Here’s a thought I had:
I have always felt that consumerism has been under rated. It seems, to me, that consumerism has been one of the most important creations in the past several hundred years. I think its actually had more impact than politics, law, industrialism, economy, technology, science, etc. If any of these are important it is usually because they affect consumerism or are somehow associated with it. If nothing supports consumerism then it doesn’t seem to be survive that well. Because of this, we could say that we are in a “consumer era”. By this I mean that life is dominated by consumerism.
To me, consumerism has these qualities:
- It is a man-made item. Its not something naturally appearing. It could be an item itself or an item that does a service. It is usually a physical item but it can even be information (see below).
- It has a specific purpose. Its generally created to fulfill a specific need or requirement.
- It is generally used for some everyday activity in life. It is not necessarily business-related, work-related, etc., though some of it may be used for that reason.
- Consumerism tends to be “personal”. That is to say, it caters to satisfying some quality directed to the individual person and not necessarily to society as a whole.
- It is something that a person gets. Its usually purchased but not necessarily.
- Its generally something directed toward the masses. That is to say, it is not individually made for one person but something intended for many people.
In these ways, consumerism consists primarily of useful items a person can use with some purpose.
Consumerism, as I use it, is not necessarily a result of business. Its closely associated with business but it doesn’t have to be. Most consumerism, though, has to do with business, in one way or another, and a whole industry has been created that caters to consumerism.
To me, consumerism is a condition caused by the qualities described above, regardless of their origin. In some respects you could say it is a “way of life”. One could say that consumerism is a way of life that is dominated by the qualities described above.
Recently, a new form of media has appeared that’s become quite prevalent. Normally, consumerism consisted of a physical object but we have seen the prevalence of consumerism-as-information. In other words, various forms of information have become a “consumer product”. This can appear a number of ways:
- The media. This could be news, social media, etc.
- Various forms of “everyday knowledge”. This includes things like do-it-yourself, information about things, etc.
- The information coming from education. This is more or less saying that education is a form of consumerism and that going to school is not a whole lot of different than going to the store.
- Entertainment. Movies, television programs, etc. are also a form of information that is a form of consumerism.
Some ways consumerism has uses such as:
- It has a practical use. A good example is a refrigerator or washing machine.
- It gives pleasure that can have practical value. A good example is the television or radio.
- It is frivolous having no practical value whatsoever. A good example is the collecting of things or some hobbies, such as flying toy airplanes. This form is typically a form of pleasure, as many pleasures are frivolous. It just has no practical value.
Some of the ways it has effected people include:
- It has given people access to things they normally wouldn’t have
- It gives people things that has practical value
- It has given people things that are beneficial
- It gives people a pleasure
- It consists of things that affect much of the population
One could probably say that, overall, consumerism has given the multitude an access to “things” they normally wouldn’t have access to.
Some of the problems it has created include:
- It has created a dependency, often to the point of an addiction.
- It undermines self-reliance and the ability to figure things out on ones own.
- It has a controlling quality, to the point of dominating life.
- It makes people want things they don’t want.
- It makes people need things they don’t need.
- It has made life too leisurely.
- It often causes envy, jealousy, and pointless competition.
- It has become a means of control of people and the population.
- It is deceiving. Some businesses, in fact, rely on deception to stay in business.
- It tends to make things “common” and “everyday”. This often takes away depth and the mystery of things.
- It can cause mass hysteria, mass mania, etc.
- It makes life revolve around “products”.
- It tends to overshadow other things life like culture, belief, religion, etc.
- It becomes a power in society because it caters to the masses.
“CONSUMER WEALTH” – AN ILLUSION OF WEALTH???
Overall, consumerism has caused an illusion of wealth in the general population. This is because people have things they normally wouldn’t have, such as shoes, food, medicine, etc. But the population hasn’t become more “wealthy” because they have more money. Consumerism gives a form of “wealth” by its existence and availability. I often speak of this as “consumer wealth”. In this way, it gives an illusion of wealth as if people make more money. In other words, the “consumer era” is not necessarily a prosperous era . . . it just seems like that. If the consumerism were to fall we’d see how poor we really all are.
Consumerism, for example, hasn’t alleviated poverty but, because of its ease and prevalence, it has given the illusion that it has alleviated poverty. People seem “less poor”. It has done this to such an extent that consumerism tends to hide the continual rich/poor problem. In fact, it can even amplify it and make it worse in some cases.
“Consumer wealth” is a unique form of wealth. It is a wealth not necessarily based in how much money a person makes (though this definitely affects what you can buy). “Consumer wealth” is a form of wealth more based in whether you live in a society, or town, that has consumer products or not. Many small towns, for example, don’t have access to consumer products and “appear poor” as a result. Many countries don’t have access either. In this way, one could say that “consumer wealth” is more a matter of access than money.
THE BASES OF CONSUMERISM
For consumerism to work it requires a number of bases. It doesn’t just “work” all-of-a-sudden. Many countries can’t develop a consumerism because the base simply isn’t there. Some forms of base include:
- A political system. The political system must be such that it allows for consumerism. It must support and help control it. If it does not do this then its hard for consumerism to function.
- An economic system. Naturally, the economic system has to be able to sustain consumerism. It must be able to manufacture, transport, and sell the consumer products. If it can’t do any of these then its hard for consumerism to take root.
- A legal system. This has to help direct all the business, regulate, and control things in a productive manner.
- A cultural and belief system. This allows, or even fosters, consumerism. If the cultural or belief system does not allow for consumerism then it can’t take root in the society.
- A supply of natural resources and raw materials. If a society does not have the material that is required to manufacture things than consumerism can’t take place.
- Organization. Consumerism requires the society to be very organized. In actuality, not a lot of societies are that organized to do that.
What we see, then, is that consumerism requires a network of things to happen in order for it to work effectively. It takes more than “one thing”.
Nowadays, with the ease of transportation, there is less burden on the society to supply all these things and thereby spreading “consumer wealth”. A country who has the manufacturing ability, for example, can easily ship somewhere else to a place that does not have this capability. In this way, countries are not as restricted as much as they used to be.
CONSUMERISM AND POWER
Consumerism, because it is directed to the masses, is a means of power in society. In fact, any power, nowadays, probably has to involve consumerism, in some form, in order to be effective. This includes practically all forms of power such as political power, social power, the power of money, the power of social status, etc. This association with consumerism and power makes consumerism all the more influential in life.
Much of the avenue of this power comes in many different ways, such as:
- Consumerism-as-information, such as news
- Purchasing power
- Peoples being affected by consumer products
CONSUMERISM AND MASS MENTALITY
Because consumerism is directed toward the masses it tends to be associated with mass mentality. By “mass mentality” I mean a condition where people lose their sense of self and replace it with what I call the “mass mind”, where the mind is replaced by a sense of the people as a whole (as if it were a single entity). This causes a tendency to do things like:
- Blindly follow
- Be like everyone else
- Loss of a sense of self
- Blindly react to panic or moods from the population
The effect of these is that it turns people into what can be described as a bunch of “blind over-reactive sheep” . . . mass mentality.
In many ways, consumerism is a major cause of mass mentality in society. I might even dare to say that consumerism may of created mass mentality, or at least amplified it to a higher level.
Some of the effects consumerism has which causes mass mentality include:
- Its all similar
- Everyone does the same thing
- It is “pre-made” . . . a person just “follows along” blindly
- A person usually doesn’t have to do much
These create a condition of “get in and turn your mind off” which is a quality predisposing a person to mass mentality.
THE SYSTEM OF CONSUMERISM – AN USURPING OF LIFE
Consumerism is really a product of a system, of the turning of society into a big organized machine. This is what creates it and sustains it. Without this system consumerism cannot survive. In this way, “consumer wealth” is not a matter of monetary wealth but having an adequate and sustainable consumer system with an adequate and sustainable base.
One effect of this system, of course, is that it has turned us all into slaves of the system, the “consumer machine”. Most of us serve the consumer system in our jobs and are, accordingly, part of the “consumer machine”. For the consumer system to work most of the population has to work for it, in one way or another. This makes consumerism a very dominating system and something that has infiltrated into every aspect of our lives, for not only do we use it but we work for it! In this way, consumerism has as if “usurped” our lives. This is why we are in a “consumer era” . . . it dominates!
The damage to human society
As it appears to me, consumerism has usurped so much that it has undermined many human institutions making many of them redundant and useless. This includes things like social structure, authority, religion, culture, traditions, and such. In this way, consumerism has been very damaging to human society. Its turning society into something like a “blur” where all people do is “buy things” and that’s all they’re concerned about. So, what it looks like is that consumerism has had some benefits to humanity but its prevalence, overuse, and dominance is seeming to undermine human society in the long run.
I often wonder what human society will be like after the “consumer era” ends (and it will end one day). Some things that I can seem to see include:
- There will be no authority
- There will be no social structure
- There will be no belief in anything
- People will blindly follow everyone else
- Many people won’t know how to do anything
- Many people won’t know what to do
- Everyone will be the same, a “blur”
- There will be no unity
In many ways, I see humanity as primarily becoming “dumb and blind” after the “consumer era” ends. Whether that will happen or not I don’t know but that’s what it looks like to me at this time.
Regaining what was lost
If the above is true then it means that consumerism is basically robbing us from under our very noses! Its taking away things like these:
- Its taking away our society
- Its taking away our self-reliance
This basically shows that consumerism replaces these things.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I guess it depends on how you want to look at it. To me, its a question of extent, of how far its taken. Personally, I think consumerism has gone too far as it is. This is why I tend to emphasize reducing the use of consumer products as much as possible. Some points could be:
- Use what the society has already “trapped” you into using and must use to survive in this society
- Use what you need and what is necessary
- Avoid frivolous consumer products
- Don’t glorify consumer products and what they can do
- Learn to live without them
I do not believe consumerism is bad in itself but, like everything else, there is a point where there is too much.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen