I read an excellently irreverent article today that summarizes the many criticisms of consumerism:
Access to credit makes consumers overspend. Materialistic people are anxious and unhappy. The conspicuous-consumption arms race is unwinnable. Down with status competition! Down with long work weeks, grueling commutes and McMansions! Up with family time, reading and walkable neighborhoods!
I must admit that I’m in the hate-on-consumerism camp. I tend to think that outside a student loan or maybe a home mortgage, consumer debt is evil. I personally don’t like “stuff” all that much anyways, and I think I’m happier when I live frugally.
Well, the author went and masterfully shattered my self-righteousness, which is to say that she enlightened me. She suggests that there’s more to all this than just the amount of money you spend on things:
Any competition, from looks to money to academic credentialing, both consumes a lot of resources and makes many of the participants feel bad about themselves. Why, then, does the literature on status competition always tell us that we should redistribute capital gains or inheritances and never tell us that we should redistribute academic chairs or book contracts?
It’s so true! Sure, I may be uninterested in status-seeking through materialism, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m definitely guilty of feeling somewhat smug about, say, my worldly and eclectic life experiences, as if they’ve earned me some sort of currency that can be traded for the favorable opinion of others (specifically, others-like-me).
On the other side of it, I can be envious of people with valuable academic insights or fascinating, meaningful, and influential jobs or even just simple, peaceful dispositions. Here I thought I was immune to status competition, but I’m really in the thick of it!
Why do we always want more? A wise friend once posed this question to me, and it seems good time to ask it again. I suppose we all just want to feel satisfied, but it’s hard to chase a moving target. What would it be like to stop chasing? Maybe that’s what it takes to find what we’re really looking for.