CONSUMERISM AND COMMODIFICATION
We might define consumerism as the quest for ownership. Commodification would then be the process of rending all things capable of consumption.
Since just about anything can be bought and sold (including what, in the black market, should never be given a price tag) , all things become commodities. This includes, ideas and, even people. While human slavery is not the thriving industry it once was, the commodification of the human image is everywhere: on billboards, in magazines and on television. As long as a human face is used to push products and even owned, the human image becomes a commodity.
As consumers of such images, we submit ourselves to commodification, our value as humans defined by our purchasing power and the choices we make with that power. As purchasers of objects, we help sustain the marketplace of commodities which, in turn, keeps the existing power structure firmly in place. Only as consumers can we keep the system fully functioning. Without consumers, there will be no purchasing of commodities and no ownership either.
It would be foolhardy to dissuade people from consumption when it is in our nature to consume. We must eat, for one, which makes us consumers of food and drink. Such commodities are essential to our very survival. Occasionally, sex becomes a commodity, as does a vial of sperm, an egg to fertilize and even a child. If air could be privatized and sold, it would be commodified too.
The concern is not that people consume. Its that we consume to the exclusion of all else, devoting so much time to grazing on the mass-marketed dross of minimal human endeavor. Consumerism means allowing the market to limit our choices, depending on sellers to provide our needs, never to seek out alternative means of satisfying them. Its the reliance on the market for just about everything we do, as if we could no longer survive without it.
What does the market provide? Just about anything we could want. There are essentials, to be sure, but the bulk of the market offers nothing that we need, giving us instead he things we want. The market is also adept at providing us with distractions, and those distractions keep us wanting more.
Consumerism means falling for the usual marketing ploys: that you need what you dont need and that ownership will make you happier. Happiness, however, isnt an end in and of itself but, rather, a means to an end. Its the process, not the consequence. As such, ownership must be claimed again and again to sustain that joy.
Commodification means valuing only what can be sold. By that logic, if its not a commodity, its not worth having. The higher the price tag, the more worthy it becomes. The commodification of consumers then gives consumers with the greatest purchasing power the highest value; and, consequently, the more money you have, the more important you become.
The consumer, however, is only as valuable as his last consumption. If the market had a voice, it might be heard to ask: What have you bought from me lately? Nothing? Well, what use is all that money in the bank if you dont spend it?
Were told that were judged by our credit rating. It may seem arbitrary but theres allegedly a science to it, based on making regular payments toward recurring tabs. While a credit rating increases when debts are paid, it doesnt necessarily increase if theres no debt at all. Debt is essential to maintaining a good consumer rating. Without debt, youre barely a consumer at all, and little more than a human being who buys what he or she needs without owing a cent.
Its impossible to acquire a good credit rating without owing money. Its the fulcrum of the existing power structure: the promise of something better for immediate consumption today. The goal is to make good on any outstanding balances; however, a surfeit of outstanding balances is unlikely to be corrected. Debt increases while consumerism continues apace, and never again shall the two cancel each other out.
Our system thrives on debt. Without consumers purchasing what they cant afford, the system could well implode. Wed have to inject more money into the economy and that money itself cant be created without expense. The national debt may be staggering, but its nothing compared to what we all owe. Just as the system promises us all that we want, so we promise to buy a share and pay it off. But it will never be paid off.
One might say that the existing power structure is premised on unpaid promises: the promise to offer a fair and equitable world that gives everyone the same access to the same opportunities; the promise that hard work will make a better world for everyone; and the promise that ownership will make us happy and that the acquisition of possessions will ensure the betterment of humanity. And yet, these are the same empty promises that sustain the transnational economic system and the power structure that enjoys the greatest benefits. And as long as people content themselves with promises alone, nothing will change.
Why do people consume at such a prodigious rate? They live to consume, after all, when it would make more sense to consume to live. But once you become a participant in the market of commodities, it becomes an effort of will to extricate yourself. Few of us are ever immune to the empty promises that get us in debt and keep us in debt; and some of us, best intentions aside, may never get out of debt. The power structure benefits by keeping consumers indebted. Only without debt can an individual reclaim his or her independence.
Its true what they say: that you are what you buy. You are your possessions, such that your very humanity may be reconstituted by the things you own and by what you still owe in order to pay for the things you owe.
Then again, it doesnt have to be that way. Our humanity persists irrespective of our debt and our creditworthiness; no matter what we own or dont own, our humanity is neither enhanced nor diminished
Fact is, you can sell anything to some and some things to everyone, but you cant sell everything to everyone all of the time. In other words, were not all consuming all the time, which is some comfort. Oftentimes, were simply alive, and were fine with that. Perhaps were merely contemplating our next purchase, but, chances are, were evaluating what it means to have possessions, asking ourselves why we cant just torch everything and start over from scratch.
At this time, the Church That Is No Church cant guarantee a fresh start (although were working on it). We dont want your possessions and will refuse them if you attempt to dump them on us. Besides, our virtual space has no room for them. Wed advise a bonfire if there werent so many people who could probably use the stuff thats so well-worn and trashed that even you no longer find value in it.
As a consumer, you reinforce the existing power structure which feeds on your purchasing instinct. You want and the economy provides. And if you dont consume, will the economy perish? Not likely. But it will certainly evolve to become more streamlined, the better to reflect what will actually enhance our lives rather than sinking us deeper into debt with nothing to show but a lot of worthless mail-order kitsch.
Sure, the system rewards your consumer spending with a credit rating and a house full of stuff. But is that the freedom you sought? Has ownership made you any happier, or merely frustrated that you have far more than you need while still making easy monthly payments of $19.95? Is this the life you wanted, with all the commodities you convinced yourself you deserved? Do your possessions give you comfort or do they remind you that you worked too hard for too little?
Youre a participant by virtue of your debt, and either you pay your debt to the existing power structure or your prerogatives as a consumer may be severely curtailed. Your security is your power to purchase, increasing your debt while attempting to pay it off. But what use is that security if it keeps you from living debt and obligation free? Again, its the usual compromise of freedom in the interest of a secured future which isnt a future, not without the freedom to choose
your future rather than have it chosen for you.
Youve become a creditworthy consumer and now theres no extricating yourself. Youre in debt, which is to be expected. It happens to the best of us. We wanted things and the power structure made them easy to obtain. But are we owners of the purchases we have yet to pay off? And are we even owners of the future that requires working jobs we despise just to pay off our frequent consumer exuberance?
Upstanding consumer or not, we are still owners of our humanity, which, unlike most possessions, can be improved upon if we so choose. And by valuing a life without commodities, we might even find that only simplicity can ensure lasting happiness.
Yes, the consumer dream promises the satisfaction of ownership, but, as we know, its only an illusion of control and freedom. Theres no possession we own that doesnt weigh us down. How, after all, can we control our commodities when we cant move anywhere without hauling them along with us? The more we have, the more there is to supervise and manage.
The solution? Choose your commodities wisely and dont let them choose you. Take what you need and give the rest to those who need them more than you. Pare down your obligations as much as possible until you remember what it was to have a life to claim and to enjoy. Its your life, after all, which would be better spent doing as you please rather than playing a part.
Most importantly, remember that you are not a consumer commodity. You make choices, which means you can decline to live as others do and live as you want. Be advertising immune and youll find your choices are once again your own and that youre only a consumer when you want to be. And with choices, you might even remember that being human is an individual endeavor that cant be predetermined by marketing departments and advertising agencies.
Commodities dont make choices. Its time to be fully human and remember that.