Consumerism and Spirituality
Stuff, we just have too much of it! Yet we still find ourselves at the local ‘superstore’ on the weekends buying more and more stuff.
We have become painfully addicted to buying new stuff. Sadly, we are at a point in society where our perceived value, human value, is based on the perception of others. Basically, their perception of our stuff!
Our primary identity has become that of the consumer….Yikes!
So how did America go from ‘family’ being the number one priority to consumerism being our focus? It is surprisingly quite calculated. Jeffrey Kaplan’s recent article in Orion magazine titled, “The Gospel of Consumption,” sheds some light on the problem’s history.
In the late 1920s, after the war, America had excess manufacturing capacity. So we began to invent needs to fulfill that excess manufacturing capacity. Kaplan writes:
“In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called “need saturation.” Davis noted that ‘the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year’ and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, ‘It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three-days’ work a week.”
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But instead of creating a three-day work week “America’s business and political elite found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “The Gospel of Consumption”-the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough.”
It was an immediate success. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in the results: “by advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”
And so the manipulation to shift our society from valuing family and community to valuing stuff so began…..Thus leaving us at our current point…..
According to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spends more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.”
Although it is important to know that from the on-set of the invention of consumerism there were critics. “One of the most influential was Arthur Dahlberg, whose 1932 book Jobs, Machines, and Capitalism declared that “failure to shorten the length of the working day . . . is the primary cause of our rationing of opportunity, our excess industrial plant, our enormous wastes of competition, our high pressure advertising, [and] our economic imperialism.”
Since much of what industry produced was no longer aimed at satisfying human physical needs, a four-hour workday, Dahlbert claimed, was necessary to prevent society from becoming disastrously materialistic. “By not shortening the working day when all the wood is in,” he suggested, the profit motive becomes “both the creator and satisfier of spiritual needs.” For when the profit motive can turn nowhere else, “it wraps our soap in pretty boxes and tries to convince us that that is solace to our souls.”
The issue that had started as an economic concern has now grown into a spiritual one….. Dahlbert adds:
“We have impoverished our human communities with a form of materialism that leaves us in relative isolation from family, friends, and neighbors. We simply don’t have time for them. Unlike our great-grandparents who passed the time, we spend it.”
“We can break that cycle by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need. Doing so will give us an opportunity to re-create the kind of healthy communities that where human welfare is the overriding concern rather than subservience to machines and those who own them. We can create a society where people have time to play together as well as work together, time to act politically in their common interests, and time even to argue over what those common interests might be. That fertile mix of human relationships is necessary for healthy human societies, which in turn are necessary for sustaining a healthy planet.”
We know our unsustainable rate of consumption impoverishes the planet; it also does the same to our souls. All the “stuff” we lust after does not tend to make us happier.
It seems to be a sad fact that our modern mass-consumption economy was deliberately engineered as a way to keep the profit-making machinery of mass production from choking to death on its own output. Victor Lebow a post-war retail analyst summed it up best when he said “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life that we convert the buying and selling of goods into rituals.”
Rituals that now define us….
Here is something to consider, studies show that most Americans spend their leisure time watching TV and shopping. So this means that we work long and hard so we can go home and watch T.V. which makes us want to shop more, which means we have to work longer and harder.
Don’t get me wrong I believe capitalism is good. And I am a believer in wealth and abundance and enjoying that wealth and abundance. And that means enjoying all the incredible ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ that have been created in this world, but just not at the expense of happiness.
Studies show that national happiness peaked in the 1950’s and has been declining ever since! Unhappiness has become a by-product of mass consumerism……
Consider contributing to your future happiness by voluntarily simplifying your life and reducing your consumerism, which will add dollars to your budget and may help you decrease your work week and increase your free time. You might be surprised at how much physical and spiritual happiness it can bring you!
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