Food, clothing and shelter: Now what? ~ 2014-09-20

In a fledgling society, everybody works hard just to survive. Arrive in a new land, plant crops, increase herds, find shelter, stave off disease; do your best not to die. There is not much crime, for there is nothing to steal. There is not much art, for there is no spare time to create it. There are not a lot of fancy clothes, for there are no extra resources with which they might be made, nor time to make them.

But God has balanced this world pretty well. He's made it so that when people work hard and pull together, they are able to create societies with extra. We are able to produce more food than we need, and to have better shelter than is required for our survival.

We have arrived. Now what?

Suddenly, we find ourselves with the ultimate challenge: extra stuff and free time. In the scriptures it says, "The Earth is full and there is room enough," meaning that there are plenty of resources on the Earth and there is plenty of space for all those who might live upon it.

One might think that any group of people who had arrived here would be extremely happy, and have lots of free time to pursue their own interests such as art, education and recreation.

But what do we actually do with those extra resources and that free time? Well, let's talk about food first, and look at how the human body handles it. The human body is programmed to eat as much as it can as often as it can. Don't deny it; it's just a fact of nature and it serves an important purpose in ensuring survival. When there is plenty, we stock up. The body stores extra resources as fat and carries it with us to use in times of need. In primitive societies, the ability to store foods for long periods is limited, and frequently a limited supply must last for a long time. Most people in all of Earth's history have lived this way most of the time. Even today there is a large percentage of the population that lives in areas without what we call 'modern conveniences' that allow for food storage over long periods, like refrigeration and containers safe from pests, parasites and rot.

But for the growing number of use who live in affluence, obesity has become an epidemic simply because we never encounter the times of want. Some have not known real hunger in their entire lives, and what used to be ten or twenty pounds of 'extra storage' has now become a serious health risk, where our body must continually lug around an extra fifty or hundred pounds or more of blubber we feel we just can't live without. And in America, thanks to horribly administered government-sponsored welfare programs, we've created a subculture of obese poverty. These are the people who have little or no income but eat really well on food the government gives them.

Still, in previous generations--even without miracles of our modern world such as freezers, vacuum packs and preservatives--people were able to achieve affluence. In short, they were able to reach the point where they never got skinny. They stayed fat all the time, because they never experienced those times of want. Unfortunately, many of those who arrived at this level in the past did it upon the backs of thousands or millions who remained at the poverty level. And in any society there will be some people at the poverty level. This may be be brought about by the death or disability of a family member, or by any circumstance that reduces the acquisition of resources or depletes them at an increased rate. In a decent society, those with extra will naturally share their abundance with those in need, and then all can grow rich together.

When the Mormon pioneers moved west to settle a brand new land, times were tough at first but it didn't take long for these hard-working people to get established and begin to grow in affluence. Brigham Young -- leader of the church at that time who led them as they transformed a desolate valley into a thriving city -- was known to have said, "This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. My greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth."

Food is by no means the only area where we are able to produce in excess of our needs, but it's usually among the first because let's face it: food is really important to us and nobody likes to be hungry. You also need somewhere to sleep at night and somewhere to store your food, so shelter is right up there on the list. In addition, you need something to protect you from the elements while you're out growing your food and tending your herds; some kind of shelter you can take with you. We call it clothing.

It's only natural that after we get a dependable supply of food, we start to improve our shelters and our clothing. Eventually, we are able to increase those areas beyond our basic needs and progress into increasing levels of comfort and convenience. In the old world, you showed your affluence by three things: Being overweight, living in a big house (or castle) and wearing fancy clothes. You showed that you had the three necessities in excess, and one of the most important ways to display your excess was on your wife. Since you could afford servants, your wife did not have to work around the house doing cooking or cleaning. That freed her up to wear increasingly impractical and cumbersome outfits made of fabrics so delicate that they could not be washed by ordinary means. Let's face it: you don't go frying chicken or cleaning floors wearing a hoop skirt and dangly earrings.

For more than a hundred years now (barring a few setbacks such as the great depression), most people in America have had more than they needed most of the time. And what have we done with that extra? Applied it to great advances in the sciences, for one thing, giving us increased conveniences and allowing us to discover cures for many diseases. We've also seen huge increases in the arts, from visual arts such as sculpture, paint, and architecture to performing arts such as music, dance and theater. Our arts are even brought to us in ways that were unimaginable even several hundred years ago, such as recorded music, photography and video, and all that content is delivered to our portable electronic devices invisibly through the air over incredibly complex and expensive communications systems which span the globe. It's a pretty danged impressive society, if we do say so ourselves.

But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah saw this coming day of excess and had much to say about it. A lot of his prophecies are almost incomprehensible, because his language simply did not have the vocabulary to describe the modern marvels he observed. But there are areas where his message transcends language and experience, and one area where his message comes through loud clear is in clothing. In chapter three of his writings, starting in verse 16 he makes what must have seemed to him like an exhaustive list of all the clothing, accessories, jewelry and doodads that the women of the church in the last days would wear. I find it doubtful that he realized what a small portion of the inventory of a modern clothing store he was actually mentioning. Here's a summary of his list:

The daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go...tinkling ornaments about their feet, cauls, round tires like the moon, chains, bracelets, mufflers, bonnets, ornaments of the legs, headbands, tablets, earrings, rings, nose jewels, changeable suits of apparel, mantles, wimples, crisping pins, glasses, fine linen, hoods, veils.

Yeah dude. That's NOTHING.

There is so much more we could be doing in the arts, in the sciences, in personal improvement and in achieving peace in the world and overcoming poverty, were we not still hopelessly obsessed with obtaining ever-increasing amounts of food, shelter, clothing and mindless entertainment to fill in the extra time.