What’s Up with Consumerism?
Posted by Chloe Packer on January 1, 2011
December in any country where Christmas is widely celebrated tends to be a time when people take a stance on consumerism. Some people do it by making sure they give small gifts, secondhand gifts, or no gifts at all; other people go all out and make sure everyone they know gets something new, and often something they don’t need. Whether or not either side is doing it consciously, both methods of consuming imply something about whether or not the consumer feels that buying things, for whatever reason, is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing to do. Now to be quite frank I’m entirely sure that either of these positions is well defended. I’m also convinced that in this discussion, it’s important to take into account what is generally thought by the layperson about consumerism, and then to challenge with something a little more intellectual. It’s a discussion of some importance, however, since as corporations become bigger and business continues to make national borders so permeable, being a responsible consumer will be as important as being a responsible citizen.
What might be called the ‘anti-consumerism’ stance tends to endorse the notion of ‘we have too many things’, that we are too focused on things as ends in themselves. We often fall prey to buying things that we don’t need and never use, and they either take up space in our homes or end up in a garbage dump. When we buy a product, we are also endorsing the way in which the product was produced–the general trend in most manufactured products is that methods of production are detrimental to the environment. Our purchases also provide money, usually, for a corporation (this is for your average phone/music-player/clothing type of purchase), which concentrates wealth in a very small number of people who own and run these corporations.
What might be called the ‘consumerism’ stance argues that consumerism can be very responsible. There are people who make an effort to buy products that are not wasteful, or they try to buy too many things or things that they don’t need. Another argument that I hear quite a lot is consuming stimulates the economy and that it provides a job for the person who made the product. (Not economically sound, obviously, but it’s an argument I’ve heard). In addition, things can bring people a lot of happiness. This might be an unpopular idea, but, a personal music player can bring one a great deal of satisfaction because you can listen to your music wherever you want.
This proved to be an interesting discussion for episode 95. Don pointed out that, normally, as skeptics-atheists, we really take exception to the religious aspect of Christmas, but we don’t really look at the consumerism of Christmas, as a kind of fervor in itself, as often. Another interesting point that Don made was in regards to how we–not ‘we skeptics’ but ‘ we people’–often define ourselves by our things and the fine line between being ourselves as ourselves rather than the things we own ‘becoming us’. There is a distinction to be made between buying something because we’ll feel like it completes us, rather than because we like it for itself–this is what the anti-consumerist stance is partly getting at. In terms of challenging this notion of stimulating the economy and providing a job for a worker with consuming, Ethan (rightly, I think) pointed out that in a perfect world, it might affect a worker directly; however the amount of time that money changes hands between worker and buyer doesn’t really allow for this to occur.
Tune into the recording of the episode for the full discussion. Happy New Year!