I just read another reference to the ‘consumerism’ which is running ‘rampant’ in our society. It’s grating that this term ‘consumerism’ has been so readily integrated into the public consciousness, primarily no doubt through hypocritical left-wing writers, who want us to feel bad about our ability to buy nice things. Today, I saw the term in an opinion piece in today’s Herald Sun by Alice Clarke, which is a comic piece about the many bizarre ways people might die. She glibly lists consumerism as one thing that might kill us, as we might be ‘crushed’ by the weight of our ‘possessions’. Sure it’s humourous, but it is also a thoughtless use of a term which hasn’t been properly explored before it has been thrust on the public consciousness.
The word ‘consumerism’ first came to prominence in the book ‘Affluenza’, where the authors, whose names not surprisingly escape me, suggested that the ability for citizens in modern western nations to purchase an abundant supply of consumer goods was akin to a disease. On the one hand, if you look at the use of the terms, ‘consumerism’ or ‘materialism’ you could be sickened by the bleeding heart writers who are so desperate to point out that our society is evil that they would turn that which is ‘good’ or beneficial into something we should all feel guilty about. However, you might then fall into the same puerile trap of simplistic reasoning, which these writers have used to avoid any kind of intellectual thought on the issue. It would be good if we could at least move away from such terms and really explore what it means to buy or to own an item or as economists so coldly call them, ‘commoditities’.
But, suffice it to say, there is something troubling about our modern society when we invent a hypothetical ‘disease’ for something that all third world nations of the world would gladly contract.
I went shopping for clothes yesterday and it caused me to reflect on the process of purchasing, which presumably was simpler in former times but now seems to be bogged down in a myriad of psychological elements that give it a sort of transcendence beyond its true significance. Now when I enter a shop, I not only have to check the size and colour of a garment, to consider whether it will match the other items I have at home or whether it will be suitable for work or family gatherings, I also have to overcome the massive guilt foisted upon me by the dogooders who see buying clothes as not essential but consumerism, a sign that I am unhealthy, depressed and in need of retail therapy to attempt to fill a void in my life. The idiots who coined the term ‘retail therapy’ are little better, as this is a simplistic, glib attempt to show that we human beings can be afforded happiness by walking into a retail store, buying some clothes we don’t need and may not even wear.
I think the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.
Clothes buying is a transaction, an interaction between people, which creates psychological stress, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of victory to the successful shopper. So when I walk into the store, I am thinking of how much money I can afford to spend. I am thinking whether or not this purchase is ‘essential’ or whether I am wasting money or buying simply to satisfy a temporary urge. There is also a myriad of brands, sizes and styles to choose from, which becomes bewildering. At the end of the day human beings must wear clothes in a civilised society and despite the trend to pay more and more to wear less and less, a certain degree of propriety is required in purchasing clothes for work or for all social situations other than lounging around at a beach resort. So when you find a garment that fits you well, for a reasonable price you justifiably feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s not that easy to do, particularly when there are so many poor quality, ill-fitting garments on display. When you purchase an item of quality you are not only incorporating that quality into your life, you are reflecting the excellence in the workmanship and the excellence used in producing the garment, something that according to our free-market economic system is called creating value.
The other element that complicates matters is the salesperson. In many stores, sales people are just so bad, and make the purchase of clothes much more difficult than it need be. Because we as consumers are very wary of ‘being sold’ an overly pushy salesperson can actually talk us out of things that we really want to buy. Having trained in sales myself, I can see the telltale signs immediately, the wrong questions, the officious tone, that impression you get as a customer that the sale is more important to them than your interests. So many times I have walked out of a store I would be happy to browse in or buy from due to the approach of the salesperson. You have to speak very clearly and state exactly what you want, avoiding the ‘games’ that buyers and sellers often get into. There is nothing worse than the feeling we have been trapped into buying something, so we avoid this strenuously when shopping, often missing out on items we genuinely want to buy.
Buying clothes (or other consumer items) is not always essential. We might have a full wardrobe but want something else, a new colour a different style. Clothes do wear out, so it is stingy and miserly to continue with the same clothes year in year out unless you are spending well beyond your budget and means. Buying clothes and items is pleasureable. You do feel good about owning new items (not necessarily paying for them, which is downright painful!) and this is why these left wing clowns are calling affluence a disease. They don’t want us to have fun with anything and they want the rest of the world to live in Stalinesque poverty while they live in their inner-city apartments sipping lattes with their mates from Greenpeace. But it is both pleasurable and essential. You cannot survive long in the workforce without quality clothes, quality computers or quality communication tools such as smart phones. At the very least, you will likely be overlooked for promotion.
Buying clothes is not an antidote to a disease, nor is it a symptom. Yet it can provide pleasure and it does, like all aspirations, result in less happiness than it promises. When I bought me suit, I was happy. It was a good fit, and I purchased it for a reasonable price. It will not be a lasting happiness, which can only be accomplished by living according to one’s innermost values, but to deny it is a pleasure and to say it only has a utilitarian purpose is to belie what the experience of shopping really is.