The Consumer And Consumerism

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The consumer and consumerism

The consumer and consumerism


The connections between consumerism and climate change are increasingly visible. Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates, with 90 percent certainty, that recent global warming is caused by human activity and, in particular, their patterns of consumption, and that this effect is accelerating at a much faster rate than previously thought (Micheletti, 2006, 55). As a result, consumerism generates some profound issues for sustainability, particularly in relation to enhancing human, social, and environmental capital. The meaning of consumerism is multilayered. It can be regarded as a moral doctrine in developed economies, where, in offering consumers choice, it is perceived to bring freedom, power, and happiness, and has thus come to represent a better way of living. It can also be thought of as an ideology of conspicuous consumption, a means by which status can be created through the acquisition of material possessions (Gabriel, 2006, 78). It is an economic ideology for global development, in which unfettered consumerism reinforces and increases capitalism—and its power—on a global scale. It is a political ideology that has facilitated the emergence of neo-liberalism, where the market, market mechanisms, choice, and consumer dominate to provide an exciting and interesting blend of products and services that appeal to our functional and apparitional needs and desires, even in the provision of public services. It is therefore not surprising that consumerism is the dominant social paradigm in affluent societies and an apparitional goal for developing economies. (Sassatelli, 2007, 56).

A Long History

Consumerism and the narcissistic, nihilistic consumer are not new phenomena—they form part of an ongoing societal evolutionary process. This behavior can be traced back centuries, including, for example, the lavish displays of wealth and status seen among the aristocracy of Elizabethan England in the 16th century. Consumerism thus became synonymous with unfettered freedom, and the more people grew to love their freedom and to view it as a distinct element of their lifestyle, the more they viewed themselves as having no obligation but to self-indulge, alongside the right to do so. Accordingly, some commentators argue that it is not hedonism or self-gratification that gives consumerism a bad name but, rather, the consumer sovereignty and liberty of choice that this perceived freedom engenders. Hence, consumerism is very much about the rights of the consumer to consume, with little regard for the consequences of this behavior. For sustainable consumption to flourish, these rights need to be balanced by consumers' acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of their consumption excesses, particularly given their increased spending on shopping and their use of shopping as a leisure pursuit. As a consequence, critics regard consumerism as a negative influence on the morals of society, encouraging “false values,” materialism, unrestrained choice, and indulgence and the isolation of individuals from their traditional communities as they seek “never-to-be fulfilled” promises from their consumption choices, which in turn feed their anxiety and self-doubt. Furthermore, critics believe that our pursuit of material possessions undermines our sense of subjective well-being, ...
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