"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Consumerism is an Addiction

A recent  article by the British news paper, The Guardian, ( "UK Riots Were Product of Consumerism" ) suggested, as the title implies, that the recent rioting in North London was a reflection of rampant consumerism gone bad. The article quotes economic researcher Tim Morgan as saying:

  "We conclude that the rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic and social ethos… recklessly borrowed consumption, the breakdown both of top-end accountability and of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades."

Mr Morgan goes on to state:

"The dominant ethos of 'I buy, therefore I am' needs to be challenged by a shift of emphasis from material to non-material values"

Consumerism is of course, the heart and soul of Capitalism. Consumers are the cattle that feed the hungry corporate giants. It has nothing what so ever to do with meeting basic human “needs” of any kind. It's about generating “want” and “desire” and placing value on tangible items and personal “status” above such non tangible notions as equality , justice or social responsibility. It's about excess and maximizing profits.

I'll never forget the monolithic bill board I saw at Disney World a few years ago that read “Excess is Best”. Consumerism then, is about keeping the masses “addicted” , whether it be to Big Macs, Hi-def TVs, iPhones or to the notion that everyone should at least once in their life time visit the ultimate Mecca of pure, unbridled, hedonistic consumerism, Disney World.

But is consumerism an addiction? Not long ago, AlterNet posted an article entitled: "A Radical New Definition of Addiction...". The article states that an addiction is an addiction, whether it be to booze, gambling sex or any obsessive behaviour. The new definition by the American Society of Addictions Medicine (ASAM) defines addictions as:

“... a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry”. 

The case could easily be made then that rampant consumerism is in fact, an "addiction" . The masses are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of messages daily that tell them that success and happiness are things that can be "obtained" through the possession of iPhones, digital cameras and Hi-Def TVs etc. The consumerist ethos is pervasive and absolutely unavoidable. As a result, the "reward circuitry" of the vast majority of the population is programmed to "want" more and more. "Excess is Best".

So creating and maintaining an “imbalance “ in the reward circuitry of the masses, in essence, keeping them "addicted",   is good for business. But as with any other kind of addiction, when something comes between a person or group of people and their so-called “reward”, self destructive or just plain destructive ,anti-social behaviour is inevitable. Hence, pervasive poverty and social disenfranchisement can easily lead to incidents such as the London Riots when the explosiveness of thousands of addicts denied their "reward" comes in contact with the flame of social injustice.

So in London, consumerist addictions were the fuel to the fire that was sparked by Social injustice (though one could easily make the case that keeping the masses “addicted” is pretty unjust in itself). They started over the shooting of an unarmed black man by police. An act that in the minds of thousands of North-Londoners was symbolic of the perceived disdain society has for the poor, the marginalized and the disaffected. And when they see governments pandering to large corporate interests at the expense of vital social programs that are designed to make societies more inclusive and just, they may not be far from wrong. But the result is the "addicted" masses  rebelling, destroying the symbols of the social and corporate hierarchy that first tantalized , then denied them their hearts desires and eventually, taking by force, that which they have been programed to think of, as their just reward.

1 comment:

  1. Very apt commentary, RKD. Perhaps these thoughts will interest you:

    "...we, Homo sapiens, are conspicuously the most intelligent of the primates. Surely then, with our amazing intelligence, we should be at least as successful as the dinosaurs — until the next asteroid comes along, anyway.

    But we are a precocious species. We’ve been around for less than one tenth of one percent of the reign of the dinosaurs, and we’re not waiting for an asteroid. We are plundering and poisoning our planet on such a scale that we are, ourselves, initiating a massive extinction unparalleled since the K-T event. Having just got here, in evolutionary terms, we are on course to make the earth uninhabitable for humans, and millions of other species, within the next few generations.

    If we’re so smart, why aren’t we safe? Why don’t we use our remarkable intelligence to change course, and rescue ourselves from this imminent peril? Because we suffer from a problem born out of our own cleverness; we are immersed in the quintessentially human predicament known as addiction."

    Excerpted from: