As iconic as “The Lorax” is for educating children about the environment, I would have thought that the word thneed would have become a regular part of environmentalist parlance. After all, it was the market demand for thneeds that drove the destruction of the truffula forest and made the Once-ler a tycoon. There seems to be a disconnect in the way people talk about the environment: lots of talk about habitat destruction, pollution, and corporations, not so much talk about the consumerism that underpins it all.
Sometimes I post on social media questions like, “do you really need another thneed?” These posts generally get no response. Once I posted to Facebook a story about seeing a kayak for sale, that I could have afforded, but being overwhelmed with thoughts about the Once-ler’s kayak factory spewing out gluppity-glup and smogulous smoke, and visions of myself paddling the kayak down a river devoid of humming-fish and swomi-swans, scanning the shore for signs of a brown bar-ba-loot among the truffula stumps – and deciding not to buy the kayak. The only response was from a sibling who completely did not understand what I was getting at.
This is a sorrow we live with. We understand where thneeds come from, and that we don’t really need them, but our efforts are more than offset by the mainstream who think that they need that thneed.
I think part of the problem is that many societies are built around consumerism. If there’s a lack of it, it means there’s an economic recession, for example…
Moreover, because it’s such an intrinsic part of the culture. It becomes easily overlooked/taken for granted as “the way things are” or “a fact of life”.
There has been some responses to it, that I’ve noticed lately, examples:
Granted, these may all be fads. For me personally, I just don’t like “stuff” that much… I like little hands-on projects, so I have way more raw-materials in my garage for “someday” projects than I’m likely to use in my lifetime. I think it’s analagous to binge-shopping.
The vast majority of people will never have this epiphany. I like stuff, all sorts of stuff. Whether it be books, specimens, rollerblade or bike parts, I often feel that I need these things. The simple fact is that some of the “thneeds” I have do not impact my quality of life in a significant way, even if they might might improve it some. I have a lot of thoughts about this issue, and many are directed at the fact that companies of all kinds now try and sell you on the “lifestyle”. Want to be a cool outdoor-dad and family man? …then you need our $300 ice chest. Examples of this are endless. On the other hand, I have a sizeable insect collection that in no way impacts the quality of my life, yet I am always drawn to collect in new locations, or when I see something cool.
I get where you’re coming from on this, and agree with the points on consumerism. Our society is centered around buy-buy-buy and we’re thwarted with hundreds of ads a day (regardless if we recognize it or not) that tell us how a product will make us happier, more attractive, or more respected. When you take a step back and look at it objectively it all starts to look pretty weird (I’m looking at you cologne ad with Johnny Depp and howling wolf in the background).
Nowhere is “consume less” intrinsically taught to us through society or education, and more has to be learned through family, social circle, or self-reflection.
That being said I have a lot of hobbies that require certain types of equipment to be able to do, and think I can offer a slightly different perspective from a different mindset.
For me, I think long and hard before I make any purchase, spending lots of time thinking whether I will actually use it, if it’s required for or enhances what I want to do, a sort of cost-benefit analysis. From there it’s about identifying the features required at my price point, with the mindset of purchasing this one item to last a lifetime (or a reasonable expectation for the product ie car etc). Last, and most importantly, is whether or not I’m willing to buy the product used which for the vast majority of things I am.
I think that last point is the most important. Buying used is in no way giving money back to the manufacturer, and in turn gives the product a second life instead of immediately going to a landfill. Nowadays more than ever it’s easy to get something used and on sites like eBay if the item isn’t exactly as described you’re totally covered so there is no risk. I think that coupled with long-term purchases is a reasonable compromise between both ends of the spectrum.
Of course I think it’s important to mention that this entire conversation is more a discussion of values and everyone falls somewhere within the spectrum. Should one prevent themselves from doing any hobbies because they want to reduce the manufacture of products? Probably not, but if that’s what they want to do so be it. On the other extreme if you want to buy a new kayak every time you go paddling there’s no law saying you can’t, but that’s kinda not cool…
Maybe I grew up in a weird place (upstate New York, 1990s), but the Lorax never got that much saturation to have name recognition of so many elements. I would have skipped past your comment on social media simply because I didn’t know what a thneed was. The Lorax, yes, truffula trees maybe (though I might have thought they were from some other Dr. Seuss book), but thneeds slipped my memories from elementary school. I’d guess most kids only read the book once and moved on. I absolutely agree with your core point about consumerism, but the vocabulary was a hurdle to the conversation.
Which is as much as saying that it was a failure.
I honestly thought there was a typo in the heading when I first saw it
Interesting food for thought nonetheless
In the US at least our society and economy are largely built on the desire for thneeds. One could argue we’re communicating right now using thneeds. It’s a rare person who has access to all this stuff but eschews acquiring it. We are the bacteria in the Petri dish but the difference is we know on some level that our consumption of finite resources is unsustainable. But are we smart enough individually and collectively to do something about it before we reach some critical limit? I’m doubtful.
I grew up in upstate NY also but years earlier than you. The Lorax was never part of my childhood environmental education despite Seuss books being common in my home (his earlier books than that one). I might have to buy that one to get educated.
I think the prose was intentional, and I quite enjoyed it.
As an environmentalist, thneeds are much less of a problem than thwants.
Disclaimer: although I’ve read the book and seen the movie, I have no memory of the term “thneed”.