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An ideology called consumerism

We are guided by an ideology so familiar and pervasive that we do not even recognise it as an ideology. It is called consumerism. It has been crafted with the help of skilful advertisers and marketers, by corporate celebrity culture, and by a media that casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible. It spreads like a stain through political systems, which have been systematically captured by lobbying and campaign finance, until political leaders cease to represent us, and work instead for the pollutocrats who fund them.

In such a system, individual choices are lost in the noise. Attempts to organise boycotts are notoriously difficult, and tend to work only when there is a narrow and immediate aim. The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

The power of consumerism is that it renders us powerless. It traps us within a narrow circle of decision-making, in which we mistake insignificant choices between different varieties of destruction for effective change. It is, we must admit, a brilliant con.

It’s the system we need to change, rather than the products of the system. It is as citizens that we must act, rather than as consumers. But how?

George Monbiot in today’s Guardian

  1. October 10, 2019 at 12:48 am

    Consumer advertising is an experiment in shaping the course of cultural evolution. It might be the largest experiment ever carried out on humans. I recommend catching up on cultural evolution with a quick refresher on Anthropologist Marvin Harris or Macro-Sociologist Stephen K. Sanderson. There is no reason to believe human cultural evolution will work to the benefit of the human species. It might be no more then an continuous series of adaptations to a declining set of ecosystems.

  2. Patrick Newman
    October 10, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Consumerism is sustained by the most intensive, totalitarian and effective propaganda ever experienced by the human species. This is why it may be difficult if not impossible to break out of the vice-like grip of cognitive dissonance that the challenge of climate change induces.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    October 14, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Every faction (per the Federalist Papers — today we’d likely call them interest groups) wants everything to be set up and operate in the ways it prefers. This certainly includes firms and companies that sell to individual Americans (or consumers as they call them). But it also includes industrial firms, fossil fuel producers, unions, , etc. In a democracy, in theory anyway only governments escape this need. Governments supposedly treat every person and every faction the same. But Monbiot is correct that over the period since the end of WWII firms and companies selling to individual Americans (consumers) have pulled a “brilliant con.” My advice, pull off a better con to push these firms and companies out of the way. Americans are famous for their ability in creating new and better cons.

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