Anti-consumerism

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Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology that is opposed to consumerism, the continual buying and consuming of material possessions. Anti-consumerism is concerned with the private actions of business corporations in pursuit of financial and economic goals at the expense of the public welfare, especially in matters of environmental protection, social stratification, and ethics in the governing of a society. In politics, anti-consumerism overlaps with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism; moreover, a conceptual variation of anti-consumerism is post-consumerism , living in a material way that transcends consumerism. [1]

Contents

Anti-consumerism arose in response to the problems caused by the long-term mistreatment of human consumers and of the animals consumed, and from the incorporation of consumer education to school curricula; examples of anti-consumerism are the book No Logo (2000) by Naomi Klein, and documentary films such as The Corporation (2003), by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, and Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003), by Erik Gandini; each made anti-corporate activism popular as an ideologically accessible form of civil and political action.

The criticism of economic materialism as a dehumanizing behaviour that is destructive of the Earth, as human habitat, comes from religion and social activism. The religious criticism asserts that materialist consumerism interferes with the connection between the individual and God, and so is an inherently immoral style of life; thus the German historian Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) said that, "Life in America is exclusively economic in structure, and lacks depth." [2] From the Roman Catholic perspective, Thomas Aquinas said that, "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things"; in that vein, Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, and Mohandas Gandhi said that spiritual inspiration guided them towards simple living.

From the secular perspective, social activism indicates that from consumerist materialism derive crime (which originates from the poverty of economic inequality), industrial pollution and the consequent environmental degradation, and war as a business.

About the societal discontent born of malaise and hedonism, Pope Benedict XVI said that the philosophy of materialism offers no raison d'être for human existence; [3] likewise, the writer Georges Duhamel said that "American materialism [is] a beacon of mediocrity that threatened to eclipse French civilization". [2]

Background

Anti-consumerism originated from criticism of consumption, starting with Thorstein Veblen, who, in the book The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), indicated that consumerism dates from the cradle of civilization. The term consumerism also denotes economic policies associated with Keynesian economics, and the belief that the free choice of consumers should dictate the economic structure of a society (cf. producerism).

Politics and society

An anti-consumerist stencil graffiti saying "Consuming consumes you" Anticonsumismo.JPG
An anti-consumerist stencil graffiti saying "Consuming consumes you"

Many anti-corporate activists believe the rise of large-business corporations poses a threat to the legitimate authority of nation states and the public sphere. [4] They feel corporations are invading people's privacy, manipulating politics and governments, and creating false needs in consumers. They state evidence such as invasive advertising adware, spam, telemarketing, child-targeted advertising, aggressive guerrilla marketing, massive corporate campaign contributions in political elections, interference in the policies of sovereign nation states (Ken Saro-Wiwa), and news stories about corporate corruption (Enron, for example). [5]

Anti-consumerism protesters point out that the main responsibility of a corporation is to answer only to shareholders, giving human rights and other issues almost no consideration. [6] The management does have a primary responsibility to their shareholders, since any philanthropic activities that do not directly serve the business could be deemed to be a breach of trust. This sort of financial responsibility means that multi-national corporations will pursue strategies to intensify labor and reduce costs. For example, they will attempt to find low wage economies with laws which are conveniently lenient on human rights, the natural environment, trade union organization and so on (see, for example, Nike).

An important contribution to the critique of consumerism has been made by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, arguing modern capitalism is governed by consumption rather than production, and the advertising techniques used to create consumer behaviour amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle of consumption, leading to hyper consumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery.

In art, Banksy, influential British graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur [7] has made statements in public works about the consumerist society. Working undercover, the secretive street artist challenges social ideas and goads viewers into rethinking their surroundings, to acknowledge the absurdities of closely held preconceptions. [7] Quote from Banksy: “You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” After 2003, Banksy wrote the New Yorker by e-mail: “I give away thousands of paintings for free. I don’t think it’s possible to make art about world poverty and trouser all the cash.” Banksy believes that there is a consumerist shift in art, and for the first time, the bourgeois world of art belongs to the people. On his website, he provides high-resolution images of his work for free downloading.

Conspicuous consumption

It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.

Trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing the drug addiction.

In many critical contexts,[ citation needed ] the term describes the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially with commercial brand names and obvious status-enhancing appeal, such as a brand of expensive automobiles or jewelry. It is a pejorative term which most people deny, having some more specific excuse or rationalization for consumption other than the idea that they are "compelled to consume". A culture that has a high amount of consumerism is referred to as a consumer culture.

To those who embrace the idea of consumerism, these products are not seen as valuable in themselves, but rather as social signals that allow them to identify like-minded people through consumption and display of similar products. Few would yet go so far, though, as to admit that their relationships with a product or brand name could be substitutes for healthy human relationships that sometimes lack in a dysfunctional modern society.

The older term conspicuous consumption described the United States in the 1960s, but was soon linked to larger debates about media influence, culture jamming, and its corollary productivism.

Anti-consumerist stencil art BarsStencil.jpg
Anti-consumerist stencil art

The term and concept of conspicuous consumption originated at the turn of the 20th century in the writing of economist Thorstein Veblen. The term describes an apparently irrational and confounding form of economic behaviour. Veblen's scathing proposal that this unnecessary consumption is a form of status display is made in darkly humorous observations like the following, from his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class:

It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed. [10]

In 1955, economist Victor Lebow stated (as quoted by William Rees, 2009):

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.

According to archaeologists, evidence of conspicuous consumption up to several millennia ago has been found, suggesting that such behavior is inherent to humans. [11]

Consumerism and advertising

Anti-consumerists believe advertising plays a huge role in human life by informing values and assumptions of the cultural system, deeming what is acceptable and determining social standards. [12] They declare that ads create a hyper-real world where commodities appear as the key to securing happiness. Anti-consumerists cite studies that find that individuals believe their quality of life improves in relation to social values that lie outside the capability of the market place. Therefore, advertising attempts to equate the social with the material by utilizing images and slogans to link commodities with the real sources of human happiness, such as meaningful relationships. Ads are then a detriment to society because they tell consumers that accumulating more and more possessions will bring them closer to self-actualization, or the concept of a complete and secure being. "The underlying message is that owning these products will enhance our image and ensure our popularity with others." [13] And while advertising promises that a product will make the consumer happy, advertising simultaneously depends upon the consumer never being truly happy, as then the consumer would no longer feel the need to consume needless products.

Anti-consumerists claim that in a consumerist society, advertisement images disempower and objectify the consumer. [14] By stressing individual power, choice and desire, advertising falsely implies the control lies with the consumer. Because anti-consumerists believe commodities supply only short-term gratification, they detract from a sustainably happy society. Further, advertisers have resorted to new techniques of capturing attention, such as the increased speed of ads and product placements. [12] In this way, commercials infiltrate the consumerist society and become an inextricable part of culture. Anti-consumerists condemn advertising because it constructs a simulated world that offers fantastical escapism to consumers, rather than reflecting actual reality. They further argue that ads depict the interests and lifestyles of the elite as natural; cultivating a deep sense of inadequacy among viewers. [14] They denounce use of beautiful models because they glamorize the commodity beyond reach of the average individual.

In an opinion segment of New Scientist magazine published in August 2009, reporter Andy Coghlan cited William Rees of the University of British Columbia and epidemiologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado at Boulder, saying that human beings, despite considering themselves civilized thinkers, are "subconsciously still driven by an impulse for survival, domination and expansion... an impulse which now finds expression in the idea that inexorable economic growth is the answer to everything, and, given time, will redress all the world's existing inequalities." According to figures presented by Rees at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, human society is in a "global overshoot", consuming 30% more material than is sustainable from the world's resources. Rees went on to state that at present, 85 countries are exceeding their domestic "bio-capacities", and compensate for their lack of local material by depleting the stocks of other countries.

Austrian economics

Austrian economic advocates focus on the entrepreneur, promoting a productive lifestyle rather than a materialistic one wherein the individual is defined by things and not their self. [15]

Criticism

Many[ who? ] have accused anti-consumerists of opposing modernity or utilitarianism.[ citation needed ] Right-wing critics see anti-consumerism as rooted in socialism. In 1999, the right-libertarian magazine Reason attacked anti-consumerism, claiming Marxist academics are repackaging themselves as anti-consumerists. James B. Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida and popular writer, referred to anti-consumerist arguments as "Marxism Lite." [16]

There have also been socialist critics of anti-consumerism who see it as a form of anti-modern "reactionary socialism", and state that anti-consumerism has also been adopted by ultra-conservatives and fascists. [17]

In Fight Club, the protagonist finds himself participating in terroristic acts against corporate society and consumer culture.

In Mr. Robot, Elliot Alderson, a young cybersecurity engineer, joins a hacker group known as fsociety, which aims to crash the U.S. economy, eliminating all debt.

In the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, the protagonist Patrick Bateman criticizes the consumerist society of America in the 1980s of which he is a personification. Later on he goes on a killing spree without any consequences, suggesting that the people around him are so self-absorbed and focused on consuming that they either don't see or don't care about his acts.

See also

Related Research Articles

Consumerism social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts

Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the industrial revolution, but particularly in the 20th century, mass production led to overproduction—the supply of goods would grow beyond consumer demand, and so manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to manipulate consumer spending. In 1899, a book on consumerism published by Thorstein Veblen, called The Theory of the Leisure Class, examined the widespread values and economic institutions emerging along with the widespread "leisure time" in the beginning of the 20th century. In it Veblen "views the activities and spending habits of this leisure class in terms of conspicuous and vicarious consumption and waste. Both are related to the display of status and not to functionality or usefulness."

Conspicuous consumption Concept in sociology and economy

Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power of the income or of the accumulated wealth of the buyer. To the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means of either attaining or maintaining a given social status.

<i>Adbusters</i> Canadian nonprofit organization

The Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian-based not-for-profit, pro-environment organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia. Adbusters describes itself as "a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age."

Commodity fetishism

In Karl Marx's critique of political economy, commodity fetishism is the perception of certain relationships not as relationships among people, but as social relationships among things. As a form of reification, commodity fetishism transforms the intersubjective, abstract aspects of economic value into things that people believe have intrinsic value.

Ethical consumerism is a type of consumer activism based on the concept of dollar voting. It is practiced through the buying of ethically-made products that support small scale manufacturers and local artisans while protecting animals and the environment, and boycott' products that exploit children as workers, are tested on animals, or damage the environment.

The term culture industry was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods—films, radio programmes, magazines, etc.—that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. The inherent danger of the culture industry is the cultivation of false psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism; thus Adorno and Horkheimer especially perceived mass-produced culture as dangerous to the more technically and intellectually difficult high arts. In contrast, true psychological needs are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness, which refer to an earlier demarcation of human needs, established by Herbert Marcuse..

<i>The Theory of the Leisure Class</i> book by Thorstein Veblen

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, is a treatise on economics and a detailed, social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social class and of consumerism, derived from the social stratification of people and the division of labour, which are social institutions of the feudal period that have continued to the modern era.

In sociology, taste is an individual's personal, cultural and aesthetic patterns of choice and preference. Taste is drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods, and works of art and relating to these. Social inquiry of taste is about the human ability to judge what is beautiful, good, and proper.

Post-capitalism is a state in which the economic systems of the world can no longer be described as forms of capitalism. Various individuals and political ideologies have speculated on what would define such a world. According to some classical Marxist and some social evolutionary theories, post-capitalist societies may come about as a result of spontaneous evolution as capitalism becomes obsolete. Others propose models to intentionally replace capitalism. The most notable among them are socialism and anarchism.

Criticism of capitalism ranges from expressing disagreement with the principles of capitalism in its entirety to expressing disagreement with particular outcomes of capitalism.

Sustainability advertising is communications geared towards promoting social, economic and environmental benefits (sustainability) of products, services or actions through paid advertising in media in order to encourage responsible behavior of consumers.

Philosophy of futility is a phrase coined in 1928 by Columbia University marketing professor Paul Nystrom to describe an increasingly prevalent outlook which, he believed, induced a greater demand for fashionable products. The growth of industrialization had brought about a narrowing of interests, contacts, and achievements for many people in the Western world. Such conditions of life, Nystrom observed, encourage a tendency to become quickly bored and, consequently, a continual appetite for newness and change and a greater interest in goods in which fashion dominates, such as apparel, automobiles, and home furnishings.

Consumer activism Type of activist behavior

See also brand activism

Advertising is a form of selling a product to a certain audience which communication is intended to persuade an audience to purchase products, ideals or services whether they want or need them. While advertising can be seen as a way to inform the audience about a certain product or idea it also comes with a cost because the sellers have to find a way to show the seller interest in their product., It is not without social costs. Unsolicited commercial email and other forms of spam have become so prevalent that they are a major nuisance to internet users, as well as being a financial burden on internet service providers. Advertising increasingly invades public spaces, such as schools, which some critics argue is a form of child exploitation. Advertising frequently uses psychological pressure on the intended consumer, which may be harmful. As a result of these criticisms, the advertising industry has seen low approval rates in surveys and negative cultural portrayals.

Culture jamming is a tactic used by many anti-consumerist social movements to disrupt or subvert media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions, including corporate advertising. It attempts to "expose the methods of domination" of a mass society to foster progressive change.

In cultural studies, media culture refers to the current Western capitalist society that emerged and developed from the 20th century, under the influence of mass media. The term alludes to the overall impact and intellectual guidance exerted by the media, not only on public opinion but also on tastes and values.

The consumer movement is an effort to promote consumer protection through an organized social movement which is in many places led by consumer organizations. It advocates for the rights of consumers, especially when those rights are actively breached by the actions of corporations, governments, and other organizations which provide products and services to consumers. Dissatisfaction of the consumers as many unfair practices were being indulged in the sellers.

<i>The Waste Makers</i> book by Vance Packard

The Waste Makers is a 1960 book on consumerism by Vance Packard. It was bestselling when it was released. The book argues that people in the United States consume a lot more than they should and are harmed by their consumption.

Critical consumption is the conscious choice of buying or not buying a specific product according to ethical and political beliefs. The critical consumer recognizes the importance of considering some characteristics of the product and its realization, such as environmental sustainability and respect of workers’ rights. Indeed, critical consumers take full responsibility for the environmental, social and political effects of their choices. The critical consumer can sympathize with certain social movement goals and contributes towards them through modifying their consumption behavior.

Bobo brand

Bobo brand is an informal name used to refer to a product that is sold inexpensively under a relatively unfamiliar brand name and often perceived inferior to better known brands. They may be lower in price, but not qualitatively.

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