The word consumerism has two meanings; the protection of consumer interests but more commonly the doctrine of people’s consumption of goods and services. However after being influenced by a variety of sources, even though we often try and not to be overly influenced by some of them, we constantly conclude that consumption is in our best interests. We constantly consume because we think it will in some way, long or short term, make our lives better. In some cases we even consume things that we know are bad for us! We are of course led to believe that consumption is what is best for us by people who receive personal gain from it which has helped to create a ‘consumer society’. Consumerism is such key element of our world today we rarely think of the alternative, even though there is one which is obvious and simple, production.
There is a lot written about the common negative effects of consumerism such as pollution, bad health, poverty, and poor working conditions. This leads to the very fashionable campaigns to mitigate these negative impacts, which some forms of consumption can have, such as those that promote Fair Trade, free range, organic and recycling etc. Although these sorts of things are often good in some ways they often act as a placebo and, sometimes, whilst being hijacked by profiteers, act to re-enforce consumer society. These concepts may create more ethical consumption but they do not offer an alternative to consumption.
It is often suggested that people consume for many reasons such as a statement of or an attempt to find their identity, to forget our worries, to impress other people, to build relationships with other people and to compete with and emulate the consumption of people with higher social standing than us (The Theory of the Leisure class). Of course a certain level of consumption is necessary to live, though if you think about it, only a very low level of consumption of the most basic things is actually needed throughout a lifetime. Ultimately I think most things, other than for our basic need, we consume in an attempt to improve our lives, to be happy. This is what all the reasons boil down to.
A person thinks something could enhance their happiness so they consume it (this can be the consumption of goods or services). It seems to be a perfectly logical thing to do. Most people want to be happy so it makes sense for them to want the things that they believe will make them happy and there is nothing wrong with that. If you know their is something which you can consume, which has no negative effects on anyone else, and makes you happy then what reason is there to not?
Many people have enshrined a cycle of consumption within their lives. They go to work, which they often don’t enjoy, in order to earn as much money as they can to consume as much as they can in the pursuit of happiness. Of course this is a very simplistic way of generalising consumer society but there is a truth here which is evident to some extent in many people lives.
‘Western society’ increasingly sees consumption as one of the primary ways to achieve happiness. It would be cynical to think that people generally don’t think that friends, family and achievements are main ways to be happy, but very often consumption is up in the same echelons of priority too. When in the middle of a consumer society it is easy not to realise how much time we spend consuming things that others produce. We have seen the adverts, heard the marketing, understood that someone wants to make money out of us and we still buy their products because we think it is a route to happiness. A large part of our society has become consumed by consumption. It has become over powering in our society, which is so focused upon it. It is no wonder though, when corporations spends billions of pounds on marketing to make us think that if we buy their products our lives will be improved. In a society where the majority of our economy is based on endless and ever increasing consumption it very often seems to be easier to go with it and consume.
But we are wasted on consumption, it squanders the best bits of humanity like creativity and ambition to discover or achieve. There is nothing you can gain from consumption that you can’t gain from production. Both through production and consumption people can have new experiences, experience different emotions, bond with other people, relax and rejuvenate. Production, in some forms, can open up opportunities for the individual that consumption never can.
Production allows people to be creative but consumption by its very definition, to use something up without anything worthwhile left over, does not allow for creativity. Consumerism only installs the ambition to consume more and have the means to do so. This often leads to an ambition to gain more money generally through peoples work, though sometimes through other less legal means, so people can strive towards the goal of consuming more. Then the task at hand can become secondary to the desire to earn money from it which has obvious negatives. Whereas the ambition that can come with production is to produce more and do it better because the task at hand is a primary concern of the producer. This can lead to much more care and attention being paid to the production process and the producer will get a deeper sense of satisfaction when it’s complete and they use it. Also through production new skills can be learned and developed whilst consumers only learn to consume.
Additionally the cost of consumption is often misunderstood as just being the financial value of something. The amount of time that it took for that person to earn that money and the missed benefits from that come from letting someone else produce it are the true cost of consumption. If it takes two days to make something that would have only taken one day to earn the money to buy then this would still be time well spent because of the benefits from production and avoiding becoming a wages slave.
I have concluded that people should seek happiness through production rather than consumption. It is important to note here that there are sometimes fine lines between production and consumption. For example if you watch a film that someone else has made then this could be consumption but if you take knowledge or ideas from the film and develop your own ideas then this becomes productive.