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Jack Rowe

Student - B.A Architecture, Texas A&M University - College Station

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Today, luxury fundamentally amounts to the ability to be wasteful with money, time, etc. Can we redefine luxury?

lux·u·ry noun \ˈlək-sh(ə-)rē, -zh(ə-)rē\
2: a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort : sumptuous environment

Luxury is desirable to everyone. The vast majority of human knows not luxury but poverty - on the other end of the spectrum. From American society, it is apparent that the wealthy do not have more needs, but instead are frivolous with the necessities that they do possess which we can simplify to currency. In layman's terms, luxury is the ability to be wasteful. Why should this be the case? So many of the joys of living do not require waste.
As a species, we are at a crucial point in our history where we must make tremendous changes regarding the way we live and consume. Certainly, there is a way to redefine luxury. "Enough" instead of "abundance" and "ease and comfort" instead of "great ease and comfort." When we have as much as we NEED, we have ENOUGH. Abundance is surplus and should be shared with those who are in deficit.
It would be interesting to hear ways that you think "luxury" could be changed to separate it from the concept of "wastefulness" in a time where our future generations depend on the changes we start to make today.

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    Apr 25 2012: "Abundance is surplus and should be shared with those who are in deficit."

    The exclusivity of waste is what gives it its value. Only wealthy people can afford to waste money, and therefore wasting money is a fitness display - it's sexy. Think of the peacock's tail - it has been sexually selected for because it is wasteful and has no utility, and so only the fittest peacocks could afford to have them. You can also think of bling, MTV's cribs, or any other number of examples in which we waste money as a fitness display.

    Coming out of the Depression, in the 1950's, we had a top marginal tax rate of ~90%, because people understood this feature of human nature. Rich people knew what it was like to be poor, they had empathy, and they weren't idiots.

    Today, not so much. Look at John Boehnor, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Fox News, etc. - any arguments that we should raise taxes on the rich are derided as class warfare - even though the rich pay historically low tax rates, and such tax rates have not created jobs for the poor or middle class, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our country is slowly dying and losing its global competitiveness as a result.

    Yet, the rich will be fine, because they can live in their own private bubbles while the country collapses. So when you say that "we must make tremendous changes regarding the way we live and consume," I think you're assuming that the rich have to care about what happens to everyone else, when the fact is that, at least in the short term, they really don't.

    In a nutshell, the modern rich lack both empathy and intelligence - and as wasteful and stupid as it is, they can afford to do so, because in modern society, the main thing we value is money. If you want to fix it, I recommend advocating for publicly financed elections, and drastically increasing the top marginal tax rate and capital gains and estate taxes.

    But I don't think conceptually separating luxury from waste is that productive.
    • Apr 25 2012: The fact that the rich do not have to care about everyone else and are fine regardless is a valid point. What I mean to say then, is that for humanity's sake, everyone needs to care about everyone but that is virtually hopeless. Perhaps, the true answer to my question is that the super "fit" people will continue to thrive and those not financially well-off will get weeded out of the gene pool. Maybe social Darwinism will prove to be a reality and the over-population problem will solve itself. My argument that the redesigning of luxury needs to happen is based on my feeling for the environment and the well-being of the planet and humankind. However, I would be hard pressed to believe for a second that human beings could devastate the Earth to a point where it "died." I assume, rather, that people could make Earth a planet unsuitable for human life and we would be finished here. This of course has happened to many species before us and for some reason, since we our conscious of our "selves," we think we are invincible somehow. It would make me happier to think that the people of the world would come together and help each other rather than letting the "weak" die off and begin a new population from the "strong." However, the more I think about that solution, the more sensible it seems on a grand scale. It's just not a happy ending... for most.
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        Apr 26 2012: Wow, I didn't intend to convince you of the inevitability of modern Republicans' new Social Darwinism.

        If you take a longer view, I don't know that the poor, once they're given Internet access, will necessarily tolerate being abused lying down - the best guard against thinking that the rich are inherently superior to the poor is education, and education is being digitally democratized as we speak.

        Also, if you look at Robert Wright's book Nonzero, or think about the evolution from single cellular to multi-cellular organisms (and the logic behind cooperation generally), or if you think about the evolution of compassion for children and babies, or if you think about the logic behind sharing infinitely reproducible digital goods and the fact that the Internet is empowering smart young people to educate themselves and protest inequality and tyrannical regimes all around the world...I don't think the picture is necessarily as bleak for "weak" people (the young, the poor, the uneducated, the disenfranchised) as it looks at the moment.

        We were all children at some point - societies that educate their young and in which people look after one another will do better, even in a ruthless Darwinian sense than those that don't - this is particularly true in the digital age. "Fitness" isn't determined in a vacuum - it takes into account ecological and social factors. No one person is weak or strong on their own - we live in societies, we share knowledge, and we are making progress both socially (most young people are socially liberal) and scientifically.

        Some possible goals that I see are 1.) flexible educational and occupational licensing systems that allow poor people to become extremely well-educated and go into occupations that are needed, and 2.) ecological economics that effectively place income caps on super-wealthy individuals like we used to have in the 1950's, and 3.) publicly financed elections. It's not hopeless for the poor. Don't give up.
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    Apr 24 2012: As Judit pointed out below, many people when they think of luxury do indeed think of a soft bed, fresh and various food... but even more surely the time after doing what it takes to meet basic needs to pursue ones interests- painting, reading, excursions... These are luxuries most people do not have.
  • Apr 24 2012: Funny I stumbled upon this conversation starter, I was just thinking about this the other day as I was standing in a very long line at the grocery store. As I had time to ponder, I started to think, what if all the junk from this (relatively small) grocery store was dredged out, and only the necessary things would stay? My rough estimate was that about 70% of the products were dispensable, and it just struck me, how come that we PAY for this stuff? How can the mass brainwash be so successful that people exchange their hard earned money for overpriced chocolate bars and "beverages" they don't need, knowing well that by doing so they accelerate garbage production and damage the planet directly?

    This is wasting. Sadly, there's never gonna be "enough". Someone will always want to make more money out of the gullible, and someone will always find a way to make people gullible by either raping their brain with loud noises and blinding, flashing neon lights or by feeding them chemicals. Sorry for the choice of words, but I do believe that what we call "marketing" today is equally forceful and intrusive on a mental level. And there's no stopping this as long as people don't think for themselves and choose to remain hoodwinked.

    I think the best way to turn this around and share the excess is to take what you can live without and give it to the next person who needs it. Instead of buying a soda, buy a bottle of water and a piece of bread for the homeless guy in front of the store.

    Luxury has a connotation of value. For me, the soothing light of a candle, a bowl of fresh salad, a warm, soft bed is luxury... And processed food remains junk in my eyes, no matter what the billboards say. That they are being made equal in people's mind is a shame.

    What's your own opinion on the subject?