to perfectly pure water? Does everyone have a right to a certain standard of living?

This troubles me because I hear a lot from the social justice crowd (of which I consider myself a part) about giving people free medical care, free housing, etc, through the government. The reason our standard of living is what it is is because of capitalism. Were there not a capitalism system, likely the advances that have occured would not have come to fruition. So what do we do in response to that? In the first century, did everyone have pure drinking water? Did they all have access to the best medical care? The best medical care in the 1st century was probably little more than first aid that we have today.

I guess I’m full of more questions than answers at this time. In reality, we don’t need much for survival. A set of clothes. Some place to sleep. Food. What makes something beyond that a need for the poor, or a need for anyone? The poor in this country have a much better standard of living than the vast majority of people in the world. How do we determine what poverty is and where to send our moneys? When we give a poor person in this country a better house, are we not in essence making the rich richer and the poor poorer?

I don’t know. Life is weird. And I can’t seem to find easy clear cut answers. Anyone smarter than me have some ideas?

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4 responses to “How Much Is Too Much?

  1. Sounds like you’ve been reading Mere Discipleship!

    Our American capitalistic system has forced us to make necessitities out of some things that are luxuries in other places. That’s just how the system is. As it grows and knowledge expands, more and more things become necessary to maintain life as we know it. We (the collective we–society) have made an idol out of our way of life, and everything we do is for the protection of that way of life. We’ve come to rely on capitalism as the “end all be all” that will make everyone secure, but the more we aquire, the less secure we feel. We can look around and see that capitalism consumes many people and leaves them with little. There’s no easy answer. What has made our country great has also made it shameful.

  2. Just stumbled on this blog post by way of the WordPress tag log. This comment: the capitalist way of life brought us luxury indeed, a lifestyle we now assume like our skin, like the air we breathe. We are incredibly arrogant in our sense of entitlement — that we, being so superior by virtue of our capitalist ingenuity, now have a right to live like this no matter who else suffers.

    A couple things we must remind ourselves if we are to deal with the looming ecological crisis with some honesty: this enrichment has always, always depended upon the impoverishment of others. It has always depended on the exploitation of workers who produced for consumers at low wages, on resources that we steal from other locations, on concentration of financial wealth at the expense of billions of poor people. And the earth has been horribly exploited, indeed devastated, by this way of life.

    The other thing to remember is this: the exploitation that lies at the foundation of this system is dooming us to collective suicide as we destroy the ecosystems of this planet.

    This society, like it or not, will have to down-scale its consumption habits drastically to avoid a terrible future for the human being. We forget we were part of something bigger than us — an earth community, delicately balanced.

    So, you’re question about what we need for a dignified life is urgent, critical — how we answer it even more so.

    We will need to shed this skin…

    Margaret
    Spirituality and Ecological Hope

  3. I’ve often thought that if the whole world lived like the average (maybe below average) American then …well, it wouldn’t work. No way, no how. I have no research for this but it seems very logical. Of course this is no excuse for Christians to enjoy the benefits of America while others don’t. Maybe we should be giving up our health care so others can have it.

    The health advancements are weird. As we continually come up with fixes new problems occur. People used to die a lot from infectious diseases but now its cancer. The question is if simply being alive is the highest priority? On the other hand, the long and healthy lives that most people in the West is mainly due to a small number of innovations such as clean water, wider nutritional options and vaccines.

  4. Maybe we should include something else in our definition of poverty, something that takes into account the break-down of society within certain communities. That is the true story of American poverty.

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