Rx For Casualties of Consumerism

"The grand edifice of brand-name consumerism rests on the narcissistic fantasy that everyone else cares about what we buy." So writes John Tierney in this morning's Times. If this sounds familiar, we have some perspective on your relationship with stuff.


We've evolved, Tierney says, into creatures who have replaced the quest for happiness with the quest to impress others with the things we have amassed. See my should bag; it speaks volumes about me. Listen to my ring tone; it does too. And so on and so on.

But, from an evolutionary standpoint, no one really cares about what we buy--at least other people's stuff doesn't stay in our memories for very long. How many of us can remember what a co-worker was wearing yesterday, Tierney prompts.

In a recession, needless spending becomes a kind of Faustian bargain that does more than just fill up our closets. So here are four ways to wean yourself off the consumer treadmill.

The first step is to understand how we got entrenched in the consumer cycle. Catch up to speed with how consumerism has come to be a pillar of the post-modern age, marrying the Global North and the Global South in unimaginable ways.

Consumerism's mojo is in its message, says Big Think's Carlos Mandelbaum. He follows how brands convince consumers to buy, buy, buy. It's created a "command economy," he says, in which advertisers' imperatives seem like they are helping us.

From Adbusters to starving artists, anti-consumerism is producing a host of art. There is some utility in branding, especially if you are an artist like Ryan McGinness

To understand what happens to your purchases after you are finished with them, it's hard to beat Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff," a short history of how the material world is raping the natural world. (Do notice, however, the advertising in the bottom third of Leonard's video.)

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