I’m drunk. Well I was a little while ago. At the moment I am nursing a very tender head and stomach and reflecting on the night before. It was a good night certainly. I cannot help, however, wondering if the last five beers were absolutely necessary. The thing is, I have this reaction when it comes to drinky. My brother calls it the Jones curse. You see, on any given day of the week I could happily sleep till midday (and beyond). The one time, however, when I really want to sleep, the morning after a big night out, I can not. I think it is something to do with getting dehydrated while I sleep. When I get up to have a drink, usually after an unsatisfactory four or five hours, I can’t go back to sleep. I am forced to endure the full brunt of the hangover whilst being painfully awake. This has led me to quietly muse the human condition as it relates to being hungover.
The process is rather simple and transcends gender, culture, place and time. We go out, we get drunk, we fall asleep and we feel horrible the next morning. I wonder though, what if the order was tampered with. How would our societal rituals be affected if we had to endure the hangover first? What if we had to endure a five minute headache upfront for every drink we wanted? What if we had to wallow in hours of nauseous, vomiting torment before a big night out? Would we still do it? Probably. I suspect, however, that most people would drastically tone down the amount of drink if they had to suffer in advance.
What then does this say about humans? If we have to pay upfront for something we are sensible and calculating in our approach. If, however, we are given a free line of credit we tend to go crazy.
This leads me to wondering about the ethics of credit cards. In a sense credit cards exist to exploit our oh so human tendency to enjoy now and pay later. In 2002 Australians had amassed $21.5 billion of credit card debt. In 2005 we were $30 billion in the red. As I am writing this (2007) we collectively owe $40 billion on credit cards, although according to John Howard this is no biggy. It seems as if, many of the crippling financial problems people faced could be avoided if only we were more inclined to pay for things then enjoy them, not the other way round.
There is sad materialistic decadence in most Western nations. Australia certainly adheres to this axiom. When we turn on the television in the morning we are bombarded with advertising explaining why we need one product or another. Our favorite radio stations are inundated with messages from corporations. As we drive to work we pass billboards which further proselytise the post-modern mantra. Possessions and happiness are continually represented as the ideal symbiosis to the point where they indeed correlate in our minds.
It is little wonder then that when we finally get to work we stay there and work really hard. I mean really stupidly hard. In 2005 Australians worked longer hours than any other western nation (1855 hours per year). Even the capitalist Americans (1835) and the industrious Japanese (1821) look like loathsome sluggards next to us. Former Workplace Relation Minister, Kevin Andrews, even wanted to change the law so that we could sell two of our four weeks annual leave and work even longer.
The thing I find perturbing is that at least getting drunk is, well can be, a positive social experience. It goes without saying that getting drunk and starting a fight or committing a crime is bad. Mostly, in my experience anyway, having drinks with friends is a rewarding, uplifting, even therapeutic exercise. Whilst the hangover is terrible (it’s getting better as I write actually) the interaction is wonderful.
With credit card debt it seems as if we are giving ourselves a hangover for no good reason. This may sound like the idealistic philosophising of a poor man, but what does it benefit your soul if your television is 50 centimeters or 50 inches? Television is an easy example but the same general rule applies to cars, computers, video games, handbags, shoes, dining suites and outdoor settings. The thing about our market culture is that it is built on the premise that possessions become obsolete very quickly and must be replaced by more possessions. It is impossible to get satisfaction (ask Mick Jagger) from material possession because they are designed to provide only a fleeting relief before the next product you need is created, marketed and coveted. Wouldn’t it be better to spend time with friends or reading a book than working overtime to pay off a huge credit card debt?
It can seem so mischievous, the way in which our human inclination is manipulated. In September 2007, for example, Crown Casino was sued by a pathological gambler because they lured him with free flights to Melbourne and even gave him up to $50 000 credit each time he visited. He lost $30 million over a 14 month period.
Even the US, and to a lesser extent Australian, army recruitment operates on the ‘pay later’ principle. The army is presented as an ideal career, especially for people from poor areas. The benefits are of course plentiful; secure employment, free education and training, travel opportunities, medical benefits (a recruitment officer once told me the army is helping him build his real estate portfolio). But what if they had the hangover first? What if the had to pay upfront with post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of a limb, death?
This isn’t leading to any grandiose solution for the world. I am as much a slave to the system as anyone. Still, it is interesting to identify how we, as a society, are the creators of the snares in which we fall. As Karl Marx once said, ‘with all our producing we produce our own gravediggers.’ I guess the best we can hope for is to be alert to the pitfalls of a ‘play now, pay later’ society. It would be healthy, methinks, to also question occasionally if we really want the things we feel an impulsive desire to buy. Well the Jones curse is wearing off and I am going to have a nap.