Consumerism and the great acceleration

By Th.H.

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. (…) We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace”.

The above is an excerpt from an article by Victor Lebow in the Journal of Retailing, in 1955, where the American economist and marketing consultant calls for an aggressive advertising campaign, mostly through the new (then) medium of television, aiming to mold the American mind towards constant and relentless consumption.

A decade had passed since the end of World War II, from which the Unites States had emerged wealthier, more powerful and more productive than ever. The USA had developed a robust industry to cover the wartime needs which, in contrast to many European industries, had escaped unscathed from bombings. After the war, the full throttle of this industry was channeled to the production of consumer goods, initially within Roosevelt’s New Deal and then within the framework of neoliberal globalization.

The effect was a flood of goods, which needed to be funneled to the general population, consumed and replaced as fast as possible, since there was never any pause in production – and in the subsequent profit for those owning the means of production.

Thus, during the next decades consumerism was promoted through various methods as the foremost ideology and way of life for the entire western world, and also as a lure for the eastern block.

Today it seems as if Lebow’s vision has been realized to a great extent, at least in the western world.
It seems that we have been conditioned to define ourselves based on what we have and not based on who we are, as the perceptive psychologist Erich Fromm remarked over 40 years ago in his seminal book To Have or To Be.

This urge most probably exists inside all of us, whether we realize it or not.

Most of us grew up within a design that wanted to turn us to consumers, and as a result we have internalized the principles and values of consumerism, to a smaller or greater extent.

Therefore, if we don’t recognize consumerism in us, this doesn’t mean it is not there: perhaps it has accompanied us for so long, that we simply don’t see it, it has become a granted and everpresent truth, one of life’s givens, as air pollution in our cities is one of life’s givens – despite the fact that there are still grandparents who remember our cities with clean air. These are the so-called “established ideas” that Ioannis used to talk about, the ideas that dominate our minds and we don’t even see then.

But what is really consumerism?

Lebow’s call to constitute it a way of life means that up until then it did not dominate the masses. Therefore, a different form of consciousness prevailed. Which was that?

Our hypothesis is that, before the onset of consumerism, the idea that when you want something you buy it did not exist for the greater part of the people. This wasn’t an issue of money alone; it was an entire mindset. If you needed something, you strove to acquire it, but not simply if you wanted it.

Now we want things we don’t need, and we take for granted our inalienable right to buy the things we want. This is consumerism at its root.

This mindset exists in more or less all of us, it dominates our collective consciousness and forms our collective personality in the western world.

It also creates a vast problem that we are called to face, since the staggering consumption has reached us to the point where we have put in danger the life support system of the planet, through the constant modification of the natural world to an artificial state that covers human desires.

After 1950 this distortion started to expand greatly. Since then we live in the era of the “great acceleration”, where all the crucial indicators with regard to human societies, the natural environment and the species of this planet, such as human population, GDP, water and oil consumption, carbon emissions etc., increase exponentially. This is clearly illustrated in the following short video from the Swedish series Planeten (2006):

When the freedom and real wealth of what it means to be human are restricted so dramatically, it is only normal that we suffocate. Humans are gods in the making, not bolts in a production/consumption process – how right was Banksy when he pictured in 2005 Christ being crucified by consumerism, and how much is Christ’s birth now being celebrated in our societies as the greatest consumerist orgy of the year…

We are saddened when we see us trying to find life’s joy within decay, trying constantly to fill a bottomless black hole inside of us, seeking happiness in ever-changing fashions and not to the things that really fulfill us: true relationships of love and meaningful contact, the blossoming of our dreams, our service to the world. Instead we destroy life inside and around us in order to buy evermore “smarter” gadgets, evermore fashionable clothes, evermore new exotic dishes, evermore more of everything constantly…

The point however is not to feed the voracious dark hole; it can never be satiated. Instead we are called to fill it with light.

Can we do that?

Yes, and actually rapidly, because indeed we live in the era of the great acceleration. Everything is changing rapidly, and so is our capacity for inner development and evolution, and this is why the teachings we receive from the Logos-Christ underline that every human being has now the capacity, but also the responsibility, to reach christofication in one lifetime. This acceleration takes place when spiritual seekers embrace their true identity: that of the One Self.

When we evolve in this way, we are gradually liberated from the illusion that consumerism can cover our needs, because we recognize in us far deeper needs: those of unity and offering, without which life is empty and cannot be filled with all the trinkets in the world.

The path towards becoming Christ is a constant revolution against all the established patterns inside and outside of us, in our personalities and in our collective structures.

Therefore a revolution for freedom from the vice of consumerism and the return to a life of service and simplicity. A revolution for the liberation and expression of our non-perishable nature, to which no design to turn us into automatons can hold sway.

May this revolution be spread to a growing number of people and in the collective consciousness through activism, through words and deeds, but also through spiritual activism, which grounds through blessings and active prayer the higher energies that stem from the Father-Mother God.

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