Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Consumerism


In the Guardian today Madeleine Bunting writes:

[US psychologist Tim Kasser] argues that our hyperconsumerism is a response to insecurity, a maladaptive type of coping mechanism. Over the past few decades, the sources of insecurity have multiplied: in addition to the manipulation long practised by advertising, there are new sources of insecurity in highly competitive market economies, ranging from identity (who am I and where do I belong?) to basics (who will look after me in my old age?). This relationship between materialism and insecurity helps explain why countries as diverse as the US and China are deeply materialistic; they are places of endemic insecurity.

The brilliance of this economic system built on insecurity is that it is self-reinforcing. The more insecure you are, the more materialistic; the more materialistic, the more insecure. As Kasser has shown, materialistic values (which are on the increase among teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic) make you more anxious, more vulnerable to depression and less cooperative. Studies show that people know what the real sources of lasting human fulfilment are - good relationships, self-acceptance, community feeling - but they face a formidable alliance of political and economic interests that have a vested interest in distracting them from that insight to ensure they work longer hours and spend more money.
My mother, being the youngest of six children, the oldest three born in the region of Kiev, was proud to be one of the few children in her class to wear shoes to school, having all those older brothers and sisters in work bringing wages into the household. Later in life she would become a world-class shopper. It is my observation that those who have known poverty take pleasure in luxury.

Shopping may well fill the God-shaped hole in our lives, but it may also be that some of us have a highly developed aesthetic, and just like nice things.

UPDATE
Norm adds:
One thing the merry-making Madeleine fails to reflect on is what her own contribution is to getting people to feel insecure. I mean, when did you last read a column by her that cheered you up? Hmmm... come to think of it, I suppose some of them might have, unintentionally.

Anyway, remember: don't hang yourself in the stairwell; you can always buy something.

5 comments:

Toby Wollin said...

My grandfather was from Zaleschicki - a town near the Romanian border and he lucked out because he had an aunt and uncle who had no children and who bought him pants and shoes. He never got to school(was a bright guy though; he was illiterate in about five different languages)before he was apprenticed to a furrier, but he used to send his aunt money every fall for food and fuel for the winter in remembrance of his shoes and pants.

dana said...

I knew there was a good reason to shop.

Nancy (nanflan) said...

"Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the second world war. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax."

Oh great! Privation and more government! Just what we all need.

Deja Pseu said...

Personally, I think there's a lot of truth to this. Insecurity about supply almost always leads to hoarding behavior.

joe said...

I appreciate your bright ideas in this nfl hats article. Great work!

I really like this New Era Hats article, and hope there can be more great resources like this.

I greatly benefit from your articles every time I read one. Thanks for the red bull hats info, it helps a lot.