By Sheher Bano
Since the dawn of time man has wanted more.
The relentless pursuit for something out of their reach drove civilisations to rise and crumble, for people to conquer and explore the far out reaches of the very Earth they have begun to rape over and over again.
It is because of this human instinct, this desire for prosperity and success, that has led to the manifestation of consumerism, a monster that looms over us in our everyday lives, a sickness that can’t be subdued.
Like any other ill of the human psychology, this greed can be controlled. In many parts of the world, however, consumerism’s encouraged immensely. Even responsible government systems endorse the corporation’s insatiable desire to show profits and grow for centuries without any limits.
Why? Because consumerism is a beneficial part of capitalism2, the go-to economic system of most countries around the world. Therefore, it’s evident that governments would encourage its growth, as they would economically benefit from it.
Some may argue that consumerism has its benefits: economic prosperity/stability, the development of superior products, and an increase in better lifestyles. However, the positive aspects of consumerism are outweighed by the negative effects it has on the people and their surrounding environment.
Initially, we need to know the driving force behind consumerism: overconsumption. This exists not only in the consummation of material goods, but also of energy sources such as fossil fuels that fuel global warming. In addition, due to more and more products being made for a demanding international market, more natural resources have to be used, resulting in the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of species around the world.
According to the World Wildlife Fund4, “the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.”
Our agriculture is also threatened by consumerism as only a limited number of crops are being cultivated, resulting in a decrease of biodiversity and insufficient soil6.
In addition, only a handful of corporations own huge amounts of land, which drives rural farmers to urban areas. This results in slums that cause health issues, crime, overpopulation, and added pressure on cities as they need to provide for more people7.
Moreover, the increase of food and material production results in surpluses that must be dealt with. Companies solve this harrowing problem by dropping tons of product and waste onto the backs of poorer nations, underselling local businesses and polluting countries further, making poverty and famine run rampant7.
Finally, consumerism is an economic system that, if circulated more, will increase the circulation of a country’s capital. But there’s a downside; too much consumerism can lead to materialism2.
According to a study conducted by Northwestern University6, “anyone placing great value on wealth, status and material possessions is more like to be depressed and antisocial than the rest of us”.
Consumerism has a negative impact on a person’s mental health, too. Due to people wanting to produce, sell, and buy more items, mental health issues such as depression frequent adults.
How can we solve this issue that affects our lives so deeply?
Maybe, before buying a new product, ask yourself whether the enhancements it has been put through will better your experience and make your life easier, or if they’re just there for show. Don’t fall for this never ending magic trick of advertisements, celebrity endorsements and product placements that trap you into an infinite loop of gluttony because you aren’t in possession of the newest, shiny toy in the market. Afterall, we don’t need every new phone model to make us feel better about ourselves.
As Thorin Oakenshield gasped out during his dying breaths to Bilbo in The Hobbit, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world” (J.R.R. Tolkien)5.
- Baker , Jalelah Abu. “The Good and Bad Sides of Consumerism.” The Strait Times , The Strait Times , 11 July 2016, www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-good-and-bad-sides-of-consumerism.
2.“Capitalism’s Effect on Society.” Consumerism, www.mtholyoke.edu/~waldr20m/classweb/worldpolitics/consumerism.html.
3.Green, Penelope. “Consumerism and Its Discontents.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2000, www.nytimes.com/2000/12/17/style/mirror-mirror-consumerism-and-its-discontents.html.
4.“How Many Species Are We Losing?” WWF, wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/biodiversity/biodiversity/.
5.J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Hobbit”. Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright 1937, 1938, 1966.
6.Krasny, Jill. “STUDY: Consumerism Is Making Us Depressed And Anti-Social.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Apr. 2012, www.businessinsider.com/consumerism-is-making-us-depressed-2012-4/?IR=T.
7.Shah, Anup. “Effects of Consumerism.” Global Issues , Global Issues , 7 Sept. 2001, www.globalissues.org/article/238/effects-of-consumerism.
8.Wolff, Rick. “Capitalism Promotes Consumerism.” Gale – Opposing View Points in Context , Gale Cengage Learning, 30 Apr. 2008, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010642214/OVIC?u=60iskl&xid=daa5355e.
9.Image Credit – https://www.alainet.org/en/articulo/174353