2009 │ End of consumer society?

Let’s hope we see less materiaslitic consumerism.

It has been said that you are what you consume. In cases of food and drink, this is literally true, but consumerism convers things and services you choose to buy, which may be unnecessary to function as a reasonable human being. Naturally we prefer to wear shoes and cover ourselves in warm clothing, but do we need that many pairs of shoes or a huge wardrobe full of designer clothes? Purchasing goods and services has become a habit for most of us. It is a leisure activity that gives us sensation of joy, satisfaction and fulfilment, also control and dominance, and an act of competition. We judge others by what they consume and consider it as one of the major tools of measurement to assess their worth and place them in social standing.

If we learn to covet less because of our economic difficulties, that is not a bad thing. Consumption will become less ostentatious and conspicuous, and we feel less need and urge to compete with our neighbours, colleagues, kith and kin. Of course we would still like to possess and own things, and make our lives much more fulfillig, perhaps eat tastier food and drink better booze. Life ought to be made easier and more comfortable, so developping technologies and products for those ends should be encouraged, without, however, destroying the planet or ruining people. Cars without emission, for example, would be great: they use existing infrastructure (roads), affords greater mobility without damaging the earth.

It also remains true that we need to consume things to tick the economy over to the benefit of many (if not all). Instead of accumulating unnecessary stuff, often at great environmental and human cost, could we not reorient our system of values to consume things to enrich ourselves, such as ideas (e.g. books, cinema, theatres) and senses (e.g. poetry, environmentally sustainable travelling)? Occasional treats and presents are all good and great but spending a large amount of money every week seems a bit excessive. Many people in the ‘western’ world enjoy a large amount of disposable income: why not go to the theatre instead of buying something you never use or later regret purchasing?

Cynic in me says that chances of this happening are pretty slim: we are used to wanting things and wanting them now. But we cannot live like we have done over the past few dacades: it is hardly sustainable, nor is it fair to the poorer inhabitants of the world and to our descendants.

I still hope we’ll be living in a fairer society built on sustainability but without depriving the consumers of their fix. Impossible? No: we can garner our ideas and skill to develop newer and more efficient technologies. It is a difficult task, but I won’t be betting against human ingenuity and will to be good and selfish at the same time. Dichotomy between economy and ecology may be false.

Hmm ... This ended horribly and uncharacteristcally upbeat. What have I been drinking?