I have been thinking a lot about consumer culture lately, ever since reading about how westernized countries (led by the US) use so many more resources (and “need” so many more products) than the rest of the world. Because of overconsumption, communities and natural habitats are destroyed by the pollution from mining, refining and farming; fresh water and oceans are poisoned by industrial waste; whole forests are felled for the sake of packaging or the daily newspaper. And in the end, most of what we buy winds up at the dump (either locally or in other countries), which is probably not the best use for land.
(See my friend Mitchel Cohen’s article “Trading in Waste” for more about what happens to consumables once we are finished with them.)
And what effect does consumer culture have on people as consumers?
- Our privacy is invaded (legally) by corporations that want to both figure out what we want, and manipulate us into wanting whatever they have available.
- Through advertising and through very sneaky PR, it tries to make us want what we don’t yet have (see previous point), rather than valuing and enjoying what is already in our lives.
- We have to work more hours in order to pay for all the things we either want to get or already bought on credit.
- Consumer culture turns everything into a commodity (things, people, animals, the land, sea and air,) and trains us to use and abuse everything, then cast it aside and get a new one.
- We are owned by our things, which have to be used, stored, displayed, cleaned, maintained, protected and insured. (And in the case of pets, fed and walked and scooped after.)
While few people living within a consumer society can unplug completely, some are willing to try. There are lots of alternatives out there for anyone wanting to ease up on the shopping and owning way of life. How about trading and sharing things among friends, family or neighbors? How about growing some food, making some of your own things, and even making better use of things you have? If you live in a city, you might be able to enjoy public libraries, public art and free museums and performances. There are even online resources, like Freecycle, for giving away what you don’t need and getting things for free, and a growing number of web sites for trading used books.
If you can think of some more anti-consumer resources and ideas, please let me know. Sharing ideas might be even more important than sharing things.