“Consumerism” is a buzzword which is currently entering the mainstream. It used to be only hippies and economics wonks would talk about consumerism, but I hear more and more use of this term by people whose interest in economics is not particularly acute, but they are rightly sensing that something in our economic milieu is lately showing a clear and undeniable effect in the overall fabric of our society. People concerned about the mental/spiritual health of our societies are more and more referring to this “consumerism” in disparaging tones, but what exactly is “consumerism”?
It must be understood: It’s not merely a shop-till-you-drop ethic. It does manifest itself as such, but to stop there is to miss out on really understanding it. Is there a way to define this phenomenon in very succinct terms and make it an effective every-man’s tool for consistent and accurate interpretation of world events? I hope to do just that.
[Background note: I have studied economics with passionate interest for about 10 years. What attracted me to this study was the realization that, fundamentally, economics is the study of the choices people make when confronted with scarcity. Realizing this, I saw economics, not as a “dismal science” but as a powerful look into the soul and values that people have. Since then, I devoured book after book: from the Austrian School thinkers, such as Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe, to the Keynesians, and even Marxists. I’m not asking the reader to therefore have perfect faith in what I am saying, but nonetheless I am appealing to the reader to take it seriously and, by all means, to test what I have to say.]
My true-to-the-facts-while-succinct-as-possible definition of consumerism is this:
Industrialization has led to a productive capacity that far outstrips any person’s or society’s reasonable capacity to consume things. As a gigantic portion of mankind has traded in agricultural-based self-sufficiency for the seemingly higher living standards of industrialization, the search for CONSUMERS has become the all important focus of survival.
Hence, CONSUMER-ism. Bob cannot live like his great-great grandpa, providing for his own needs through the fruits of the land and forest, through a broad knowledge of numerous living skills and crafts, such as farming, hunting, wood-working, animal husbandry, and the production and repair of personal tools. Instead, Bob is conditioned to be a tiny cog in a mechanized world. The firm he works for, like all firms, must continually find a growing body of
consumers suckers to buy its wares. If this is not successful, Bob and a great many other people cogs suffer in the form of reduced wages, layoffs, and firings, which in turn leads to a loss of material well-being and, often enough, a loss of the sense of self-worth.
That’s right, “suckers”. Most of the retail crap that makes today’s commercial world go round is stuff your great-grandfather and literally everybody before him would have considered frivolous, infantile, absurd, and faggy. The fact that in such a short time people have grown to crave these things is a near-miracle of the darkest sort that can only be accomplished through the magic of advertising — i.e., that art of convincing people to want to buy shit they don’t need.
As if that’s not already bad enough, people are trained to enjoy this kind of treatment, and even look forward to it. Just look at the tech industry getting all these people waiting hours in line for the “pleasure” of blowing tons of money (or credit) on that “amazing” “must-have” phone that will be utterly obsolete in just two or three years. Instead of rioting against Apple — something un-brainwashed people would do — they cheerfully line up to repeat the humiliation practically year after year!
Funny how fashionable it is to disparage oil companies but sing the praises of Apple, Samsung, et al. No oil company plays people for fools in a way analogous to this.
A sucker is indeed born every minute. And many a sucker is reborn in his foolishness almost daily. One might therefore imagine that there are more than enough suckers around to provide for the satisfaction of every business concern out there. But this is not the case. Many people don’t realize just how many suckers it takes to keep an industrial-age economy performing. There are hidden things, too. Even your grandpa, who might be one of the last people out there who refuses to buy plastic Chinese junk and thinks smart phones are for fags, well, he still counts on his retirement portfolio doing well. And how does it do well? When the firms he has invested in are selling more and more and more plastic Chinese junk and smart phones! This is the scenario that millions of individual investors, retirees, and organizations in both the private and public sector that have large stock holdings are in. Everybody is counting on an incessantly growing economy. If more suckers are not found with each passing year, we will suffer recessions, depressions, and perhaps even economic collapse.
If you’ve ever owned or managed a small business, you know the feeling. You know that if you don’t find enough customers, you have to go dumpster diving. Thing is — and the Austrian School of Economics does a stellar job of demonstrating this — nothing in economic law fundamentally changes as you go from micro- to macro-economics. Just as the small businessman is in a perpetual quest for more and more customers, so are mid-size and big businesses. In fact, it gets worse as you go bigger. A sole proprietor who has saved up some money might close shop for a few weeks and go on vacation or he may be content with simply maintaining his current client roster for a few years. But large businesses can never do this. The people holding equity in these firms always demand growth, growth, and more growth. Either grow or lose investors to your competition.
This brings us to Globalization.
Globalization is absolutely inevitable in this set-up. The highly evolved things our industries produce necessarily draw all nations together into very close cooperation and integration. You simply can’t produce those flashy whatchamacallits without Nigeria and Afghanistan supplying rare-earth metals. Petroleum for the plastic casing? You need the Saudis for that. What’s more, our own youths, deeply enervated by the multi-generational pampering that comes with “highly developed economies” are often not up to the task of taking on the tough subjects in school; so we import math- and science-capable kids from various Asian countries. Even if you don’t like it, there’s no other way. Investors demand growth and improving profit margins. Besides, you don’t want grandma’s retirement to tank, do you?
Oh, and once the easy-to-milk domestic suckers have all been milked pretty good, you can always try for the virgin pastures of the 3rd world! Teach them the joys of buying crap! Here’s a question: how much bling, swag, and tech can an Afghani living in Afghanistan buy? Now, how much more could could he buy once you import him into Europe or North America? Now you start to understand why governments and corporations are generally very enthusiastic about immigration — it’s the rapid creation of a new market, a new crop of consumers. Merkel is not entirely lying when she insists that the influx of essentially primitive people from Africa and the Middle East will help pay for German pensions.
Remember kids, grandma earned the right to retire long before her statistically likely time of death and live large — and if maintaining that lifestyle requires the importation of millions of feral brown youths, so much the worse for the grandkids! (Hell, let the grandkids learn to live in gated-communities and be happy knowing the rabble is out there buying dumb shit on credit!) And let’s be realistic, it’s not as if anybody in the family would share a house with grandma anyways. Nothing could be so old-worldly and antithetical to all that is modern and American as having people work until they are really old and then move in with their kids! There is blame enough to go around.
Everything I said so far is mainstream economics as far as just sketching out the mechanisms at work here. Sure, my own value judgments are obvious here, but the basics of what consumerism is and how it works and why it must draw globalization in its wake is all stuff that all the major schools of economic thought from one end of the spectrum to the other will agree upon.
When you grow your own, you don’t need to buy and sell. When you don’t grow your own, you NEED to sell in order to buy what you can’t grow. Scale this up big enough and watch with sickened amazement at the things that are sold.
Of all the things that have been sold off, culture is one that has proven to be a most regrettable sale. It’s kind of like selling one’s soul — in every culture, there are stories about this, where some ambitious young fool cashes in his soul for great material wealth, but learns too late that he must as a result suffer the loss of everything that is truly valuable, including his sanity. That’s where most of the Western World is at right now. What we are left with is an anti-culture.
Kaczynski made a very memorable remark about the shallow quality of modern friendships; namely, that instead of adult men being bound together in the deathly challenging pursuit of survival for themselves, their households, and their clans — a pursuit whose successful attainment requires honor, integrity, teamwork, and courage — modern friendships generally involve infantile men who function socially as individualists and whose relationships primarily consist in mutually entertaining one another, generally through the shared preference of this or that craft beer, this or that sports team, this or that music group, etc. The modern friendship is a bond that essentially costs nothing and bestows nothing. Our most pressing needs are met, not by comrades, but by a faceless system of automation and mass production.
This same phenomenon can be handily observed in the larger framework of society, where CULTURE plays a role analogous to that of genuine friendship. Culture is a pleasant yoke that ultimately emanates from CULT. It is a body of discipline, identity, and demands crafted over immemorial time for each people specifically and which, if met, bestows a bounty of true wealth far surpassing what could have been obtained in its absence.
It’s long gone now. It happened long before you were born and the last little vestiges are being auction off as you read this. Your average consumerist-globalist sucker thinks “culture” means letting your country be flooded with foreigners so that you can enjoy dining on exotic cuisine from time to time. “Those Mexicans sure have a beautiful respect for family, though!” exclaim the fools who despised there own fleeting opportunity to respect the institution of family. But, in the big picture, hope is not yet completely lost. Once we repeal the electrification of the world, the plastic goods at box stores will cease to flow in from China, the Memorial Day mattress sales will stop, women will not have the luxury of whoring without the painful consequences, and churches will be afforded more respect than to be located in strip-malls and re-purposed warehouses.
Culture will hasten back to us like matter finally permitted to fill a vacuum. It will not be exactly what is was before, but it will be what we need. We just need to make sure we don’t turn into robots before that time.