Today, take time to think. What is it that you most want to have in this world, at this very moment? The movie The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and Amitai Etzioni’s literary work Spent published on The New Republic talk about the very things that would first pop into our heads when asked this question – things. Both narratives depict very similar themes mainly expressing society’s attitudes towards material goods. It is strange to think that out of the many possible aspects of our lives, material possession would define and center most of it
In her movie, Annie Leonard points out the crisis of the material system due to its linear characteristic while operating in a finite planet. The system works simply. We extract, we produce, we distribute, we consume, and we dispose. Simplicity, however, does not mean practicality. Leonard lets us have a closer look into each of the processes identifying the critical troubles that are or may be happening to us now or the near future.
What ultimately is the root cause of all these troubles is that “we consume too much”. While Leonard describes problems on lack of resources, toxic raw materials, undercompensated employees, and full garbage pits, the reason why these situations happen is because society compels it through excessive utilization of ‘unnecessary’ things. Because of an increase demand in lavishness and trendiness, marketing employs “planned and perceived obsolescence” in its products. There is always another that is better than what you have now. But is there really?
Amitai Etzioni’s Spent perfectly complements this position of Annie Leonard by discussing the source that he believes single-handedly inflicted the crisis upon us, which to him is transformed into economic crisis. Etzioni believes that much of the reason behind the increase in demand on our material system is because of consumerism. Consumerism, as Etzioni defines, is the satisfaction of people’s “higher needs through simple acquisition of goods and services.” This is different from capitalism and consumption, wherein people buy goods to satiate man’s basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing.
Society’s culture greatly affects and defines acceptance of such practice of consumerism. Most would work long hours, even saving what is intended for our basic needs (i.e. food deprivation) just to have luxury items. However, material possession does not satiate our need for self-actualization according to Etzioni. “There is no correlation between increased income and increased happiness.” By extension, if happiness is the ultimate goal, people should not look to material things. Consequently, material and economic crisis should be the obsolete one.
It is only logical that Etzioni and Leonard put much responsibility to the society for how the system worked out and how it will eventually turn out. Both express their faith in the possibility of a bright future. Education, as they point out, is the key. People realizing the culture of over-consumption and unnecessary procurement are critical in order to put a stop to consumerism and the material system crisis. Though it cannot change overnight, it is not impossible.
Etzioni, A., 2009. Spent. [online] The New Republic. Available at:
Leonard, A., 2007. The Story of Stuff. [online video] The Story of Stuff Project. Available at: