Duck Soup: Dick's and Jane's Addictions

Americans spend an average of $350 per child per Christmas on toys. That means that by the time a tyke enters first grade she is burdened with over two thousand bucks worth of plastic trinkets. That adds up to over $6000 before high school graduation, and that doesn't include birthdays. It's no wonder folks are building bigger and bigger homes. The kids need closet space.Investing even the first season's toy money would yield a couple of thousand dollars during those eighteen Wonder Years, and if all of it were banked each smiling graduate would be able to afford community college, a decent car, and a weekend in Daytona. But, of course, Americans are notoriously disinclined to save, and if a kid badly wants college, cars and parties he will figure something out.What concerns me more about this toy story is the lesson we are constantly teaching about stuff. My grandmother called it "too much of a muchness," and I'm certain Gram was right. We are burying children in mountains of worthless objects, and imbuing them with the idea that possessions have intrinsic worth.Not one Barbie, but dozens. Not one toy truck, but a fleet. Not a story book, but a multi-media theme-park in a box with voices and beeps and whistles and a corporate mouse logo, software and batteries not included.Is it any wonder some kids become genuinely aggressive consumers -- knifing each other over sneakers and jackets? And mightn't this lead helter-skelter to drugs, in which consumption itself becomes the object? A thirst which cannot be quenched results in the ingestion of a whole range of things which are not food. Name your poison, folks: crack, booze, nicotine, chocolate, Prozac, Pepsi, acid, Valium, lithium, heroin, hemlock, Haldol, glue, Coke, coke, uppers, downers and little of that stuff that slides you sideways. Take two of these and call me in the morning.Which is not to mention eating disorders now become epidemic. I suspect this much of a muchness precipitates the healing experience so many people discover in nature. When you hike into a wood, up a trail to a mountain summit or down along a lake, you experience completeness. A tree doesn't need any finishing touches. A quiet pond contains a million million lives traveling around complete circles of existence. You breathe deeply and relax. Everything is done.Next time you are tempted to buy a child a lump of painted plastic from southeast asia, why not stop in the parking lot instead. Look at the weeds sprouting through the cracks in the asphalt. Follow the line of ants from a spilled soda pop to the ant hill over near the curb. Notice the wildflowers blooming among the weeds in the drainage ditch, and the sparrows collecting twigs for nests in department store eaves. If you are still inexorably drawn through the welcoming doors, buy a field guide to mammals or birds instead of a plastic mouse. Your eight year old won't understand much except the pictures, but that's why you'll be there as a teacher and fellow student. Even urban areas are full of wildlife -- there are more possums than people in Portland, and foxes are roving in New York's Central Park.When you teach a child that we are part of the natural world, that humans evolved as part of the great wheel, embedded in the circle of the seasons and the cycle of life and death, you are teaching wholeness. For thirty-five thousand generations our specie lived in harmony with nature. It is only in the past few hundred that we have declared agricultural war on our environment, and only six or ten generations have passed since we began to think we were somehow independent of the rest of creation.If we have any hope of creating a genuinely sustainable future, it will only come from a deep understanding of our place in the circle of life. And if there is any chance on a personal level to escape the false gods of consumerism and economic growth, or their corollary, addiction, it lies in a self-image of completeness and content.As the old adage goes: "Give a child a plastic fish and entertain her for a day. Teach a child the role of fishes in the biosphere and you will feed her imagination for a lifetime."

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