Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message

Affluenza, as it is defined by the authors, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

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by Nicole Chilton | 2008-04-02 01:00:00-06

Book review: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Second Edition by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor

In a world already filled with so much stuff, there seems to be an ever increasing push to obtain the bigger and the better. Americans consume more fuel, food and products than any other country in the world, but are also plagued with stress-related illness, depression and overall poor health. For a country that seems so rich, why are we so poor? With the speed at which lightweight living is progressing, it is natural to look for a reason for such enthusiasm and ask what may be driving some people to take their lightweight backpacking skills and apply them to their lives. According to authors John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor, the probable reason is also the name of their book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic .

Affluenza, as it is defined by the authors, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This condition is categorized by numerous symptoms, both emotional and physical, but the most powerful and lasting symptom, according to the authors, is the lack of purpose and joy in people’s lives. Americans buy and buy and buy and never quite seem to reach that feeling of contentment. In fact, they tend to feel terrible, weighed down by the excess existing in their lives. The book cites numerous examples of people who have realized that the accumulation of things, such as power and wealth, have only made them miserable and discontent. They only find happiness when they lighten up their lives and rid themselves of that which “you can’t take with you when you go.”

The book, which at times feels like an overwhelming experience in and of itself, jumps from one topic to the next, chronicling and calculating the expanding way of life in America, and how it is making people sick. The motivations for buying too much, the current family system, analysis of the social structure and even an Affluenza Self-Diagnosis Test are included in the text. Provided with an almost intrusive collection of facts and statistics, the authors morbidly cover and deconstruct the crucial error in the fabric of the American culture: we simply carry too much.

The information, regardless of how overwhelming the book may seem at times, is of extreme importance and value, especially to Americans today. Going lighter (although those exact words are not used in the book) is the message. To seek out, appreciate, and foster that which cannot be purchased is provided as a method for a better life, though the authors achieve this by stuffing the book full of facts, figures and shock-value anecdotes. It is supersized, if you will. In the end, the book is still able to provide something to the public that seems elusive in this era: perspective. In two hundred forty-seven jolting pages (and that is before the forty-one pages of notes, a bibliography, sources and a complete index) it manages to cut through the never-ending onslaught and spin of advertising, finally presenting to the consumer the world as it is, not as it is marketed.


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"Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message," by Nicole Chilton. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/affluenza_book_review.html, 2008-04-02 01:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message


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David Bengoechea
(daveben) - F

Locale: Calgary, Canada
re: I can think of one "thing" I'll dump soon enough on 04/02/2008 18:55:24 MDT Print View

You don't have to read the article or buy the book if you're not interested. But what about the BPL'ers who enjoyed the article? Anyone? Bueller?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
The other side on 04/03/2008 09:32:36 MDT Print View

Has it not occured to anyone that a symptom of "affluenza" might be spending huge amounts of money on "simple" outdoor gear? If you want to be light in the sense of impact on the earth better head to the surplus store and goodwill.

Don Selesky
(backslacker) - M
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/03/2008 11:00:43 MDT Print View

I vow to follow this philosophy by no longer buying anything from the BPL Gear Shop. :-)

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
RE: "Affluenza..." on 04/03/2008 11:31:06 MDT Print View

Instead of spending my goverment issued stimulus check on yet more gear (helping all the little gear companies like Mchale, ULA, MLD, Tarptent and such)I will instead put it into my retirement account. Heaven forbid that I feed my sickness called affluenza or do my part to stimulate the slowing economy.

I will have to wait for the book to be available at the local library so that I can read it without having to support the author with buying still more stuff.

Brian Doble
(brian79) - MLife

Locale: New England
Gandhi had TWO pairs of sandals?? on 04/03/2008 11:58:25 MDT Print View

Jeesh, how many pairs of shoes does a man need?

Edited by brian79 on 04/03/2008 11:59:05 MDT.

Andrew Richardson
(arichardson6) - F

Locale: North East
Re: Gandhi had TWO pairs of sandals?? on 04/03/2008 12:33:11 MDT Print View

Precisely what I was thinking...I figured one was for formal events and the other pair was for casual use.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/03/2008 17:30:49 MDT Print View

Hi Nia

> But in the absence of expertise, the info provided in this review is no different than a random blog espousing their opinions. And there are numerous blogs which have reviewed the Affluenza book. So what is the BPL value add here?

Good question, but you might be a bit surprised over how many BPL staff do espouse 'lightweight' living. OK, maybe some due to conviction and others due to circumstances :-) That is, apart from a slight tendency to indulgence in UL gear!

Obviously some BPL readers have found this brief review of Ul interest. That's good. We try to cover a broad scope rather than a really narrow one, and inevitably this means a few articles at some times will not appeal to some members. This happens. But remember, we can only find out what you like by publishing and then looking at your feedback.

Never mind: there will be some very technical articles about gear and lightweight trips coming up soon. We hope you enjoy them.

Cheers
Roger Caffin
Online Community Manager
Backpacking Light

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Affluenza and Backpacking on 04/03/2008 17:58:22 MDT Print View

Affluenza (the concept) is at the very core of the philosophy why *some* (not all!) people go hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking, in the first place.

An extension of this philosophy is at the core of *some* (not all!) of the reasoning behind carrying a lighter pack and seeking a lighter, less impactive, and simpler existence in the wilderness.

If you seek this type of simplicity in your wilderness style, and are unwilling to at least recognize these roots, or at least, the extension of these principles to other areas of your life, then perhaps you are missing out on one of the most powerful applications of lightweight backpacking in the first place.

Visiting the wilds, for me, has nothing to do with visiting the wilds. "So what?" other than those experiences feed my own selfish indulgences to do some of the things that I selfishly enjoy doing.

Far more important, is what my experiences in the wilds allow me to bring back to society, my community, my relationships.

Backpacking, inherently, can become a pretty narcissistic activity for some.

I'd rather take the opportunity (occasionally) to ask you to step outside of this narcissism from time to time and explore the greater impact that an ultralight life may have both inside, and outside, the boundaries of a wilderness area; than simply educate you about "the greatest new thing you have to buy now", whether it's from the "BPL store" or not.

I'd be rather disappointed, from the perspective of a businessman especially, that you'd consider purchasing something from our store that you wouldn't need, use, or appreciate. Unfortunately, these criteria (need, usefulness, and appreciation) are not common filters for American shoppers, and that's pretty pathetic. Hence, the Affluenza epidemic.

Got a closet full of gear you never use?

Share it with somebody who can.

Need a piece of gear in our store?

Post first on the Gear Swap forum to see if someone has a used version they aren't in need of. Maybe we can freecycle some of this gear within the BPL community rather than having to sell new things to everyone all the time.

Luymes Ted
(start2day) - M

Locale: So Cal.
My perspective on 04/03/2008 21:49:46 MDT Print View

As a 19-year-old in the mountains of Guatemala (circa 1984)I remember the toothless grin of an old Indian woman whose feet were 8" wide, gnarled and cracked from a lifetime of never having worn footwear.

She looked down at my boot-clad feet and so did I. For the first time in my life I was deeply embarassed at having spent $75 for these albatrosses on my feet.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Affluenza and Backpacking on 04/04/2008 10:05:17 MDT Print View

>>> Affluenza (the concept) is at the very core of the philosophy why *some* (not all!) people go hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking, in the first place.

Affluenza (the misconcept) contradicts the very core of the economy why *some* (not all!) people go work, get pay, make expenditures, receive goods and services in the first place.

Keep in mind that over 70 percent of the US GDP consists of personal consumption expenditures. We are talking 70 percent of $14 trillion (that is with a T). The EU is another $14 trillion. China $7 T. Japan $4 T, UK $2 T, Canada and Australia about $1 T each. World total is about $66 trillion.

In current dollars, the US GDP was $56 billion (that is only with a B) in 1933. Sounds depressing because it was a depression. The only ultralighters then were hobos and tramps. But there was an absence of affluenza. That then is at least one cure for the disease.

>>> An extension of this philosophy is at the core of *some* (not all!) of the reasoning behind carrying a lighter pack and seeking a lighter, less impactive, and simpler existence in the wilderness.

An extension of the economy is the core of *some*(not all!) of the ability to buy a lighter pack and afford to take trips or purchase books or subscribe to websites seeking a lighter, less impactive, and simpler existence in the wilderness. However, we can't stay because we have to return and go back to work.

>>> If you seek this type of simplicity in your wilderness style, and are unwilling to at least recognize these roots, or at least, the extension of these principles to other areas of your life, then perhaps you are missing out on one of the most powerful applications of lightweight backpacking in the first place.

Also recognize that another necessary root to most of us is the economic model. If people don't buy then there is no work. It may be a nasty cycle, but we're all in this thing together.

>>> Got a closet full of gear you never use?

No.

>>>Share it with somebody who can.

So far I've given my unneeded gear to somebody(s) who can use it.

>>>Need a piece of gear in our store?

I'm a happy consumer of your store! You provide gear and website. I buy and subscribe. Of course, I could survive without either, but as a reasonably free person in a reasonably free market, I choose to incur the wrath of affluenza.

>>> Post first on the Gear Swap forum to see if someone has a used version they aren't in need of. Maybe we can freecycle some of this gear within the BPL community rather than having to sell new things to everyone all the time.

Just wondering. Do we go back to overly strong product designs to make gear last longer - although it will be heavier - to promote its reuse? : )

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
My observation - yup, still the same on 04/04/2008 10:50:13 MDT Print View

First, thanks Ryan J. for your explanation. That's pretty much what I was trying to say in my earlier post.

Second, I don't know why I'm surprised again but I am. It never fails to amaze me how much negativity and cynicism one can run into about this sort of thing...even in a place like this forum where I consider the average participant to be very enlightened compared to your average Joe. One would think that a forum which focuses primarily on pursuits outside of the mainstream recreational habits of most people, in places that require a certain level of custodial care on our part (the 'wilds') would be thick with positivity towards ideas like the ones written about in Affluenza.

I truly feel that until we take stock in self-sacrifice and develop a more positive, charitable mindset we're always going to be a slow-moving target for our quasi-capitalist machine...at least until it fails itself through acts of self-cannibalization.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
The philosophy of ultralight and Affluenza on 04/04/2008 11:01:42 MDT Print View

To those who can't seem to make the connection between Affluenza and ultralight, one of the major hurdles in getting gear weight down is in our perception of what we need vs. what we want. And it is subtle and pervasive at times.

I find it easy enough to pare down clothing and hardware that is directly applicable to my hike, and then there are the toys-- camera, radio, audio player, PDA, etc, etc. Many of those items can actually detract from the quality of the hike and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the journey.

Getting away from that sort of baggage is exactly what the wilderness experience is about for me: we spend so much time plugged in and standing on steel and concrete that we lose touch with the natural environment. I live in Seattle and it really strikes me when I am near the waterfront and I can hear seagulls and smell the salt air while standing between 1000' skyscrapers. The view from city streets directly into the Olympic mountains is another reminder of the contrasts.

Another way of expressing this is the old KISS concept: Keep It Simple Stupid.

I am perplexed why someone would want to cancel a subscription (or threaten it) because of the contents of one article. If BPL has a mission, one part of it must be to get people to think outside the box and break with common perceptions of what is the "right" way to prepare for a wilderness journey. I find the subject very appropriate and interesting.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/04/2008 17:46:37 MDT Print View

Maybe to establish a broader context for going ultralight and then applying the lessons learned to that broader context(one's way of living in general)?

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
The affluenza message and backpacking, etc on 04/04/2008 22:22:54 MDT Print View

I actually quite liked seeing the review here. I feel bad all the time about how much crap I accumulate, particularly backpacking gear that I dont really need, its just a bit lighter, leaving the other gear in the cupboard forever.

I welcome the book review...BPL has seen a book, decided it might be of interest to SOME BPL readers (seriously, not everyone is interested in the latest snowshoe-I live and work in a Desert! But I welcome it as some BPLers are interested), hence the wrote about it.

Id also welcome more book reviews that may be of vague interest to BPLers. Just because a book isnt entirely dedicated to getting your baseweight to sub5 or 10lb, doesnt mean that some of its messages/knowledge may be applicable to what you are trying to achieve. Just because I work on am an arid lands spatial ecologist, doesnt mean that I won't read a marine biology paper from the equator that I think may be interesting and inspire me to think a little differently about the problems I work on.

Adam

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Locale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!
Appropriate song lyrics on 04/04/2008 23:01:23 MDT Print View

> when your monthly income is 1600/mo and rent+bills+food = 1400/mo you really dont have money to go buying any old thing and learn to appreciate what you do have.

I don't have digital
I don't have diddly squat
It's not having what you want
It's wanting what you've got

I'm gonna soak up the sun
Gonna tell ev'ryone to lighten up
I'm gonna soak up the sun
While it's still free
Before it goes out on me

-Sheryl Crow-

Greg Vaillancourt
(GSV45) - F

Locale: Utah
Re: The philosophy of ultralight and Affluenza on 04/05/2008 10:28:44 MDT Print View

"I am perplexed why someone would want to cancel a subscription (or threaten it) because of the contents of one article."

Not because of one article.

"But what about the BPL'ers who enjoyed the article?"

Am I supposed to express other's opinions?

Edited by GSV45 on 04/05/2008 10:29:56 MDT.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Hoarding gear? Sell it! on 04/05/2008 11:22:27 MDT Print View

I think the accumulation of gear is normal for people who love backpacking and are performance oriented. Maybe the best way to get out of the "gear hoarding" mode is to just start selling the stuff you know you won't use since you updated it to something that is 2 oz lighter. Let the extra gear circulate!:)

To get out of "affluenza" mode, I think you can either focus on not consuming (buying a minimum of stuff), or on passing on what you're not using. Either way you're not hoarding unused things.

Edited by Legkohod on 04/05/2008 11:27:48 MDT.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: My observation - yup, still the same on 04/05/2008 13:50:15 MDT Print View

>>>> It never fails to amaze me how much negativity and cynicism one can run into about this sort of thing...even in a place like this forum where I consider the average participant to be very enlightened compared to your average Joe. <<<<<

THE REVIEW REEKS NEGATIVITY! I will list examples. But first, IMHO, American spending is good. I hope all BPLers will aspire to make plenty of money so they can buy any gear they want and go anywhere to hike. It is NOT a disease. However, negative, misinformed exaggeration is a sickness.

Negatives from the review:

1) In a world already filled with so much stuff, there seems to be an ever increasing push to obtain the bigger and the better.

Not really.

2) Americans consume more fuel, food and products than any other country in the world, but are also plagued with stress-related illness, depression and overall poor health.

Swine-land.

3) For a country that seems so rich, why are we so poor?

Profound.

4) ...the probable reason is also the name of their book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic.

For sale of course.

5) Affluenza, as it is defined by the authors, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

Oh pleassssssse!

6) the most powerful and lasting symptom, according to the authors, is the lack of purpose and joy in people’s lives.

You wish.

7) Americans buy and buy and buy and never quite seem to reach that feeling of contentment.

You can buy a case of beer and it will do the trick.

8) In fact, they tend to feel terrible, weighed down by the excess existing in their lives.

Can't move. Help me.

9) The book cites numerous examples of people who have realized that the accumulation of things, such as power and wealth, have only made them miserable and discontent.

Did they talk to Warren Buffet or Bill Gates?

10) They only find happiness when they lighten up their lives and rid themselves of that which “you can’t take with you when you go.”

Please give your stuff to the authors. You'll feel better.

11) ...chronicling and calculating the expanding way of life in America, and how it is making people sick.

Again, pleassssssssssssssssse!

12) ...the authors morbidly cover and deconstruct the crucial error in the fabric of the American culture: we simply carry too much.

My back hurts. Please help me.

13) The information, regardless of how overwhelming the book may seem at times, is of extreme importance and value, especially to Americans today.

Overwhelming? Maybe a contradiction.

14) Going lighter (although those exact words are not used in the book) is the message.

Fabrication possibly.

15) To seek out, appreciate, and foster that which cannot be purchased is provided as a method for a better life, though the authors achieve this by stuffing the book full of facts, figures and shock-value anecdotes. It is supersized, if you will.

Stuffing? Contradiction again.

16) In two hundred forty-seven jolting pages (and that is before the forty-one pages of notes, a bibliography, sources and a complete index) it manages to cut through the never-ending onslaught and spin of advertising, finally presenting to the consumer the world as it is, not as it is marketed.

What? 247 pages + 41 more pages = contradiction!

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/05/2008 15:00:32 MDT Print View

I wrote above that this article doesn't show expertise in the subject matter. Roger responded, "you might be a bit surprised over how many BPL staff do espouse 'lightweight' living"

Well, that's my point. I shouldn't be surprised because the expertise of the author should be obvious by reading the article.

From the BPL mission statement: "the words you read herein are not penned through the filter of a desk jockey's editorial deadline but rather, borne of the hardship and trials that come with spending real time in the backcountry"

I found no evidence of that in the article. In fact I don't see any content not covered by the Amazon review.

I welcome opposing opinions. But one thing I want to stress is that I'm not disuputing that this is an interesting or important topic. I think it is. I've also enjoyed the discussion of the BPL members. This is definitely an interesting and varied group of people that congregate here and in my opinion is the strength of the site.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/05/2008 16:12:00 MDT Print View

> I've also enjoyed the discussion of the BPL members. This is definitely an interesting and varied group of people that congregate here and in my opinion is the strength of the site.

Thanks Nia!