Consumerism and Materialism Bad? Why?

Anyone who knows me knows that there are very few subjects that I won’t hesitate to poke with a sharp stick. Granted, I’m not a causes kind of guy so I tend to stay away from stuff that isn’t guaranteed to get a laugh most days.

Today isn’t one of those days.

I often run into posts on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc…Yes, I’m on both of those so judge away. I make no excuses about my involvement in those Vortexes of Time Sucking Inanity…) discussing the evils of both Consumerism and Materialism.

Why exactly are they bad?

Let’s get some definitions out of the way, courtesy of Merriam-Webster.com:

Consumerism:

1) The promotion of the consumer’s interests.

2) The theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods

Materialism:

1) a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter

2) a doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress

3) a doctrine that economic or social change is materially caused

4) a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things

Both sets of definitions seem pretty straightforward, right? So, let’s dive in and examine them in some detail.

To me, both concepts appear pretty innocuous. After all, we live in a world where goods and services don’t come free and we all have choices on what to spend our money on. Both concepts also encourage strong economies, which benefit everyone because they increase the range of goods and services available. Both concepts also include an insanely high degree of a little thing I like to call CHOICE, which means that you make a voluntary effort to acquire.

Consumerism deal with the buying of consumer goods. Fair enough so far. We need something, we buy something. Easy peasy. But Wallace, what if we can’t afford those things? I’ve learned through hard experience to distinguish between that which I need and that which I want. What’s the difference?

A Need is something that will diminish your Quality of Life should you not have it. Food, for example, is something you need. You don’t eat, your health tends to suffer and so on. Shelter is another thing. Let’s face it, without a roof over your head things get a little dicey in the Quality of Life Department. These are but two examples of what constitutes a Need. Your mileage may vary.

A Want is a different animal. Wants are those thing that you desire. For example, not having a DVD Player or the newest iPhone will not lower your Quality of Life should you not have these things. Take a moment and make a list of those things that you currently possess and/or would like to possess. If you are honest with yourself, you’ll notice that your list of Wants will probably be longer than your list of Needs. I think this is normal because we all like having cool things.

Yes, both of the definitions I cited above use the word “preoccupation”. Preoccupation is also a choice, which means that you choose to focus your attention on one thing rather than another. I don’t see a problem with that because one of our most fundamental freedoms is the freedom to choose what we want, when we want, and often how we want.

Let’s move on to Materialism now.

Materialism deals with material things. So? I hate to reference a Madonna song, but we really do live in a Material World. I’m not personally a materialistic person because I focus on my needs first and my wants second. Do I obsess about them? Nope, not a bit, because I use a time-honored thought process known as “Keeping Things in Perspective”. If I desire something and I can afford it, I get it. If I can’t, I have two choices:

1) Save up for it until I can afford it.

2) Go without or find an alternative.

Are there people in the world who measure themselves based on what they own? Absolutely. I don’t know a lot of them, but they’re out there. Materialistic people aren’t evil, brainwashed, or misguided. They’ve simply been taught to use what they accumulate as a yardstick to determine their success in Life.

To me, it’s just Stuff and Stuff only indicates the availability of merchandise. Would I value Stuff over intellectual or spiritual pursuits, as the dictionary definition states? Probably not, but that has nothing to do any higher frame of reference. I’ve seen acquaintances and friends go nuts over the latest gadgets and after the novelty wears off, the items end up collecting dust. I can’t recall a single instance where someone has had a gun put their head or otherwise been forced to buy something. It doesn’t happen, but if someone has an example, please let me know.

Those who campaign against Consumerism and Materialism are a curious contradiction. Here is one example of such a contradiction:

Bertrand Russell: Born into an influential family of British Aristocrats and lived quite well until his death in 1970. Mr. Russell wrote quite extensively on the evils of both concepts, yet maintained a lifestyle that many of us would probably thank our lucky stars to have. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

I tried to find more examples, but I wanted to get this article finished before the next decade. Bottom line is that I don’t feel that Consumerism and Materialism are bad things when tempered with a dash of common sense and personal accountability. This is the longest article I’ve written to date and I tried very hard not to make it sound too ranty. Anyway, thanks for your time and comments are always welcome.

Next time, a more cheerful topic….hehehe.

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