How are the New Year resolutions doing? Dribbled with the fat of nut roast pig, scorched with candle smoke and cheap wine, muddled by late nights and morning chocolate? Come January, little pleasures may seem better than keeping resolutions that have lost their rose-tinted glow. When researchers plugged wires into the heads of rats, straight […]

How are the New Year resolutions doing? Dribbled with the fat of nut roast pig, scorched with candle smoke and cheap wine, muddled by late nights and morning chocolate? Come January, little pleasures may seem better than keeping resolutions that have lost their rose-tinted glow.

When researchers plugged wires into the heads of rats, straight into the pleasure centres of the brain, the rats pressed their little zing buttons seven hundred times an hour. Zing Zing! Humans can’t get wires plugged into their pleasure centres quite yet, so we make do with other things. We flaunt iPads, Ray-Bans, Xbox and Fireman Sam. Gorge ourselves with abandon. Drink till the world pops. Zing Zing!

Some consumption is good. Consensual consumption. Creative consumption. Feeding off each other’s touch, feeding off tone and light and taste, feeding off laughter and talk, feeding off good times. But there’s always a temptation to just press our buttons and go zing. The eating, smoking, drinking zing that wrecks ourselves.

And the planet wrecking kind of zing.

The Samtronic Widescream TV zing, with an extra “Drown Bangladesh” red button. As the world heads towards carbon meltdown, sit back and watch it on HD 3D. Consume stuff without making, consume images without moving, consume people without talking. Zing Zing!

That kind of zing won’t leave us standing.

We are consumed also. Smile at work and say “have a nice day”. Make yourself respectable or pretty. Forget being you, be nice to be consumed, hope you come again. Dress up for the opposite sex, for office politics, for TV talent scouts. Just follow your orders on how to move and think. The masses dominated by the rat kings and queens, and we all get to consume until we are sick. Zing Zing!

That kind of zing doesn’t leave us living.

Back to your resolution, that promised restraint. You can be proud of trying, even if you fall down sometimes. It’s a very human mistake to think that people shouldn’t make mistakes, that humans are something other than clever apes, barely more than children, falling and bumping through life in a way that big-brained space aliens would switch channel just to watch and laugh at. There’s no problem in trying to be a better person and getting there bit by bit. Where people go wrong is not trying at all.

Because each time a person consumes something they don’t need, that’s a little bit of the world gone. And there’s not an endless supply of the world. There is no divine right backing up all those would-be rat kings and queens burning up the world. Zing Zing! The arbitrary luck that put them in one country rather than another, in one family rather than another, in one job rather than another. Having supermarkets and brochures to choose from, instead of having to repair old shoes and clothes. Each time someone chooses not to consume a bit of the world, they become a bit less like a rat king or queen, turning away from the red button towards something more human.

Back to your resolution – have you thought what you’d spend the extra money on? The money from the unbought chocolate or unsmoked cigarettes. You could give to other people who help people who can’t consume enough to live. Or give to people who would like to change things for the better, so everyone has a more equal share of consuming at a rate that won’t break the world. Maybe with some spare money going from that saved consumption, you could consume some pure goodness. How about that to ping your zing button? Zing Zing!

A hundred or so years ago there was a trade called a ‘translator’, a person who could take old broken shoes, break off soles and leather and eyelets, and remake a new pair out of all the bits. Instead of being consumers, it might make people happier to be translators – remaking stuff, retelling stories, recreating recipes, reimagining ourselves. Doers instead of dominators. Commoners instead of kings and queens.

Back to your resolution. Changing the world is all about changing yourself. How you consume stuff and other people, or don’t. How you dominate or reject domination. But don’t listen to me, because I’m just an over-educated ape, a child falling and bumping through life until it’s all over. I hope you take these words and translate them into something for yourself, even if just to help you stick to one little resolution. Because you can be at least a bit of the person you want to be. And that can be a fine way of pressing your button. Zing Zing!

Help people who can’t consume enough to live:

archerproject.org.uk
actionaid.org.uk

People who would like to change things for the better:

avaaz.org
38degrees.org.uk

Council Axe