When we talk about the effects of excessive consumption on the state of the world today, it’s worth noting that the “waste making system” we have become was, and still is, actively encouraged!
Victor Lebow’s discussion of the formulation of American consumer capitalism from his paper “Price Competition in 1955” (Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955) provides a chilling illustration of what the consumer was pushed to become.
Lebow, a 20th century economist and retail analyst, is perhaps best known for this particular quotation:
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 satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption.
The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.
Whether Lebow was encouraging this gross consumerism or commenting on its significance is debateable, but it is clear in today’s “use and refuse” type society that this irresponsible consumer behaviour continues to be actively promoted by industries and governments alike across the board.
In a world full of disposable goods and pressure to up-grade “old” (read: >2 years) products, is it possible to change our cultural mindset? Can we break the habits of generations’ lifetimes? Or will we just continue over-buying the present conveniences and short-selling the future of humanity and the world as we knew it..?
Consumerism in four easy stages…