What is consumerism?
Thinking aloud, I wonder if we could characterise consumerism as being a view of the world in which the sensory aspect is the only aspect that matters. (In that sense consumerism would be reductionist, not in denying that the other aspects are real, but in denying that they are ultimately significant.)
So we could ask a consumerist some questions:
- How are you, Mr Consumerist? I'm feeling great/dreadful.
- Why do you want a new iPhone? My current phone makes me feel boring, and a new iPhone will make me feel good about life.
- That's not very rational, is it? So what?
- Why did you buy those expensive trainers? It makes me feel good to be seen in them.
- Why are you going somewhere exotic on holiday? I want the experience of something new.
- Why did you give money for the famine in Africa? It makes me feel bad seeing that on the TV.
- Why is it important to have law and order? It makes me feel safe.
- What exists in the cosmos, apart from yourself? Lots of things that have the potential to make me feel amazed, fascinated, satisfied, happy, amused, exuberant, loved and significant — and, sadly, lots of negative sensations too.
- Look, a tree! Yes, something that gives me the feeling of wonder, the sensation of seeing something I consider to be beautiful, the fascination of studying it, the thrill of climbing it, the satisfaction of reaching the top, the taste of its fruit, and the warmth of it burning in the fireplace.
- Tell me about God, if you believe in him? I believe in him, and he makes me feel loved, forgiven and good about myself.
- The Sun is one of around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is itself one of around 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. Let me tell you how that makes me feel.
- What is important to you in life? I want to experience life: the feelings of affection and significance that come through family and friends, the feeling of satisfaction at doing an interesting job where I can make a real difference, the feeling of having a moral code and sticking to it, and the endless experiences that are available to me through technology, communications and travel.
A quick search online suggests that I'm perhaps not alone in this line of thinking. For example, Andrew Basden writes in A Presentation of Herman Dooyeweerd's Aspects of Temporal Reality:
Absolutization (undue elevation) of any aspect brings harm because it breaks inter-aspect coherence. Absolutization of aspects in theoretical thought leads to other aspects being either ignored (example: positivism) or explained away in terms of the favoured one (example: evolutionism). Absolutization of aspects in society’s mindset (example: consumerism) destroys other aspects of society, such as justice or generosity (p.24, my emphasis).
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