The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

We are the Consumers

This is an excerpt from Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I am reading an abridged edition by Moses Hadas.

Under the Roman Empire, the labour of an industrious and ingenious people was variously, but incessantly employed, in the service of the rich. In their dress, their table, their houses, and their furniture, the favourites of fortune united every refinement of conveniency, of elegance, and of splendor, whatever could soothe their pride or gratify their sensuality. Such refinements, under the odious name of luxury, have been severely arraigned by the moralists of every age; and it might perhaps be more conducive to virtue, as well as happiness, of mankind, if all possessed the necessaries, and none the superfluities, of life.

As long as the circulation [of labor and goods] was confined within the bounds of the empire, it impressed the political machine with a new degree of activity, and its consequences, sometimes beneficial, could never become pernicious.


I guess I am a moralist of this age. It is worthy to note that the average US citizen is privy to more luxury than 99% percent of all humans, in all cultures, who have ever lived (see David Brooks' On Paradise Drive, or Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice). We are the rich-not the great unwashed.

Gibbon's observation is simply a good warning to the US regarding import/export policy and philosophy. I am by no means advocating communism, as one might be led to believe by the last line of the first paragraph. But I would advocate a lifestyle that is not so reliant upon luxury. "Everything is permissible" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" - but I will not be mastered by anything.

We are the consumers, but how easily we can become the consumed.