Evan Ho: Hoarders and Wasters

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Evan Ho fears he’s headed for that special place in Dante’s Hell reserved for Hoarders and Wasters, but he’ll have plenty of company.

When I opened my front door yesterday I saw yet another box with that blue smiling arrow on the ground. What the hell is that, I thought? I have been ordering so many random things from that particular online retailer that I sometimes forget what items will show up a couple of days after I click that amber “Buy Now” button.

This year is the 700-year anniversary of the death of the great writer Dante, whose work, The Divine Comedy, stands among the most memorable and influential books of Western literature. At times I feel like I’ve lost my way, becoming a mindless consumer of goods, so I am wondering if I am at risk of being placed one day in Dante’s 4th Circle of his Inferno, where the Hoarders and Wasters are condemned to pushing around large boulders and crying out in anguish for eternity.

I am also thinking about this subject matter for three other reasons: first, the news about all those cargo ships stuck in Purgatory outside the ports in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and elsewhere; second, the fact that the material object gift-giving season will soon be bearing down on us; and third, the ghastly sight of all the excess stuff spewing from the mouths of parking lot donation bins, or the desolate sight of enormous roadside self-storage facilities, which in the U.S. collectively take up over two billion square feet. That’s a lot of space for things that are not being used, yet global factories keep pumping out new things to load onto ships to head to our shores.

I feel partly responsible for this depressing state of affairs. After reading The Divine Comedy I am determined to avoid Hell. I will not be a Hoarder and Waster. I will not join a group of people, who, in the translated words of Dante, according to one scholar, “were so skewed and squint-eyed in their minds their misering and extravagance mocked all reason.” No, midway in my life’s journey, I will reform my consumer habits and conscientiously take care of the Earth and my own soul.

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With a Dantean perspective, this is Evan Ho.

Evan Ho works in the business school at UC, Berkeley. He lives in Orinda.