In one of my classes we have been reading Graham Ward’s “The Politics of Discipleship.” In the book he writes of manufactured desire. He sets it in contrast to actual needs. These latter are the stuff that daily occupies the so-called two-thirds world – that is to say, food, clothing, shelter, water, etc. The former refer to “needs” created by clever capitalists etc. Marx writes that after humans take care of real needs, they create needs to occupy themselves. It seems that we are doing this in spades these days.
My students were intrigued by the idea that we are unwitting (although sometimes altogether too witting) slaves of desires that have been created for the benefit of shareholders who themselves have made obscene returns their very own desire. Maybe “intrigued” isn’t quite the right word. But hopefully you get what I mean. A strange kind of feeling accompanies the realization that you have been putty in the hands of mad men, who are very happy to see us unhappy aside from the slick new (fill in the blank). On the one hand, a kind of insane rage flashes in you, and on the other hand, a kind of perverse (to the market forces, anyways) pleasure as the desire to usurp these manufactured desires arises and as the virtue of contentment contends against destructive discontent. We discussed what it means to push beyond consumerism into citizenship as our primary way of engaging the world. Of course, certain folk, politicians among them, rather prefer consumers over citizens; always happy to create a need that we can fill by buying the latest widget.
Ward also points out that, for those with more than they can keep in their gated fortresses, the market is only too happy to manufacture other kinds of needs: experiences that are generally exotic and thus both hard on the earth and vacuous in virtue: think of the littered trail up the mount called Everest for a moment.
We talked about what Christian discipleship means in a time and place such as ours. We talked about how we are all implicated in the system (especially true for those of us with investments and hopes to retire some day), and we also discussed how insidious evil is. And in our talking we discovered that talking is itself a cure: in thinking these things through aloud we found a kind of solidarity that recognizes that small things matter. Walking when possible, taking a coffee cup to displace another paper cup polluting Mother Earth, shutting off the computer, tablet and phone for a time. These things were small, but they loomed large as we discussed them together ever mindful of that picture posed by that itinerant preacher of long ago: the Reign of God really is like a mustard seed. Sometimes we need to start small because a crack is all that we have for planting. Sometimes a crack is enough to remind us that enough is enough.