A Tale of Consumerism: Of Wild & Green Places Lost


Cypress swamp with lily pads

Consumerism Gone Wild

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of green spaces in our lives, and more importantly about the fact that our access to them is dwindling as fast as property developers are snatching up our forest and natural resources.

The reason it’s so fresh on my mind is that down the road from my house, plans are in motion to build a mega outdoor shopping outlet mall right smack on a beautiful plot of cypress swamp. Every day on my way to work I pass the sign that proudly declares that it’s the “Future site of Park Place Outlet Mall, now leasing spaces” What a generic name right? No surprise though, as the proposed stores are just as bland as the name, Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, etc.

Other than the huge loss of wetland environment (300 acres, 100 to be ‘conserved’) for the numerous bird and mammal species that currently live there, my first thought was that in this day and age of Amazon and failing malls, why are they building this huge monument to consumerism?  We already have several of these stores in town, and honestly they aren’t doing all that well. We had one traditional Mall close down after a decade of businesses pulling out and falling patronage.  Do we really need more low paying service and retail jobs to feed the consumer hunger for cheap goods? And at what cost?

Despite what seems to me an obvious loss in pretty much every way, everyone I’ve talked to is really excited to see this abomination built.  No one seems to care about shopping local businesses or supporting the community, when the possibility of buying a Coach purse is on the table.  I just find it surreal that this huge cycle of buying and consuming completely bypasses any sort of logic or common sense. It’s not good for anyone, except the property developers who keep pushing this sort of thing on the rest of us, whether we want it or not.  Sadly most people seem to want it, and if you don’t then you’re just not watching enough TV dammit!

That leads me back to green spaces.  Perhaps it’s just a function of the ‘free’ (ha) market in which having an outdoor space to enjoy is not highly valued, but having places to buy garbage products is. No one cares about saving wetlands, but they do care about shopping.

But…it kind of seems like they don’t.

At least not in the same way we traditionally have thought of as shopping.  The list of defunct malls is extensive, and the in-store stock at Best Buy and retailers like it is shrinking rapidly.  How can they compete with online retailers like Amazon? The big box stores like that are going the way of newspapers, but it appears they are forging on with little to no change in strategy just like the archons they are, doomed to fail but pretending everything’s great. So, let’s follow the money here.

Who’s funding this whole thing anyway?

Obey Consume Consumerism conform

“That tree is taking up space that could be put to good use. Cut it down and put a billboard there!”

So I did a little digging, and the development company in charge of pushing this ‘exciting new opportunity’ on my town doesn’t appear to even have a website, and what little information I could find about them states that they have an estimated annual revenue of 160k, with 2 employees. It’s 2015, and no website? That seems to be a deliberate choice, since practically everyone and their grandmother has some sort of web presence these days.  The annual income seems very shady as well, if accurate.  If that is their total income, who’s bankrolling this whole thing?  My guess would be the city is backing a substantial portion of it, and no doubt tax subsidies were thrown into the mix as well, though I can’t find a word about it in any city council meeting agendas or anything else, other than the sparse blurb on the few media outlets here in town. I’m sure other groups are involved as well, to push this already dead behemoth on the willing zombie masses. I’m not against change or expansion, but to me it needs to be a sustainable and worthwhile venture, and the fact that the whole process is so opaque to citizens is downright frightening.  City councils have a nasty habit of making decisions that benefit themselves and their friends at the expense of taxpayers, and since I can’t tell otherwise that it isn’t happening here, I have to assume it’s exactly what’s going on.

From the Debt Resistor’s Manual

In 1997, the people of Minneapolis passed a referendum specifically requiring a vote before large sums could be spent on sports facilities. Recently, even after hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV ads aired pushing subsidies for a new football stadium there, polls showed only 22% of the public thought any tax dollars should be used to build one. But Minnesota’s governor and Minneapolis’s mayor sidestepped the people, diverting city tax revenue and creating a new “stadium authority” not subject to referendum law to spend over $300 million in taxpayer money.

At the same time, Ohio’s Hamilton County—where one in seven residents now lives in poverty—has slashed education and social service budgets, and is selling off a hospital to make payments on $875 million in bond-financed debt they assumed in the 1990s to build two Cincinnati stadiums. Whose priorities do these development decisions represent?

The large-scale debt-financing of our municipal infrastructure and public institutions provides bankers with hefty profits at citizens’ expense and means a smaller voice for the communities that those institutions are meant to serve. Taxpayers are given few opportunities for input as to which bonds are issued and how, and often they find themselves stuck with the tab for debt-funded projects that have no accountability to voters. City officials broker deals with private partners through backdoor channels, zoning off “development districts” or declaring parcels of land “blighted” so they can be seized and sold under eminent domain. Priorities regarding vital public services from schools to hospitals to fire departments are increasingly being made behind closed doors, according to the logic of profits.

Also check out this article from 2010 about private corporations sneaking in on tax-exempt City Bonds for frivolous services they are pushing under the premise that it will bring in ‘investment and tourism’

“This is private financing sneaking into the tax-exempt market,” says Christopher “Kit” Taylor, former head of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the industry’s self-regulatory group.

Million Air’s facilities “are not an essential municipal service,” Mr. Taylor says.

Roger Woolsey, the CEO of Million Air, says jet facilities are “extremely important” to local communities, helping to bring in tourists and investors. He says his financing needs were too great for small banks but too small for large ones. Conduit financing, Mr. Woolsey says, “is vital.”

What are these ‘vital’ services you might ask (if you didn’t read the article)?

When Million Air Interlink Inc. needed funds to refurbish three airplane terminals for private jets of affluent customers, the Houston company says, it was turned down by several local banks. So it looked to two tiny Florida Panhandle towns that have no airports, Century and Gulf Breeze, for funding. They agreed this month to issue up to $76 million of tax-exempt municipal bonds on behalf of the closely held aviation company, whose terminals can include “elegant restrooms,” a BMW courtesy car for the crew and full-screen plasma TV monitors, its website says.

Contrast that with the town who is issuing this conduit financing, who’s median family income is a little less than $26,600. In the words of it’s own City Councilwoman, most people who live there don’t even have jobs.

Who benefits from this arrangement then?  Certainly the city with no airport and citizens who couldn’t afford to fly anywhere, let alone from an airport with luxury restrooms, can’t justify lending the private corporation money from it’s city coffers.  And, reading down into the article, surprise, my town is on the list of places to be renovated for these rare and important VIP affluent flyers.  The odds something shady is going on just got a lot higher if a confirmed backdoor deal was in the works in 2010.

Is there any hope for the rest of us?

florida spring with cypress trees

Honestly, I don’t know if there is.  The prevalence of backdoor deals with our tax money to the direct benefit of mega-corps and what one must assume shady shell companies doesn’t leave much hope for any sort of self-initiated change in the future.  There is just too much money at stake to make the process less opaque and more accessible to the common citizen.  Even in places where polls show that a development isn’t wanted, loopholes are found that give the green light to greedy city officials and their property development buddies, at the expense of the taxpayer who didn’t want it in the first place.

You know what else gets funded by taxes?  Parks, green spaces, and community recreational facilities.  No surprise these are getting defunded at a rapid rate and are often first on the chopping block.  Here in Florida a few years ago, our unique and precious natural springs were on the table to be sold to private developers due to defunding of state parks.  What sort of future are we giving to the next generation when they wont even be able to go out into nature, or even worse, the idea wont even occur to them? Take away the choice and eventually it will seem that the choice never even existed to be chosen. It’s like Newspeak from George Orwell’s 1984, where the elimination of an idea as a form of thought control.

According to Orwell, “the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.”[2] The idea that language influences worldview is linguistic relativity.

For example, the word “free” still existed in Newspeak but could only be used in terms of something not being possessed, as in “the dog is free from lice,” or “this field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in terms of being able to do as one pleases, as in “free choice” or “free will” since these concepts no longer existed. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. Any redundancies in the English language were removed.

As Orwell further states (through the character of Syme, who is discussing his work on the latest edition of the Newspeak dictionary), “By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

We would be foolish to think this isn’t already at play, and even more foolish to think it would be limited to speech.  Ideas in all their forms will start to be limited as control of thought becomes more and more desirable.  What does a green space represent to us? Freedom, wilderness, nature, connection to the earth, self determination, freedom from society?  Even further out from that is the idea of the possibility of living off the grid, or the escape from the urban lifestyle.

All those ideas are directly contradictory to consumerism and those who want to keep us enslaved in their empire built of light waves and plastic.

Even if you are not a park goer, or you aren’t a fan of hiking, if you value the principals that these monetary overlords are dead set on abolishing then this is a thing you should probably care about.  It’s not just my town but every town.  Everywhere we find the principals of self determination being squashed under the advancement of empty consumerism that does nothing more than increase pollution and encourage wage slavery here and abroad.

The problem is systemic and fundamental to the whole system we have built for ourselves, and obviously the topic of this post is just but one facet of the overall picture. The only solution is to break free from this system through conscious choice to abstain from anything that encourages-directly or indirectly-principals that are contrary to sustainability and self determination for ourselves and others. We’re all on this earth together, we really need to start acting accordingly.

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