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Aren't We All Guilty of Excess?
by Brian S. Wise
17 January 2003 

Because America is so gifted, and because America enjoys opulence unequaled in history, can't it be said we are all guilty of excess?

Given any thought to the connection between terrorism, Arab nations, oil, gasoline and SUV’s lately? Shame on you. The upshot is this: When you buy a SUV, you will inevitably have to fill the thing with gasoline. When you do, you are putting money into the hands of terrorist friendly Arab countries, who are in turn funneling assistance to various terrorist organizations, such as al- Qaeda. (No immediate word on whether or not those who fill compact cars with the same gasoline are supporting terrorism.) This is according to Arianna Huffington and the Detroit Project, who have begun an advertising campaign to inform the ignorant masses.

By the time said commercial was gaining national exposure, the New York Post heard more than it was willing to stand. Last Sunday (the twelfth), the Post’s “Page Six” (it’s the celebrity gossip page, which is why you’ve never heard of it) reported that some of America’s more famous environmentalists are not only the first to preach, but the first hypocrites, as well. Normal Lear (who, five years ago, “built a garage for 21 cars … which stands 45 feet tall,” suggesting he not only owns, but drives 21 cars) is responsible for the Environmental Media Association, to which the following environment conscious celebrities are supporters: Gwyneth Paltrow “drives a Mercedes-Benz SUV” … Chevy Chase drives around “Westchester in the luxury of the SUV” … Both Barbra Streisand and Mrs. Streisand (my term) drive SUV’s. And even apart from the Post, Lawrence Bender (who produced Pulp Fiction, one of this columnist’s favorite movies) was forced by Neil Cavuto to admit he drives a gas guzzling luxury car, though he does have a hybrid “on order.” Or at least he does now.

No huge surprise that a certain percentage of celebrity environmentalists are hypocrites. One could correctly say that a decent percentage of all lifestyle hawks are hypocrites, especially if they’re parents. Living right, however someone of more stringent standards chooses to define such a thing, is tough. So tough that some of those same lifestyle hawks choose to preach one way of life and do something different (presumably because only they are capable of handling the less desirable alternative). All right, you’ll have that.

But somewhere underneath the issue, if you dig deep enough, there lies a certain attitude suggesting there is something evil about America wading in its own opulence, represented by the SUV, that anything so large and wasteful can only be emblematic of America itself (Bill Maher is good for this), and therefore lingers near the outside edge of obscenity. (Don’t laugh; I have been told, by a conservative woman of some intellect who holds a position of trust in my professional life, that there is no difference between pornography and the SUV.) Well, okay. Once in awhile you’ll hear a report of someone throwing themselves a ten million dollar birthday party and you’ll think, “That seems a little much.” The reaction is not unreasonable, because other than the salaries paid the wait staff and the fee paid for room rental, there’s really no point to the thing besides mass ego stroking, which is another column altogether.

Even in agreeing America enjoys phenomenal sustained opulence, and even in agreeing there is such a thing as much-too-much, can’t it be reasonably said that (even within a majority of its poor) America enjoys opulence unequaled in history, and therefore can’t it reasonably be said that we are all guilty of excess?

Example: I am, by all accepted guidelines, poverty stricken, but by the American standard. My income is relatively miniscule to others my age, and yet in examining my home, one can see an antique desk (upon which this column is being written), over 400 compact discs collected over 15 years, a few dozen videos and DVD’s (and consequently two VCR’s and a DVD player), two televisions, cable television, broadband, a study full of books and magazines, two computers (granted, one is in parts scattered throughout Camp TGO), facilities to wash clothes, central air and heat … and I’m thinking of building a bar for the front room. Yet, the comparable standard of poverty throughout the world would often mean my counterpart is living in literal shanty towns, or worse.

Which means what? That we cannot help but wallow in opulence, even if intending to be modest in all things, because we are born into opportunities and allowances greater than those afforded the citizens of any other nation in the world, ever. One can live by their own standards, of course, but should do so without considering the options available to them as obstacles to some sort of ideological purity.

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