Many argue consumerism is the downfall of world culture. Some try to argue that it is the cause of global warming. Few even go as far to state that it is a modern sin that combines both gluttony and greed. However, not only does consumerism fill a material and psychological void, but it is the lifeblood of society and the glue that holds culture together. Face it; consumerism is a powerful force that the world can not live without.
First, and foremost, consumerism fills a modern, material void created by traditional economics. People are not limited to buying what they can find in the neighborhood grocery store or mall anymore. Now, they can purchase anything they desire as long as they have the means to do so. A company in Montana sells tumbleweed, found about the prairie, for home decoration or movie props. Roses can be bought that are made of horse manure for that special ex on Valentine’s Day. Even virtual land can be rented online in a multi-user internet program called Second Life for those who want to lead an alternate persona. In effect, if you can think of it some one sells it. Consumerism also fills the need for people who are homebound. Whether it is due to physical or psychological handicaps, they still need goods. More and more stores are offering home delivery now. A person can simply call, order something and have it delivered the same day without ever having to step foot outside their home. No other economic theory provides the benefits that are provided by consumerism. Even in the early beginnings of the United States, the country’s economic agenda could not provide for the people’s wants and needs. In colonial times, it was forbidden for someone whose personal worth was less then two hundred pounds to wear lace or silk. During the 1800s, medicine was only available in wealthy cities, leaving rural area citizens to practice home remedies that were mostly unsuccessful. Disparity continued into the early 1900’s when many families could not obtain basic needs like food and clothing. The Great Depression wasn’t only an economic catastrophe, but also a tear in the fabric of society. Most effectively stated, “The Great Depression represented the harshest adversity faced by Americans since the Civil War”(Pells 1). Although many believe the world would be a better place without consumerism, it’s almost obtuse to deny the hardship the world faced before its conception.
In addition to filling a material void, consumerism fills a psychological void left behind by traditional values. In places where traditional values and practices fail to provide hope, consumerism steps up to the challenge in more ways then one. First of all, consumerism makes people happy. It is unlikely a person will feel any other emotion when purchasing something they want. Some consumers even compare it to sex, saying that the rush they feel when shopping is almost orgasmic. Willow Lawson of Psychology Today states, “When you’re faced with something new or thrilling, the brain’s pleasure centers get fired up. When you shop, everything you see is new”(1). Consumerism also helps to create a feeling of accomplishment and self worth. People often value the material objects they possess as they would their own life. They find pride in the things that they worked hard to obtain, and relish the joy of holding on to them forever. If this wasn’t important, a person’s wealth would be measured by the size of his family, his friends and his love for life. Fortunately, banks don’t accept that type of collateral when applying for a loan. If they did, money would be worthless. In effect, monetary systems would be obsolete. Consumerism also helps create social classes, which, in turn, makes it easier for people to feel accepted. People often forge friendships with classmates and coworkers because they wear similar clothing, or they like the same things. It makes people feel like they are part of a bigger picture, and less like they are alone in the world. Specifically, the gothic and emo (emotive hardcore/punk) styles created a clique where people banded together, when ironically, they were meant to separate the individual from everyone else.
Finally, consumerism is the lifeblood of society and what holds culture together. Countries that rely on consumerism as an economic model are more productive then those that are not. An increase in economic revenues means an increase in the availability of goods and resources. Being that they can afford more resources, they can produce more goods, and in turn make more money. Having more money means they can fund research to help cure diseases, end poverty and deal with other worldwide problems. According to Dr H. Gayle Martin of the Human Sciences Research Council, approximately fifty percent of all donor contributions for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa come from the United States Agency for International Development (52). Although the United States is often criticized as being a country driven only by consumerism and its own greed, it is able to provide the world with the support it needs to fight this deadly disease. In addition, countries that support a consumer driven economy are able to defend themselves and others in times of war. Tactics might define the way a war is fought, but logistics define the way the war is won. Being able to supply troops with supplies is what keeps them alive. This is why almost all the countries that go to war with the G8 fall in battle. The G8 accounts for nearly sixty-five percent of the entire world’s economy. With that kind of buying power for military expenditures, it’s foolish to attempt any kind of military operation against them. Also,
consumerism brings families, and society as a whole, closer together. With the availability of cheaper transportation, discounted lodging and entertainment packages, more families are able to take vacations together more often. They can spend more time away from the hustle and bustle of school and work, and just relax together as a family. Even in their own homes, people can hang out with friends and watch a movie they purchased, or enjoy their favorite show on television. The ability to entertain yourself and others makes it easier to form and retain friendships and family bonds. How depressed and angry would the world be without the cheap and readily available entertainment made possible by consumerism?
Consumerism draws a line in the sand and separates society into believers and critics. What makes it truly powerful is the fact that regardless of what side of the line a person stands on, they will always be a consumer. Like it or not, consumerism is what shapes our world. It is what provides the necessary money to fund almost every aspect our lives. It is what holds our society together, and it is what fills all of our needs and desires. The world desires more, and consumerism hears its cry.
Lawson, Willow. “Doped Up on Shopping.” Psychology Today. Apr. 2006. 4 Apr. 2008
Martin, Dr H. Gayle. A Comparative Analysis of the Financing of HIV/AIDS Programmes in
Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Human Sciences Research Council. HSRC, 2003. 52. 6 Apr. 2008 .
Pells, Richard A. “Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008 4 Apr. 2008