Wednesday, September 12

A Catholic / Christian view of rampant consumerism.

Firstly it is helpful to posit a definition of rampant consumerism which means an unchecked or an unrestrained attitude to consumption resulting in an excessive attachment to possessions or alternatively what might be charertised as conspicuous consumption.         
Modernity’s  shift to "consumerism” is a phenomena of improved industrialization, manufacturing, transportation and communication as globally produced goods and services offer cheaper prices with more choices to those who have the means and desire. The Christian viewpoint shows a wide disparity in opinion with the extremes of religious fundamentalism link salvation to increased material wealth whilst our Catholic emphasis is on social justice and having regard to those most vulnerable within any community.
Whilst ‘consumerism” is a modern phenomenon the underlying human condition to gravitate to materialism seems unchanged - given the opportunity a desire arises to accumulate material wealth. As the bible says “There is nothing new under the sun” – we still wear the same clothes only trying out new fashions or garments made from different materials. Turning back to the pages of the Old Testament one reads the story of Solomon who was both wise and ruled as king during a period of unrivalled prosperity. Solomon was successful on a number of fronts- as a great trader and one who secured from King Hiram of Phoenicia the raw materials for the mgnificent temple. But towards the end of his reign he succumbed to the great trappings of immense wealth and worshipped idols.   
The point to all of this is that all of us, even those with the Wisdom of Solomon, may not be immune to an excessive desire for material goods. It also serves as a sobering reminder that what we may regard as basic human material needs can be the equivalent of rampant consumerism to a struggling African family or even those homeless within our shores. This is not so much a question of trying to make people feel guilty – rather that people come first and money second and one determines what one can reasonably share after first providing adequately for ourselves and family.  
This applies to nations just as it does to individuals and the amount we are willing to pledges in aid. Going against the trend it is remarkable that a tiny country such as Ireland recently upped its aid to other countries both as a percentage of GDP and in the quantum during a period of economic hardship.    
Although you cannot effectively legislate morality or orchestrate more even social outcomes you can have regulations to ensure free markets operate in a regulatory environment which specify basic human rights. We can   make provision for safety nets and ensure ethical principles or codes are operational for both corporations and citizens alike.                       
The irony is once  nations become industrialized, more equal societies almost always do much better in terms of health, well-being and social cohesion and that it is the large income inequalities which have the capacity to destroy the social fabric and the quality of life for everyone. Much of this inequality is driven by rampant consumerism which creates a need to have more and be rewarded with more as end unto itself which can lead to treating people like goods.
The trouble with having too many possessions is that eventually they may own you


Gary said...

Good piece Lindsay! And yes, they own us if we are obsessed with owning them. And eventually many possessions are here and we aren't... I do like the meaning that some objects can have, such as a family photo, piece of art, ancient stone etc...but even those I must let go of one day (from my hand and my heart). Thanks sir!

susan said...

I believe a huge part of the social and political problems in the world today - well, particularly in the USA (yes, I'm still attached) - is that over the past few decades people have been convinced they are consumers rather than citizens. What makes things worse is that these consumers are no longer able to make most of the things they consume. For years I searched in vain for clothing made in the US when I needed a new shirt or pair of jeans. Almost nothing is made there anymore (or here in Canada to a large extent) so you have a populace that actually winds up feeling more and more useless. When people feel useless they need something to make them feel better but there are no free concerts, there is no active community space away from electronic entertainment, nobody plays musical instruments or gets together with others to put on plays or to discuss current events in person. Yes, all these may still happen a little but it's become very rare. What they do instead, what they are encouraged to do, is to go shopping. It's a sad thing to consider but the person who said it best and made us laugh uproariously the first time we heard it was George Carlin talking about stuff.

Great post, Lindsay.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Gary & Susan - Thanks for your insightful comments.
Gary – True, when the bushfires devastated homes in our region (apart of course, from loss of life or injury) it was the loss of old photos and memorabilia that caused the most grief.
Susan – well said – enjoyed the video – often comedians allow us to laugh about the most ridiculous yet true nature of things which provide a social reflection at the same time.
Best wishes

Lindsay Byrnes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gfid said...

exactly! I have to tell you about a remarkable aquaintance of mine who has taken the philosophy of social justice and not taking more than you need very much to heart. She lives in city of over a million people, where she makes use of public transit, local food and entertainment. her mantra is 'let it bless you, then let it go.' she no longer collects things, or buys more than the necessaries of life. she has a good paying job, lives simply and gives a great deal to charity. she's a master re-gifter, with the very best of motives. an inspiration.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

What a wonderful inspirational character - we would have enough left over in abundance if more adopted that philosophy – just like nature is at times when unrestrained.

We would also be in far happier state that generally currently exists.

Best wishes