What is consumerism?
From Wikipedia, we have this definition: “Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts.” And that’s the same mass consumption lifestyle that the majority in the U.S. practices or, practiced in the second half of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, we – you and I - once went along with some of those ideas and got into a lot of trouble doing so, including debts, staying in jobs we didn’t like, marriage break-ups, foreclosures, etc. We found that each time we reached out to grasp just a little more, what we wanted always receded just a bit further out of reach. And, if we began to doubt in these illusions, we could always befuddle ourselves into a kind of psychological conformity with a never-ending supply of addictions, including smoking, drinking, legal and illegal substances, overeating, video gaming, and other vices - these things converting us into another sort of "consumers" .
The powerful even created an ideology of consumerism to scare us into conformity. They told us that continued economic growth (including job creation, in its moment) would eventually benefit everyone, and that no constraints to growth would have to be considered, including our natural resources. With more opportunities and greater technology, we would be able to overcome any momentary limitations, and that corporate rights to profits (otherwise known as a pro-business climate) supersede human rights, labor rights, and environmental protections. Somehow, private enterprise would find ways to overcome all our technological and resource problems. (And, even if it didn't turn out that way, we could still be entertained by the super-rich in reality shows. Afterall, it was our grandchildren and other generations to come who could pay the consequences. Right?) Remember how G Bush told us that, in the face of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, his patriotic duty was to wage an international war and ours was to continue shopping – at all costs!
But what about our “real” needs?
Of course, all of us have real needs and they include agricultural products and some essential consumer goods and services. And throughout most of human history, the consuming rich were few and "regular" people fought hard to fulfill even their basic needs. But at the turn of the 20th century, what with growth of US and European industrialism, came the "conspicuous consumption" of a whole class of rich people along with the emergence of some other major-league consumers, called the middle class. After WWII the American (Consumers) Dream came to include almost everyone. There was even the “War On Poverty”, a plan for the entire population to have their essential needs met - that and even more. The backing for the economic system that would end poverty, once and for all, was based on ever more complex technology and consumerism. That seemed to be our overriding hope, and we held on to it until the past few years when globalization, challenges to the middle class, unemployment and increased poverty pointed to a new societal phase where many people would again have to confront long-term hardship and scarcity. Also, by that time, we had become sadly aware of man-created shortages of water, clean air, fertile land, timber, etc. and the need to deal with immense quantities of trash on land and in the oceans.
How can we do to reduce the effects of consumerism?
- Change your spending habits
In the face of the political and corporate interests that exercise so much power, we ask ourselves: "What can I do?" Too many people tell us that the answer is a resigned: “Nothing at all”. But that can’t be so. Individuals and groups can always take steps to change their own behavior with the hope that others will follow, sooner or later. First of all, we have to consider are our attitudes toward consumerism. If we aren’t too sick or too confused by substance abuse and other addictions, we should be able to deal with our reality. In the face of every single potential purchase, we need to ask ourselves, "Do we really need this? What do we already have that would serve the same purpose?" We need to see our lives as complete without a lot of material add-ons. We don’t need to “have” the best, quickest, or the fanciest. When we stop seeing the the things in this world and each other as commodities, we can then start using our hearts and minds for more enlightened purposes.
Live simply so that others – people, plants, and animals, and generations to come - may have a chance to live. That means acquiring fewer material things and consuming less energy. There are books, magazines, Internet sources, and classes that can help us discover better spending habits. Follow the three-R’s: Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle. Buy products with less processing, less packaging, and that don’t hurt the environment. Share your careful spending efforts with your family and neighbors. Don't be fooled into buying a bunch of things that are supposed to be "green" - many of them are just a trendier sort of consumerism.
- Organize and protest
Boycott services and products that harm our environment, society and people. Use your mouth, your letters, and your feet to march, when necessary, to protest wrongdoing. Tell others that you’re not being fooled again by a consumerist system based on unlimited financial gain, oppressive corporate law, and damage to the earth. Get together with others and talk about ways to be supportive of each others' efforts to make change. Join political and charitable organizations that work for social harmony, resource conservation and a sustainable future. Oftentimes, the best place to start is in your local community. One project would be to make and distribute a phone directory of local small businesses that use and sell products based on quality and sustainability.
- Walk, bicycle or take public transportation
Cut back on your dependence on the car and on gasoline. Make use of public transportation whenever you can. There are a lot of short trips that could be made walking or bicycling. Staying in buildings, cars, and buses keeps us from contact with the natural world. Lower your carbon footprint by getting more exercise and experiencing nature whenever time and weather permit.
- Bake bread and eat simple, nourishing meals
Bake your own bread, using wholegrain flour (organic is best), and cook nourishing vegetarian or mostly vegetarian meals. It's a way of slowing down and celebrating life. When you can’t home-bake, then buy bread at a local bakery. When you eat out, choose 100% locally owned restaurants - not national operatives - that specialize in good, nourishing food at a reasonable price.
- Work less
In recent decades, the working poor and even better off groups, spend more time on the job. Most working people are overworked and exhausted. We don't need more things! And we don't need to pay down all that debt we got ourselves into so fast. (Employers say they're waiting for the economy "uptick" to hire. We can wait for it, too, and pay the rest of our debts whenever it comes.) We've also got to save some money the best way we can for worse times that may appear down the road. Beyond that, we need to spend more time for our families and to do things more in line with creating a sustainable future. And every day, we should take some time for spiritual tranquility, meditation and prayer. This can be our motto: Let's work less, spend less, and be more alive, aware, and caring.