Consumerism And “The American Dream” Have Destroyed Us
he American Dream — an ideal that sets forth the opportunity of prosperity, success, and wealth for everyone. In a time when the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, the American Dream seems to still be the ethos of Americans as we continue to spend and spend to our detriment. The culture of desire has taken hold, and it’s killing us.
The consumer society emerged in the late 17th century, but began to intensify in the 18th century as the middle class began to grow and spend money on luxury items, not just necessities. Throughout the 18th and into the 19th century, we saw a shift away from traditional rural agriculture families to the urban city as the industrial revolution boomed forward.
More opportunity turned into more money. Railroad construction meant more opportunity and convenience to travel. A whole new world, based in commerce, was taking form. A business and market culture had taken root, pushing traditional family and religious values to the back.
The 20th century saw the rise of the digital age and a more globalized society, pushing ideas and commerce further. More product, more trade, more marketing, more consumption of material things.
I argue we have begun to see another shift in the paradigm. We are beginning to see the effects of consumerism on another level as our normative cultural values are beginning to change, and we are beginning to see the impact in many aspects of our lives, and the world.
The general theory of consumerism is that the more we consume, the better off we will be economically, which is true. At least for a little while. More production of goods equals more jobs and more money to spend, which creates demand for more goods. We have an urge to consume; a desire. We will do anything to acquire. The obsession with acquisition, which has been likened to achieving the american dream, has a cost, though.
We see this in working slavish hours, bending rules for an extra buck, a housing market bust, living beyond means, and credit card debt.
We see this in bragging about not taking any PTO, skipping breaks, and working through the weekend.
We see this in the ever changing, increasingly hyper aware AI, watching our every step, every keystroke, every liked image, compiling lists of information and producing algorithms to find out our interests — to find out how to better sell to us.
We see this in our wallet.
Many Americans think they live paycheck to paycheck, but upon examination, an interesting trend — spending on brand name clothes, premium coffee, expensive cars, and pricey trips are commonplace.
Consumerism a social disease and it has sparked a shift in our normative culture — away from traditional values to something closer to a business relationship.
Increasing consumerism may also result in “a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection”, said UniSIM’s Dr Wei, quoting US psychologist Madeline Levine, who has close to 30 years of experience.
Contributing Factor: Digital Age
The digital age brought with it major scientific and technological innovations that have improved the human experience, but it has also exasperated consumerism, creating a shift in our normative cultural values.
We have a view to our every desire at the touch of a keypad. This, coupled with testimonials, pictures of friends, celebrity endorsements partaking or indulging in this desire, gives you the, oftentimes false, belief that this desire is yours to have as well. So, you chase that american dream and buy that car you can’t afford, or take that trip on credit.
Almost everything we touch or do is connected to another user or internet source, which means you are constantly being tracked and analyzed. You say rainboots and the next ad on Facebook is for rainboots. It isn’t a coincidence. The algorithm is meant to know you better than you know yourself. It encourages you to spend more, and makes you want to spend more.
We are excellent consumers, but at what cost? The debt, the consumer desire, the celebrity worship, and sacrificing our very values? It is beginning to erode our happiness. It is beginning to destroy our Earth, but more to come on that.