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April 4, 2013

3

Expressing our lives in consumerist terms

by quaesitor
Mall_culture_jakarta01

A good friend, John Goering, was reading an article, alluringly entitled How to make trillions of dollars, and he came across this quotation, written over half a century ago (by one Victor Lebow in 1955). Like him, it made me sit up and notice.

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. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives is today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats, his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

Chilling, really. And as John pointed out, all too often, social changes in our world are hardly ever accidental.

The terrible irony, though, is that nobody ends up winning. No one expressed this more pointedly than the late great Bernard Levin.

”To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die?… There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late.. why do I have to know why I was born? Because, of course, I am unable to believe that it was an accident …… Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire… and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside of them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it… it aches.”

(Article entitled “Life’s Great Riddle, and No Time to Find Its Meaning”)

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. bayta
    Apr 4 2013

    That Bernard Levin quote – wow! So very true. I spend a lot of time with students and sometimes their youthfull enthusiasm still “covers up” that void and those questions. But a few years down the line, the realise career, family, etc are not the answer. That quote describes so many people I know. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Monty
    May 10 2013

    Interesting FT lunch with Michael Sandel addressing the issue of market economies turning into market societies…http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/bd509112-9c55-11e2-9a4b-00144feabdc0.html

    Reply

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