I confess: I have been spending over half a year living as a minimalist with little to no knowledge of consumerism history and how Westernised societies have got here in the first place. Realising my lack of knowledge, the guilt set in. I had the sudden realisation that my idea of minimalism as society’s sustainable solution was not founded in any concrete research. I felt like a fraud. I’d been living this ‘idea’ of minimalism without completely understanding the system. So, I did some research. Hopefully, this information in research articles and documentaries will also help you understand just how deeply-rooted consumerism is in our lives, and the possibility of replacing that with an intentionally happy society.
So, how did we get here?
It all started in the 1700’s, in England, when trade routes opened and wealth was easily granted for the working class. Flaunting one's’ consumption and wealth was the dream ideal: showing power, luxury, and a better quality of life -- everything that our human nature could ask for? A wealthy Englishmen called Adam Smith wrote a book in the peak of his consumerist career, called ‘The Wealth of Nations’. The book basically reflected the thoughts of his consumerist experience, stating simply that the pursuit of luxury makes everyone richer. His message: “Individuals must be unleashed to seek their own selfish economic interests”. The idea of capitalism was born, with consumerism at the heart of it all.
Only a decade later, The Industrial revolution began to take the Western business world by storm. People were now able to produce goods in masses and keep up with society’s demands for luxurious (and cheap) goods. Not only was this the beginning of the consumerist, machine-powered society we live in, but also the death of self-sufficiency, with all our needs projected onto the ‘responsible and trustworthy’ higher powers -- our government and the corporates. A convenient way of life, right? Now, with colonialism imprinted in many nation’s history, more and more governments have been altered to suit the consumerist ideal: for a better quality life.
Fast-track to today’s society where many brands are seen as default representations of one’s wealth and power -- something that Karl Marx predicted way back when in the 1800s. Marx was an anti-capitalist because he believed that our basic human needs involved us providing for ourselves, therefore humanizing and naturalising us. With the prevalence of capitalism, humans became disconnected from their basic human nature and their connection to the natural world. He considered religion to be a product of human consciousness -- a reflection of one’s purpose and place, one who “either has not conquered himself or has already lost himself again”. These days, brands have become the modern-world religion, representing the consumer’s ideal self and providing a never-ending sense of purpose: to consume. Tel Aviv and Duke University of Business both conducted studies on the correlation between religion and brand reliance. It was found that atheists had a established brand reliance; when faced with a choice between self -expressive items like sunglasses, they were most likely to purchase the expensive ‘prestigious’ choice, Ralphs, instead of the $20 Target brand version.
Perhaps the way to tackle the consumerist problem is to develop a deeper understanding of human nature -- our primary need is to feel worthy, purposeful and wanted, why does that have to be translated into mass destruction of the Earth? By corrupting our primal instincts, creating for our own consumption - a crucial part of the loop is broken -our natural connections are bound to collapse along with the world around us. Translating our needs to a minimalist way of living is the only way we can live in balance with the world, and sustain life.
Consuming less is the only way to a better life. I know that’s a huge statement, but let me prove it to you...
HuffPost. 2018. Sacred Brands: Consumerism as Modern Religion | HuffPost. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-j-rossano/sacred-brands-consumerism_b_789303.html.
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018. Marxism | History, Ideology, & Examples | Britannica.com. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Marxism.