Rendered Fat Content


"The most conspicuous consumption leaves one utterly depleted at the end."

The Leisure Classes escaped to The Great American Southwest, where the great American presumption of infinite resource finally came into its own. There, everything necessary to sustain life would have to be imported at considerable inconvenience, for not even water could be counted on locally. The beleaguered Colorado River, hardly a decent creek coming down out of the Rockies, quenches thirsts and greens golf courses across the region. Rich in mineral resources, Arizona naturally features vast spaces, but virtually none of the supporting resources for maintaining even a modicum of modern life. Its comparative advantage seems to be winter sunshine, of which it provides plenty, but everything else arrives by rail, semi-truck trailer, or air. Phoenix freeways reliably clog at least twice each day as commuters cross this former wasteland to travel from home to work and back. Homes here tend to be modest one-bedroom structures, with little high-rise construction. Suburbs, though, stretch beyond scorched surrounding mountains into verdant desert where cactus thrives among low-rise hacienda-style homes of every size, from cinderblock shack to extravagant cliff-dwelling. Everyone drives everywhere.

Close in, barrios dominate. Further out, huge homes.
Along the edges, everything seems brand spanking new, a freshly cleaned slate where history was fabricated to create legends adequate to attract the most extravagant consumers, perhaps none better typifying this pattern than Care Free, Arizona. A "lovely village" created as a presumption by a wealthy developer who polled his colleagues at a cocktail party to create street names. Of course they recommended Easy Street as a prominent thoroughfare. It's now a lovely little "village" featuring many art galleries and cute crap shoppes, and a prominent enormous sundial, its 'claim to fame,' which every otherwise anonymous suburb simply must have. Every car there looks brand spanking new, except the few classics maintained in pristine condition as showpieces. It's mostly a retirement village, a place where those who abandoned their homeland upon retirement intend to spend their 'golden' years, with special emphasis upon the spending and the gold.

Thorsten Veblen, several generations ago, penned the insightful The Theory of the Leisure Class, and every last one of the tenets he laid down in that description still fit the circumstances here, except their on steroids now. Leisure here involves Conspicuous Presumption on top of Veblen's Conspicuous Consumption. Phoenix might be the least sustainable area in the country, and that's saying something more than a lot. Whatever habits of consumption one might find in New Jersey or The Bay Area seem amplified here. I wonder what Care Free might look like twenty years hence, when the current batch of Golden Years retirees have gone to their reward and no next batch with enough gold to take their place choose to stay home in Peoria. The presumption that land values always rise, that the next cubic yard of moisture will always be available at an acceptable price, the idea that one could live in extreme comfort in even the most extreme climate seems certain to eventually prove fallacious. The economy here seems build upon sand, too.

Driving through Scottsdale seems similar to cruising through Stepford. Every freaking car seems brand spanking new, with Mercedes, Lexus, Porche, and Tesla on prominent display, but even Maserati commonplace. Gated communities abound, as do surprisingly broad swaths of electric green lawn surrounding as well as comprising vast golf courses, golf being one of the more ConspicuousPresumptions commonly practiced here, though hardly the most prominent. Living here seems plenty presumptuous enough, and visiting leaves a stubborn residue of complicity. Yes, the day feels lovely and warm while I watch the WeatherBug report on snow accumulating back home, but mustn't I be part of the problem I sense? I'm here, too, participating in this grand delusion, sucking my own sustenance out of this unpromising sand. I'm here and I feel complicit. I'll leave in a few short days, returning to live with my own complicities back home. I will leave more humbled than impressed. The most conspicuous consumption leaves one utterly depleted at the end.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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