Origins in American Society
25 November 2011
In Search of the Affluent Society
In Allen Johnson’s article, “In Search of the Affluent Society,” there is a debate of
modern cultures or primitive cultures are more affluent.
There are two positions in this situation,
optimistic and pessimistic.
In an optimistic view, we have seen that development, such as
technology and production, can bring us to “ease, affluence, and marvelous” life.
As for a
pessimistic view, we have seen the opposite that development can bring us to drastic measures.
The question is: how are these two positions going to balance?
Marshall Sahlins, an
anthropologist, gives two points on how society can be affluent: “our own, which is to produce
more, and what he calls the Buddhist path, which is to be satisfied less” (1).
A truly affluent
society is neither primitive nor modern.
Specifically, to be affluent people have to combine
primitive notions of free time and modern notions of production together.
To find out how each society is affluent or not, we have to experiment of what affluence is
Allen Johnson compares two different societies: the middle-class French couples, which
represents the modern people, and the Machiguenga Indians of Peru, which represents the simpler
or primitive people.
There are three categories that distinguish two different societies:
consumption time, production time, and free time.
Consumption time refers to eating, mass media,
school, church, and other leisure activities.
Production time refers to what people think as work,
such as cleaning, hunting and gathering, and manufacturing.
Free time refers to any relaxing time
that has nothing to do with consumption nor production such as sleeping, talking, and resting.
Then, Johnson breaks down the two different societies into five groups of people: two for the