Guard choices

We hear it all the time. The United States, its critics fiercely denounce, is the epitome of consumerism. We go to the supermarket and are overwhelmed by three thousand different cereal boxes, crackers, breads, ice creams and soda flavors. Walk into a Best Buy and try to count the number of television features available before your brain starts aching. No sooner have we finished celebrating Christmas, than Cupid starts popping up everywhere. And no sooner is Cupid out of the picture, than the Easter Bunny springs out of nowhere. It’s maddening.

We are, I know, undoubtedly lucky. Few places in the world offer its citizens the plethora of products available to us. And that is undoubtedly good, not only because it fosters innovation, but because it forces us to be disciplined, to be responsible. This is a system that tests our will power, our drive to succeed. It is up to us to choose our lives. Should we fail, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves, as this is “the land of opportunity.” Paradoxically, however, we live in a land that breeds irresponsibility.

Most of the messages are blatant, such as the plethora of advertisements that urge us to buy now, sign our lives away, and pay later. The concept of saving money, it seems, has been all but forgotten. Along with the ubiquitous commercials that swear that spending money is the only way to fill the emptiness in our lives, we hear the chime of giddy bankruptcy lawyers and consolidating services that exempt us from responsibility. They promise to help us dig ourselves out of our self-made hole-and encourage us to dig a new one. And so, many do, guilt-ridden, unemployed, having to forgo a more important, unexpected expense to clean up their shambled credit history. It should be of no surprise that the savings level in this country is one of the lowest in the world.

The other messages are soft, extremely subtle. And very clever. Blue skies, bright mornings, happy, energetic parents, obedient children. Pharmaceutical companies must have marketing geniuses in their camps. Irresponsible, marketing geniuses. Let me explain. Depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, are unquestionably serious conditions that need to be treated. Many, I know, are not equipped with the necessary tools to overcome these conditions and need medication, perhaps due to erratic biological systems, traumatic childhood experiences, or severe, temporary lows. While anti-depressants do help and should be taken if needed, one should do it carefully, responsibly. Drug manufacturers, however, fail to underscore that these medications are tools, not miracle drugs, and that they are used to treat serious conditions, not the run-of-the mill lows that we all experience. They do not bring us instant relief. These companies fail to emphasize the importance of human effort and therapy; that without the former, the drugs are ineffective. Yes, drug companies disclose the side effects, and yes they tell people to consult with physicians. But these disclaimers are in fine print.

Diet pills, acupuncture and the patch. Whatever happened to exercise and cutting the supply of nicotine-real or synthetic-all together? That these products and methods exist is not the issue. (Although, I must admit, I see no need for the patch.) They are not wonder drugs or therapies. They require human effort. But their manufacturers want us to believe we are helpless, that we have no control over our actions. And worse, our justice system rewards those who are irresponsible, as evidenced by the hefty sums awarded to smokers who sued Big Tobacco. The cigarette makers should have been fined because they lied, but the smokers rewarded?

It’s easy to go astray, humans want to exempt ourselves from responsibility of the actions we take. But we must be aware of those who try to persuade us to relinquish our freedom of choice and the rewards of discipline. Guard your freedom fiercely and use it wisely.

Margarita MartIn-Hidalgo is a senior majoring in print journalism and international studies.