Consumerism: The Trap of the 21st Century

08/09/2017 11:40 am ET

It is fair to say that many big ideas over the past centuries have fail to dominate the planet – from fascism, to communism, to democracy and to religion. Only one has prevailed and achieved total supremacy, luring global society into a compulsive attraction. It has created unsustainable inequality and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society, extending into every corner of the globe. This is consumerism, the disease at the heart of today’s global struggle, defined as the need to incessantly strive for more, compare against others, and measure up by giving less and getting more.

Some reputable economists argue that to consume every year more and more is most suitable for the economy, for society and eventually for the state - in order to have a continuously improving life. But who, exactly, will have that better life at the end of the day? Naturally we live in a world where we are persuaded and inspired and bombarded day-by-day, hypothetically beating us into the mood to magnify consumption. It’s not surprising that advertising agencies protect the assumption that is essential to continue mining for potential customers to keep up with the demand so convincing to all of us: the more we consume, the better our lives will be.

Sly and almost unnoticeably, consumerism has become a principle past-time and the 21st century’s newest zeitgeist as we roll in this extremely seductive idea. It’s acceptability grew, people questioned it less, and its lethality increased quietly. We have become a society of compulsive shop-alcoholics. The trouble is we no longer bother to consider why we need to have everything – other than just to acquire to be immersed in a selective circle of owning and having and gathering, believing we belong. In fact, we literally are being seduced by a new motivation which is so cleverly designed that we need to keep repeating it in order to sedate our inner (dis)satisfaction, which only will last for short bursts of time, and then we must repeat the cycle and get more. To assist, payment methods have been simplified, increasing the speed of global consumption, which by now has become a way of life in so many countries around the world. A new global philosophy has been born: greed is good!

This was the ideal platform – and certainly is today for narcissists and ego-centric individuals who assure that they get do whatever it takes so that they are on the top of consumer-awareness and receive long-awaited recognition. This new normality means we must keep purchasing and consuming. Adams Smith once said the purpose of wealth is not only good for the individual, but certainly good for society too, which makes beneficiaries spoiled for more choice and instant availability as long as these are affordable. It is simply the new global language that everyone understands. Unfortunately we have been short-sighted about the ultimate consequences of such a ‘language’, consequences which in fact have already started to prevail: depopulation of minority nations, leading to illegal immigration in many industrialised countries; unequal power of purchase because economies are unbalanced, leading to tremendous social inequality; seeking to belong so we need to work harder and protect what we have, leading to stress and obesity; continuous Western consumerism leading to Westernisation of all societies; insecurities and anxieties leading to terrorism. Is this surprising? It shouldn’t be. But many of us are purposefully told a very different story. Perhaps one day we will realise the exceptionally high price we all have had to pay.

It is this seamless process which is now threating life on earth; statistics are getting more frightening every year. In other words, inequality has been growing within most countries around the world, but the level of inequality differs markedly. Economic forces are global, affecting similarly situated countries with differences in outcomes, suggesting that the level of inequality is more strongly affected by policy and politics. Indeed, it is politics and policies, and how we respond to these crises, that are making matters much worse. Today we are dealing with inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity invariably linked closely together. Hence rent-seeking and the lack of exclusiveness are two critical reasons why global inequality is unstoppable.

More and more countries are following our Western lifestyle and falling into this disastrous track. Consumerism in the West took two centuries to develop – in China this took less than a decade. The infiltration of consumerism comes at a serious cost in many BRIC states which are among the most populous countries in the world and the fastest advancing economies. It is believed that once our income rises above a certain level, happiness has very little to do with the size of our bank balance. But in reality, happiness is not a reason for absolute wealth, nor is the comparison to other people or nations, which means ‘better off than your neighbour, colleagues, company or nation’. This relentless pressure to earn more and buy more is eventually self-defeating. The strongest craving for most of us is to be secure and safe, inspired and living at ease, bonding and belonging to the ones with whom we share commonalities, and feeling comfortable about our real selves. But consumerism cannot meet those needs – even if we are persuaded and convinced it can. It is a trap of dependency that ultimately leads to loneliness: we find ourselves trapped and we struggle to get out.

Our global community does not seem to recognise the auguries warning of immense hardship for future generations. Saddled under enormous pressure, blindly groping along, we continue to vehemently defend our saturated Western way of life. We do not properly acknowledge the many injustices that are perpetrated by an absolute minority who, perhaps unwittingly, are leading society towards serious, global turmoil. We have, in fact, been brought to a crisis point. But this may still be manipulated to function as a catalyst for a better tomorrow. We may be inadvertently destroying everything our next generation needs, which begs the question: how ‘civilised’ are we actually? This process has become unmanageable, exponentially growing out of hand. It is completely illusory to believe that we can continue living under the prevailing dominant value system.

The alternative approach is to create an economy in which a mindful and competitive process is fully utilised. This allows for fair access and distribution and consequently is a far better framework for a success model. Society needs a new leadership model for the 21st century in the form of ‘Empathic Prosperity’. True success depends on working from inner intuition rather than externally influenced factors. This powerful process can enable each leader, executive and organisation to prosper and flourish in an environment that is sustainable precisely because it is ‘of the mind’, and as such, has endless possibilities for all.

Until now, we have been convinced by what we have been taught is reality. Thus, we believe that the information we receive is valid, which unfortunately creates a restricted and artificial form of mental reasoning. Somewhere along our journey, society has lost the ability to think ‘naturally’. To work towards regaining the power of intuitive and mindful reasoning would truly be an infinitely powerful process.

We should make conscientious and wilful decisions for our lives that will satisfy our profound insights rather than social expectations. Dissatisfaction and perceived unhappiness should be addressed in a proactive manner, fundamental questions should be addressed, and then dire issues should be tackled. We should address how, for example, we would want to live or work and why we persist in our ambition to attain higher and obtain more, which is clearly not serving us well.

Thankfully, more and more people are realising that quantitative achievements are putting society at risk. Consequently, they are uniting globally to demand better leadership for the future. Injustice simply cannot be a model for success; it will, in fact, militate against itself, as society realises and then rejects its empty promises.

Due to the detrimental effects of greed-fuelled economic decisions, we are witnessing ever-increasing serious illnesses, an ever-increasing disparity between rich and poor and ever-increasing violent crimes perpetrated by rich and poor alike. To ignore these warning signs would be catastrophic, as people are surely realising competition is a sin. For the first time in modern history, society as a whole is now awakening to what really matters. More voices are being raised, more outcry against social and public welfare based on injustices and unfairness. What is needed is a mindful resolute response.

This global movement gives hope for international mindful survival, opening new dialogues and exposing consciousness. Perhaps for the first time, society is awakening to our need for a world reshaping so that we may survive and flourish, thereby enabling a better mindful tomorrow.

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