I haven't yet read all of Pope Francis' 224-page "apostolic exhortation." Hence my understanding of it is largely reduced to the greatest hits thereof--cited by secondary sources I trust, such as Dionne, who remarks:
[I]n light of the obsessive shopping on Cyber Monday and Black Friday, here is a pope who paints consumerism in the darkest of hues. "We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase," he writes. "In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us."
I introduced that passage by confessing my reading inadequacies for a reason. Francis may go on to stress this even more than he does here--"The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience"--but it seems to me that the darkest hue and greatest danger of American consumerism are all those lives stunted by a lavish participation in it. It is frequently observed that American slavery degraded the slaveowner as much as the slave. Is there a parallel in modern consumerism?--one far less harsh, obviously, but a parallel nonetheless?
It seems incontrovertible that our national obsession with all things shiny and new stunts and impoverishes, through neglect, those lives outside the acquisition circle. But what of the impoverished lives inside the circle?
We are forever filling holes of borderline despair with fresh buckets of materialism; the last bucket didn't quite do the trick of personal fulfillment, but the next one will. Of that, we're reasonably sure. But there's always a nagging deficit that remains, a kind of imperishable emptiness.
What so many of us generally fail to see is that life is lived not externally, but in the mind--or, if you prefer, within the soul, and within a community of souls. It is here that lasting fulfillment comes--and that fulfillment through learning can be free, thanks to that greatest invention of the human mind, the public library.
Would more learning and less acquisitiveness make us a more generous, a more caring, a more inclusive people? I honestly don't know. But I'll repeat what I wrote before, that sentiment I share with Pope Francis: It seems virtually incontrovertible that our materialist obsessions have always squeezed our humanity--and thus the material impoverishment of others has, by and large, "fail[ed] to move us." We're too busy acquiring.
Jesus! I sound preachy. I'll stop while I'm behind.