META-NOMAD

On Consumerism

A discussion I’ve had time and time again with friends and family is one regarding consumerism. We usually discuss politics and collapse (in that order) until the early hours and eventually one person usually states something along the lines of,

“Well yeah, but the root of all this is the mindless consumerism! That’s what we need to stop!”

A statement which used to frustrate me, largely due to the fact there was lack of shared coherent definition regarding what ‘consumerism’ means. See, I figure that most people who are critical of consumerism see it as external to themselves, something which they don’t do and is only a problem for the dumb masses. I used to agree with such a definition, for it takes quite the stomach to admit that one might have traits of the sheep in their nerves.

This typical definition of consumerism is a general critique of mindless behavior as opposed to an exposition on the meaning itself. Consumerism in the stereotypical sense means someone who wants/desires the latest car, flatscreen-TV, Marvel Movie etc. Basically someone who is entirely caught up in the spectacle of consumption and wishes to have the latest purchasable piece of the spectable, as to prove that they are indeed in-on-it, they are in-the-know and are ultimately, normal and worthy of popularity, status and attention. I see this definition as basically wrong, in fact, it’s not only wrong, it’s extremely misleading.

The above definition is more like the worst parts of the whole, the most extreme example of consumerism. And as prevalent and obvious as that part of the definition is, it’s only the glaring top layer of the consumerist cake. In fact, I’d argue it’s the layer that almost needs to stay alive for consumerism to continue flourishing. We’ve all read or seen Fight Club, ‘you are the shit you buy’ etc etc. blah blah, misreadings all over the place, angsty morons begin lobbing their half-baked anti-I-don’t-even-fucking-know ideology about the place and generally using the pithy pseudo-ideology of an OK novel to legitimize their own bullshit. This of course implies that there’s a whole other level of consumerism going on, one which most people really…really don’t want to admit to, at least those who are supposedly critical of consumerism at large.

It’s easy to be critical of those buying the latest sports car, the latest TV, the biggest house etc. of consumerism, because, well, the things they’ve purchased are so large, garish and obvious that one cannot help to project their own insecurities into phrases such as “Compensating for something?”, “I just think people should live within their means.” and “Urgh, his/her life must be so empty.” Shut up. You’d have bought the same empty shit if you had the money or the chance. How do I know this? Because within your current ‘means’ you continue to buy the bullshit you can now! Every year or two you buy a new iPhone because, well…it came out – your old phone was fine of course, you just kinda…wanted the new one. You buy designer clothes even though you have perfectly fine clothes at home, you buy new editions of books because they’ll look nicer on your shelves, you – like 82% of the country (UK) – bought your ugly new car on finance, you just got new sofas because you changed your colour-scheme, you of course had to try that new sauce/meal/burger/wrap/drink from [insert food chain here]. The list goes on and on and fucking on! You are not outside of consumerism, you are so totally within it that you exist solely on hypocrisies at this point.

Thus far one could quite easily mistake the overarching idea of consumerism which I’m writing about here as simply a material ‘ism’. And that which we consume is only material, things and/or items etc. This is, once again, completely incorrect. The items of consumerism are secondary. Secondary to an idea. A shit, vacant, idiotic idea. The idea itself can’t be encapsulated by one phrase or statement because it subsumes lots of other socio-parameters into it. Status, normalcy, popularity, anxiety, paranoia, cultural-capital, to name just a few, are the fuel for this idea. The idea is of course simply consumption as means and meaning, but it’s so absolutely unconscious that – as I have stated – even those who attest to hate it, understand how it works or who are virulently against it continue to fall prey to its allure.

The problem is – as opposed to creation, mutation, differentiation and communication – consumption is very easy. So easy in fact we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Let me ask you this dear reader, is your personality merely a culmination of your vices?

Are you an end-product of compounding material desires, ideological consumption and identity traits into a ‘being’?

Almost everything falls into the realm of consumption and it takes quite the alteration in perspective to remove yourself from the realm, so that your acts become somewhat ‘authentic’ (though I don’t want to venture into that avenue) or at least taken self-knowingly.

Remember when you were a child and you and your buddies stayed up late and watched some action-packed war film? The next day you went off the woods and pretended sticks were guns and rocks were grenades, you consumed the media and let it infect your identities – hey, at least when children do this is completely transparent. Hey, Brits, remember when Skins first came out and almost every other moron at school began to morph their personalities around those idiotic self-serving characters? Well I do, it was less transparent, but still a clear example of consumption at large.

After your teenage years I guess it becomes, at least for the masses, a little more tricky. See, the education system and the state – the two teats adults suck on for security of both an individual and collective kind – teach very little (if anything) about that which is external to consumption. Your classes at school were all formed in a manner of consumption – consume data to prove X, you consume various bits of state red-tape to be able to form your life and then continue to discuss said consumption in such a way that it fills your day and makes you seem real and connected to the norm.

“Fucking tax man took a bite out of my paycheck!”

“Got this weird housing letter about my rent…”

“I hope I pass X-exam, I’ve studied hard'”

There’s nothing in any of this, it’s the filler conversation which makes up 99% of life – unless you make the decision to exit from those people and places, which is relatively easy…but perhaps you just life comfort.

“So Meta, if all adults are is this weird culmination of bits and pieces they’ve consumed, what makes you so special? How can anyone not be some odd creature of consumptive habit?”

Well dear reader, that’s a very astute question, thank you for asking. When I write these posts I generally think that I come across as a condescending arsehole, I don’t massively care. Those who’ve I’ve offended are offended solely because of resentment, and wish their comforts had not been questioned. Those who are angry now, but willing to look inward will be thankful later.

#Anyway, the question at large I guess is this, ‘How can you not be a consumer?’ I mean, everyone consumes at a fundamental level don’t they? Water, food and shelter are things we need and so we consume them, the key point of argument then is the difference between a need and a want, or in French, between a need and a desire. You need shelter, water and food. You don’t need a new TV, a fancy car and brand name clothes. All of these are simply lifestyles being sold to you, visions of a future wherein you have higher status, greater popularity and more people life you. Look at that guy in the prototype Audi A333, wrapped in 30 layers of Ralph Lauren with a TV implant in his head, he is cool…he is alpha. For a good novel on this absurd form of consumerism I recommend James Palumbo’s TOMAS.

Anyway, the reason everyone consumes, and no one is immune from the consumerist lifestyle is that pretty much everyone is, at least in some way, weak. I’m weak to books, especially esoteric and obscure books, I consume then like a rabid animal. In a certain sense I’ve bought into some ideal there and am beginning to move from it. If this is the case then consumerism at large, in definition, is largely defined by the reasons why someone is purchasing something as opposed to act of consumption in itself. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying McDonalds or organic, fairtrade, homegrown, vegan, non-GMO, gluten free jam, it’s the reason you’re buying them. You’re probably buying the formed because some remnant of a heartfelt kitsch McDonald’s advert is lodged in the back of your mind and you suddenly just ‘fancied’ a burger, think on your actions for more than a second and you will immediately stop consuming as much, the latter however might be bought out of sincerity, but it also might be bought out of virtue. Hell, a lot of that kind of vegan, wholefoody stuff must be bought out of virtue alone…’cus it tastes like shit.

Strangely, this is were my now not-so-recent flirtation with Occultism come in handy. (With that said, I think continued reading, research and practice of Occultism means it’s no longer a flirtation and something more…) See, in my Greer interview he notes of the animatronic Santa Claus figures you get at Christmas. You know the ones, you press the button, he dances and sings a tune, the family laughs for 2 seconds, it gets thrown out in a few months. The point is if people actually thought about their purchase decisions for more than a nano-second entire industries wouldn’t even exist. Consumerism in its entire is a demonic force that preys on passivity and apathy. You’re not thinking, you don’t care and you’re hardly even mentally awake, and that’s why you feel alienated and empty, you’re simply the crass compound human-butter made solely of vapid desires and parasitic dreams. In short, you’re an unthinking idiot.

Want to get ‘out’ of consumerism and edge a little closer towards authenticity and a more content, fulfilling being, it’s quite simple, practice meditation. Specifically discursive meditation:

“To get the best results, discursive meditation requires the same sort of preliminaries that the more familiar forms of meditation do. The standard advice among old-fashioned occultists was to sit in a chair with your spine comfortably straight, not leaning against the back; your feet are flat on the floor; your legs are parallel to each other, and bent at a right angle; your hands rest on your thighs close to your knees, and your elbows are at your sides. Every muscle you don’t need to use to stay upright is as relaxed as you can get it. Having assumed the position and deliberately relaxed the muscles just mentioned, you breathe slowly and deeply for several minutes, paying attention to the inflow and outflow of the breath, and turn your mind away from every topic of thought except the theme of your meditation.” – Foundations of Magical Practice: Meditation

I practice (though not as routinely as I’d like) 2 forms of discursive meditation. Firstly the one above which I practice prior to bed for 15 minutes, or until the question has been answered and dissolves. I also practice a form of questioning/discursive meditation with a friend – this is a personal invention, but great for quick problem solving. Find a friend in whom you can trust to tell the depths of your soul. Your question or predicament may be serious or harmless etc. Have them question you after every answer.

“I think I need a new job.”

“Why?”

“This one isn’t fulfilling.”

“Why?”

“The work doesn’t suit me.”

“What is it about the work?”

“It’s dull, meaningless.”

“What work do you think would have meaning for you?”

You get the picture, anyway, I find both of these forms of ‘meditation’ extremely useful in day to day life.

And so you want to exit consumerism, perform a discursive meditation either on a consumptive habit that is frustrating you (Netflix, smoking etc.) or on your consumptive habits in general, note the results, reflect on the initial problem and the answer that helps you find some peace with it. Often the two would have be very difficult to connect.

3 thoughts on “On Consumerism

  1. You seem to present a diogenic foundation on which any deviation from our existential needs falls into the category of unnecessary consumption. As a remedy, you prescribe a meditative dialectic, in which a purchase is audited for meaning beyond survival and distinct from external marketing forces. It is certainly the individual’s responsibility to know themselves, to scrutinize their behavior, and peer into the machinery of their will. I agree with your assertion that we can and should free ourselves from the treadmill of consumerism. However, I take issue with some of the framing and presentation of the topic in your essay.

    One of the behaviors that makes humans unique is the ability and drive to transform our environment, both at an immediate individual level and a societal level. This ability is prehistoric, and as the execution of will in temperance it contains profound alchemical meaning beyond any economic terms or language. While the model of market interaction that we consider consumerism has been documented for centuries, the term as we know and use it is more recent to the last 60 years.

    The label of consumer is a marketing term, the root category to which all sales demographics belong. It is a contrived concept massaged for decades by corporate psychologists with the intention of pigeonholing individuals into artificial behavioral loops beneficial to corporations. It is an artificial culture that has been hung on the tentpoles of our natural behaviors, exploiting our instinctual responses to stimuli, and masquerading as our own desires. Yes, it is the individual’s responsibility to unbridle themselves from this yolk, but it is not we as a natural society who placed it on each other. It is the encroachment of the few and the powerful who have artfully insinuated this reduction of the world to simple consumption between our desires and actions.

    Luxuries, pleasure, stimulation, and the personal transformation of your individual environment are not consumerism and they are not wrong to pursue. They may not meet the diogenic criteria of “need”, but they do help us function as more than dogs on the street. So, place the responsibility of change on all of us, but save the blame for any who would consider themselves our masters. Do not insult the chained man for complaining about his fetters, just because he hasn’t learned to pick the lock.

    1. I still believe the luxuries, pleasures and stimulations of life can be part of one’s being, it’s just that prior to exposure to unalloyed hedonism the majority have no buffer. And so we need the ability to correctly think before attending to hedonism and consumerist culture in general. Of course this throws up a whole host of problems about how to go about this. Questions of specifics in relation to a certain person are superfluous, the overarching idea to truly think about that which you are choosing to consume.

  2. Welcome to the lower depths of the rabbit hole, where the next few questions lead to questioning the reason for the existence of consciousness itself. After that, there’s typically abyss staring, senseless raging, depression-indulging, drug-taking, wilderness wandering, meditating, Siddhartha-aping, PKD reading, and other such metaphysical personal-cosmogony-creating questing in an attempt to find some reason for being other than passing on your genes.

    Personally, I’ve settled on trying to help create a society that’s calmed the fuck down enough that the various alien races (that statistically must exist) feel comfortable enough revealing themselves to us, so we can have a peaceful conversation.

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