Sunday, October 21, 2007

A rant for my Classic Social Theory class

Sacrifice vs. Instant Gratification in a “Gimme” Society

“Moooooommmm, gimme it, I want it, you have to give it to me because I want it!!” “No, young lady, I do not have to give you whatever you want, just because you want it. Now let’s get the rest of this grocery shopping done, so we can go home, we’ve already been here for an hour.” “But Mommy, Daddy lets me get whatever I want at the store, so you have to, too!”

This is an exchange I heard a few days ago at the grocery store. The part I’ve left out is the child subsequently throwing herself to the tile floor, flailing her arms and legs, screaming, because her mother wouldn’t buy her a bag of candy. The mother, helpless, turned her cart around, and left her daughter in the aisle. All I could do at this point was shake my head, and remind myself why I’m glad I don’t have children yet. The children of today’s society are growing up in what I call a “gimme” society. Gimme this, gimme that, gimme, gimme, gimme. One has to wonder where this young lady picked up this mindset she has, is it because she’s just being a little girl? Is it because her nice daddy gives her whatever she wants, and mommy is just being mean? Is she being raised in a “gimme” world?

I think she is. It astounds me the sheer amount of consumer debt we have in this world today. Unbeknownst to many, 100 years ago, credit, in the way that we think of it now, basically didn’t exist. Henry Ford didn’t allow credit to be used at Ford Motor Company until ten years AFTER General Motors did. Why? Henry Ford thought that debt was a lazy man’s way of purchasing items. In 1910, the Sears catalog stated “Buying on Credit is Folly”, yet they make more money now on their credit cards than they do their merchandise! J.C. Penney department store founder detested the use of debt, and was nicknamed James “Cash” Penney. So what’s changed? Three of the biggest lenders today were founded by people who HATED debt. One hundred years ago, people saw the holes that debt can create. Now, people (lenders) are seeing the opportunity to take advantage of the gimme society that has been created. We’re all about instant gratification and having things now than waiting a few months, saving up the money, and paying with cash. It takes sacrifice to pay for things with cash, and most people today won’t sacrifice that. Have you ever noticed that it’s way easier to walk into a store, pick up a few things, and swipe a card than it is to open your wallet and start handing over cash? Spending cash has a different mental “feel” to it than paying with a card. Even the new “Fashion Frenzy Barbie” preys on young girls, and engrains the use of credit, with the comment “I love shopping, you never run out of money!”

Simmel says that sacrifice is the means to an end. But what end are people in this gimme society working towards? What are they sacrificing to get there? The means of today’s society is the plastic card with American Excess written on it, Master Charge, what have you. But what is the end of those means? Massive credit card bills, where the bank gets to make money off of you. Most people don’t see that credit cards are basically a person paying the bank to let them borrow money. Why not sacrifice a small portion of a paycheck, put the money under your mattress, and pay for something outright? Most people in today’s society see that as too much of a sacrifice, and would rather pay the same price for a product, plus fifteen percent interest, because they wanted it right that second.

Simmel also states that the value of anything is a result of our sacrifice in order to obtain it, and that you cannot have one without the other. I think this also has an effect on whether or not something is determined as a “need” or a “want”. The value of water to a thirsty person is much higher than the value of food to someone that is not hungry. The priority of what is a need or a want completely changes when you have to sacrifice something to get it. For example, my fiancé feel that we need to be out of debt. What is our sacrifice? I sacrifice 20 or so minutes of my time to search through the ads of the local grocery stores, finding the deals, and making our menu accordingly, which means that we get to throw a few extra dollars to debts we owe, or extra money to savings. My fiancé sacrifices 3 afternoons a week to work at the College of Technology as a teaching assistant so that way his personal spending money doesn’t come out of our monthly budget. I clean a house once a week for the same reason, not to mention it saves us money, because we don’t have to budget twenty dollars a month for quarters for laundry, as I can do our laundry at the house I clean each week.

My friends are shocked when they hear that my fiancé and I live comfortably on less than fifteen hundred dollars a month, and that we are able to put money in savings every month. However, slowly and surely, we are getting out of debt, because we feel that is something we need to do. Sure, I’ll admit, I want things. I want an ipod, for example. So what am I doing? I’m slowly saving money for one. I sacrifice two mochas a week so that way I have money to put in savings for that ipod.

Fact is, Simmel has it right when he wrote that sacrifice is a means to an end. I just hope for our sake, and the sake of our children, we learn that instant gratification isn’t sacrifice, because eventually it will lead to a forcible sacrifice of cars and houses, and then at that point, life will really be rough.


Garpu the Fork said...

I think you're onto something, however. You see it in the current crop of first-year college students, by how their parents do things like sign them up for classes and argue grades...

The All Seeing Eye said...

Well put!

Jonthy said...

Hi Shelby,
Very well written. I also believe that this is a society called "gimme" . I think more struggle means more strength and endurance. So this gimme society must lack in endurance and strength to live in adverse situation. This gimme society is mostly affected with credit card debt.