Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.
The underlying principle of this phenomenon is that consumers are constantly disappointed but this idea is shrouded by producers’ to satisfy consumers’ needs. To elaborate, the capitalistic society that we live in ingrains in us this value that we can always better ourselves, whether it be through something sophisticated, like education oneself, to something as trivial as wearing better clothes. This constant need for amelioration is reflected in the continuous modernization and emendation of apps, products, technology etc. As a result, producer’s aren’t actually satisfying our needs, rather disappointing us time again, so that we crave more. (Psychologists describe this disappointment we sometimes feel on realizing that our latest consumer purchase does not fulfill the promise we bought it on as post-purchase dissonance.) Moreover, society is ingraining in us this idea that we should always try to better ourselves. This discontentment is the motivation for our restless desire to spend. Consumer products must promise paradise. But they must systematically deliver much, much less. As a result, we get stuck in this vicious cycle that solely perpetuates consumerism.
Understanding and acknowledging this concept can help in a myriad of ways. Firstly, we can start appreciating ourselves for who we are. Once you realize that society is setting you up against yourself, you can overcome it and hopefully learn to respect and treat yourself better. Secondly, understanding the system prepares you for the worst, and so you’re less likely to develop body dysphoria, body image issues, and you’re less likely to succumb to society’s pressures to confine you to a label.
Let’s not forget the disparaging income inequality crisis. In a capitalistic society, each person caters to his or her needs, and so the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. This is because there are no forces alleviating poverty. As James Hickel puts it,
There’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on.
Capitalism contributes to the growing global warming because it instigates producers to be greedy and pursue revenue. As a result, they forget to take into account the negative impact of the production and consumption of their goods on the environment (the negative externality). This only worsens the problem.
The other problem with capitalism is the default assumption now, especially in the US and UK, that the only way to get someone to do something – anything – is to pay them to do it. The what’s-in-it-for-me attitude is being pandered to like never before. Harvard Philosopher Michael Sandel, for example, found that the word “incentivize” scarcely appeared until the 90s and since then has soared in use by more than 1,400%. School districts are even paying children to read — often with positive results.
With such profound shreds of evidence against capitalism, the question begs to be asked: why does capitalism exist and why does it perpetuate consumerism? Many scholars have been asking the same questions, and they have realized that capitalism needs some tweaking and alterations. In my next post, check out the “updated” version of capitalism that will hopefully address all these issues. And yes, I see the irony!