Social Justice: Remembering my Materialistic Youth

Beautiful landscape

Well I said that I would challenge myself to make a start on this social justice blog before the end of this year, and here we are, on the very last day of the year!  I’m still thinking through the format for the new blog, (also thinking about a domain name etc) so in the meantime until I’ve decided that I will just post the posts here!  (Just a side note – it is now almost 9.30 pm on New Year’s Eve 2017-2018 and fireworks have already been going off for a good hour! I never understand why people let off New Year’s Eve fireworks before midnight – if we are celebrating a New Year then does it not make more sense to wait until the New Year actually starts?!  However these are extremely beautiful fireworks, so I’m not really complaining!!!!)

So back to social justice!  This is an extremely important subject to me.  Many issues in my life have been bound up in my attitude to this subject.  I believe that this is one of the vocations or life goals that God has given me personally and by His grace He has given me the passion to really see it through.

For this post to really make sense, I guess I’ve got to talk a little about the person that I am now. As I hopefully get into writing this blog, this will come out more.  Readers of “Huggie-Wuggie” will likely know a lot about who I am regarding relationships. And yet this other side to me, the one deeply concerned about social justice, is probably a little more hidden.  For the sake of this particular post, talking about my materialistic youth, please just understand that the person I am now is definitely not materialistic.

And yet as I say I was materialistic in my youth.

Let me please explain to you what I mean. 

I used to dream about owning lots of beautiful items, largely clothes, jewellery and gorgeous home accessories.  

As a Londoner, I used to regularly go with my younger sister and travel around Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, and look around all the shops looking for beautiful and gorgeous items.  We would do this perhaps one weekend a month.  All the time I would be dreaming of a future where I could own many of these beautiful things and be dressed gorgeously all the time.  

I still remember the brands that really moved me, and the shops I used to live in back then. 
Pepe Jeans.  Diesel.  Storm watches. French Connection.  Nicole Farhi.  Doc Martens. Levi’s.  Gap. I’m smiling at this list because these sound to me now like just the kind of brands that a teenager would be moved by.  I’m sure that if I had continued on that trajectory my tastes would have graduated by now to even more expensive and more sophisticated brands etc. There was this maker of beautiful, colourful, embroidered silk tuxedoes called “William Hunt”.  I used to go into that particular shop and just drool over these exquisite and lavish items.  This was menswear, actually, but still sufficiently compelling to move me to go into that shop!

Crucially this was all before I went to university. In short I expected to live an affluent lifestyle with all the trappings of that.  Another aspect of my materialistic youth is the kind of career I expected to pursue in adulthood.  I deliberately avoided medicine.  Seriously, so many people from my school, a high-achieving girls’ school, were determined to be doctors. If only for that reason,  I decided against a medical career for myself.  All the same I assumed that I would go into a high-earning, prestigious career, like being a lawyer.  (Writing this, I now realise that I never really sat down and thought through the practical logistics of living such a career.  Because it really would be your life!)  I just airily assumed something ambitious and high-earning and a nice glamorous lifestyle to match!  And yes I was absolutely a Christian back then. 

And then I went to university.  And then my eyes were opened to a lot of things.
Firstly I was informed that many of these products that I had been drooling over were created through exploitative labour. After finding out about this I simply cannot now just pick up an object, whatever it may be, and release myself to enjoying it, knowing that it was essentially created through someone else’s slavery.

Furthermore there was this magazine which single-handedly killed many of my previous dreams:  The New Internationalist. One of the earliest editions that was published after I went to uni spoke about jeans being dipped in poison in the way they are created. And also largely being created by sweatshop labour. Oh man, really?  I used to love jeans!  (I still do… I still buy them!  But not with that same kind of obsessive passion as before.)  Perhaps I am a cynic, but I can’t help thinking now that most products, unless they are specifically and explicitly ethical, (and sometimes even then…) will have some element of exploitation bound up in them.  This is just the way capitalism works.  I also started becoming conscious of consumption, where these things come from that we consume;  the cost to the earth, to wildlife, to future generations, to our own selves in the here and now.  Also the use of petrochemicals, poisoning rivers etc. So it was at uni that I started turning against unnecessary consumption.  So my years at uni killed one aspect of my materialistic heart; that is the consumerist aspect of my nature; the desire to simply acquire as much as possible and fill my life with beautiful objects.  However my years at uni also killed the other aspect of my materialism:  my career goals, such as they had been.

I remember that a while before going to university I had read about a Goldman Sachs trader who had been wrongfully cheated of a bonus that would have exceeded a million pounds.  My eyes opened in amazement.  What?!  At Goldman Sachs they get bonuses of a million pounds?! This is not the actual salary, mind, but merely the bonus! So naturally I wanted to work at Goldman Sachs so that I too could earn those ridiculously high bonuses.  I actually did make efforts towards this and I applied for a few roles with them.  This just makes me smile now. It also did not hurt that at the time of going to uni they had this “Minds Wide Open” recruitment advert.  Actually they had a number of such adverts.  But the one that sticks out in my mind (which is very wide open thank you very much, even without Goldman Sachs, although I do humbly say so myself!) is one where there was this extremely attractive man  – perhaps Korean heritage? – who was beaming into the camera.  This was at the end of my “Dean Cain” years and he looked a bit like Dean Cain!  So I was doubly determined pre-uni to work at Goldman Sachs.  Now I realise that “Mr Goldman Sachs” was probably a model.  But man he was attractive!  What can I say?  I like handsome men!
(Dean Cain:  an extremely attractive American actor. I used to obsessively watch “New Adventures of Superman” where he played Superman/Clark Kent and the one time I explicitly disobeyed my parents in childhood was when they asked me to run an errand the same time as this program was on TV!  What can I say?  I was apparently ready to defy my family for the man I “loved”!!!  – Ha ha ha!)

And then at uni, I started questioning the nature of money, where money comes from.  It has been many years since I’ve been deeply immersed in these things.  So right now I cannot clearly articulate the issue with Goldman Sachs and similar companies without going back and doing some further research. But this is basically the gist, and this is basically why I walked away from those sorts of career dreams: Goldman Sachs and similar companies make their profits, enabling those ridiculous bonuses, off aggressive capitalism. Capitalism itself is inherently exploitative.  Many of the frustrations that we know in the Western world are caused by capitalism. Things like unaffordably high rents. Unaffordably high train fares.  Unaffordably high everything! And then, because of that, having to work every hour that God sends, and then some, just to be able to keep a roof over your head.  And then through that, never having time to invest in friendships or community bonds, and then through that the increase of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness. (Actually I prefer to think of “mental health issues” as actually “emotional health issues”.) Also having to make dodgy compromises just for the sake of survival. 

 In fact, the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Please note that it is not money itself which is the root of all evil, as too many people misquote this verse.  Rather it is the love of money which is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6v10. Many Christians and Bible translations try to mollify this by changing the translation to “all kinds” of evil or “all sorts” of evil.  (Check out the various translations I have linked to above).  However this means something different in English to what the original Greek is saying. The original Greek says the love of money is the root of literally all evil.  But in English the idioms “all kinds of” and “all sorts of” do not literally mean “every kind of”, but rather mean “many kinds of, but not necessarily everything”. Yet capitalism is literally “the love of money” multiplied beyond a single individual to an entire economic system.  So at uni I realised that I just cannot pursue a career that is based on capitalism or funded by capitalism or works to prop up capitalism. Goodbye Goldman Sachs! Goodbye investment banking! I still want to be extremely successful.  I just don’t want to do it in a way that exploits other people – or even myself.

You know what, as I write this, I am still as ambitious as I ever was. Perhaps I am actually more ambitious than ever.  But now my goals are oriented towards social justice. I have embraced a life of simplicity for myself. That said I still own a tonne of things; I still undoubtedly consume far more than my fair share of the world’s resources.   

Even though this is a social justice post, we are still after all on “Huggie-Wuggie”.  So a note to Mr Huggie-Wuggie:  when I say “I don’t care about your money“, this is what I mean.  I mean that I have embraced a life of simplicity.   I have examined these issues for myself. If I have walked away from the potential of earning money in these ways for myself, how can I possibly be excited by the idea that my husband should earn money in these ways?   How can I possibly accept gifts from him where either the gift itself or the money to buy it was generated through someone else’s pain and heartbreak?  So what I would really want from a husband is someone who has made the same choices I have made, someone who is motivated by the same kind of empathy that I am motivated by.

And you know what?  Ironically, I now know that even if I had not had that big social justice epiphany at university, I would have absolutely hated those jobs that I just assumed I wanted to work in.  At heart I am quite a quiet person. Those jobs are so demanding and draining that they would have totally exhausted me and I would have burned out very quickly.  Additionally in any of those roles there would have been so much of office politics and I would have hated that. I hate “playing the game” – any game, whether it is games when it comes to romantic relationships, or games to stay ahead at work, or whatever kind of game it is. (Shudder!)
It was also at uni that I forcibly came to realise that as an adult, things like being promoted, recognition, winning awards – these things are very rarely decided on truly or purely meritocratic grounds, but rather through your skill and willingness in “playing the game”, which usually means identifying, placating and pleasing the right people and expressing approved sentiments.  (As an aside – man, how annoying it is when you think you’ve finally found your dream – Husband!  Church!  Job!  Only for “the game” to so predictably and frustratingly rear its ugly head.) And it was at uni/immediately afterwards that I decided that I wanted no part of this – ever. This is why I have worked very hard to develop my own power, through my relationship with God, so that by God’s grace I will never have to be at the mercy of anyone else’s power. 

Ironically, these days I am totally unambitious when it comes to an actual job, and I reserve my big ambitions for my own personal dreams.  What I am looking for in a job is something quiet, monotonous, peaceful and undemanding without any ethical conflicts and devoid of office politics (and yet, sufficiently well paid – thanks to capitalism that currently seems to be an unresolvable contradiction) that I can go to day in, day out, that will happily and comfortably pay the bills, while I reserve my real energies and brain power for my personal dreams.

Going back to all those things which I longed for as a teenager: are all these things bad?  No.  Is it wrong for someone to want these things, to live for these things?  No, as long as in your wanting it, it does not cross over into idolatry.  But for myself, I made the decision to completely cut off my desire for these things.  I guess I could have embraced “eco” or fairly traded alternatives. However in itself that would not deal with the issue of over-consumption, that is, having too many items in the first place,  even if nothing actually involved sweatshop labour etc.  As things stand, the one luxury that I still hold out for is a beautiful marriage. Actually more than that, of course:  beautiful friendships, relationships with my family members; a life of abundance but not over consumption, a powerful and nourishing relationship with my God, and definitely (definitely definitely!) an amazing marriage – by God’s grace!

Finally a picture of the one item I still own that is a relic from my materialistic days:  my STORM watch!  This cost me the princely sum of £50 pounds (actually £48 if I remember clearly) and I think I bought it the summer before I went into upper sixth form to do my second year of A Levels.

Sorry, this is not a brilliant photo, it looks a bit like this watch which I also almost bought; I only actually bought this one in the end because it was what I could afford; the one I really wanted to buy was a lot more expensive and definitely out of my price range, although I cannot now remember which one it was or even what it looked like!!!*    I wore this watch for a while, I cannot now remember how long, but then I did not want to pay further money to replace the chipped face or the battery!

*(Actually, since writing the post a day ago I have since remembered – it looked a bit like this watch.  It had this shutter mechanism where the face would be completely closed, then you could press a button to open the shutter and reveal the time. I was totally in love with this watch – and others from STORM!)

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