How consumerism changes our perception of what is human | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Социология

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №4 (346) январь 2021 г.

Дата публикации: 26.01.2021

Статья просмотрена: 17 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Парланд, В. А. How consumerism changes our perception of what is human / В. А. Парланд. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2021. — № 4 (346). — С. 323-326. — URL: (дата обращения: 01.03.2021).

My friend messaged me some days ago:

«I’m so sad. I don’t know why I'm so emotional. Well, at least I bought the cat beret. And the cherry earrings.»

This is consumerism.

«Consumerism is the idea that increasing consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal, and that a person's wellbeing and happiness depends fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions» [1].

The commercial success of a product decides if the product will be endorsed further. The commercial success of a product depends on demand, and demand depends on what people believe they need. But how do you convince people that they need, for example, a smart boiler? And how do you convince people that they need specifically the smart boiler your company is selling? In our society, even the most universally essential things use advertisement. I believe there is not a single commercial product that does not use any type of advertising techniques. To return to my previous example — how do you plant the idea in people’s minds that they need your smart boiler? You aim for basic human instincts. You tell them that if they buy your smart boiler, they will be happy. Their lives will become easier. The smart boiler will make other people give them approval. The smart boiler will give them status. Just as consumerism sells promises of fulfillment and concepts of status, consumerism sells womanhood. «Selling womanhood» means everything from women being used as props in advertisements, to media communicating a strict norm of what is «feminine» to pressure women to buy into the gigantic fashion and beauty industry.

But not only «womanhood» is sold in this consumerist market — the consumerist ideal is that everything should be monetizable and everything should be for sale.

How did this radical attitude develop?

The economic boom of the 1920s allowed for expansion of credit, and thus, average Americans could afford more commercial products like cars, radios, vacuums, or clothing. [2]

Before, materialistic lifestyles were reserved for the middle and higher class. Suddenly, however, production of new technology became cheaper, the economy thrived — the lower classes' attitude towards material possessions changed as they, too, could indulge in consumerism. Perhaps, a superfluous amount of material possessions was, and still is, regarded as bringing one closer to the elite.

In the 1950’s, the style of advertisement was reformed. The Marlboro Man put on his cowboy hat on television and brought about a revolution; now, instead of competing rivals by presenting why companies' products were superior to other products, companies started advertising their products as an aesthetic. [3] [4] They were selling a lifestyle. This is the concept used by nearly all advertisements to this day. [5]

As people are surrounded by concepts of happiness, nature, thrill, etc, they start associating commercial products as an escape into these concepts.

The cat beret will bring landscapes of autumn, coziness and a feeling of uniqueness.

The cherry earrings will bring cuteness, sunshine and joy.

And when you live in such a world, how can you see yourself achieving fulfillment through any other means than consumption?

Thus, capitalistic systems directly benefit from an unfulfilled population.

A new question arises — is this human?

Is this human, to blindly consume commercial products in a desperate search for happiness, comfort, and love? If people are deprived of these very things by a cold capitalistic system, are they still what we traditionally regard as human?

It could be argued, however, that capitalistic systems don’t deprive their citizens of fulfillment — rather that unfulfillment and discontent is a natural human trait. That the utopia on the horizon will stay on the horizon. That since being doomed to pain is our burden as humans to bear, the free market should be perfectly justified to profit from it. This is best seen in price gouging of medicine. There is nothing empathetic about raising the price of life-saving medicine for no other reason than personal economical gain for people in positions of power in big pharma. [6] As stated before, in a capitalistic society, everything should be a product, everything should be monetizable. Even the deadly sick who have no other option than to continue supporting the companies which exploit them. There is no empathy between corporations and individuals. A citizen is either a product or a seller, but never a person. Through the lens of capitalism, there is no place for personhood. But what is human, in a traditional sense?

Plato defined Man as an upright, featherless biped with broad, flat nails. [7]

In Christianity, Man is loving; Man is flawed; Man has granted himself power to recognize the difference between good and evil.

As said in the Bible, Man was created as an image of God. [8] This is, however, open for interpretation — because if Man is flawed, Man is the opposite of God. God is always ideal, Man can never become ideal. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote, «Man’s likeness to God consists in sovereignty over existence, in the countenance of the lord and master, and in command» [9]. Perhaps, the closer to God, the further from human.

But times changed, and rational, scientific answers became much more valued than spiritual. The term «human biology» was not coined until the 20th century, and with it followed a Western fascination on the issue of race. [10] The prominent question in society changed from what is human, to what is less than human.

In the Republic , Plato postulates that Man differentiates from animals in three ways: the soul, which is immortal; the desire for and acquisition of knowledge; and the tendency of Man to become social and political. [11] [12]

Animals are less than human, and thus, the closer to animals, the further from God. This idea of Man being different from animals distanced Man from nature, in contrast to religions that strived after Man living in harmony with nature. The enlightened modern Western man could now regard himself as one step closer to God, as he was one step more human than Western women, and two steps above all lesser-than humans. Eugenics started grading ethnic groups on different ranges, from closest to animals, to closest to Western man. This way, the Western man was reassured of his place nearer God.

The masses under the elite Western man’s feet is the bewildered herd, workforce, manpower, army — anything but human.

This dehumanization of the masses allows for the elite Western man to justify exploiting workers, manipulating citizens, and colonizing lesser-than humans. Because, after all, the masses don’t know what’s best for them. They need an invisible leader, a hand which steers them into their right paths. A worker must work. «It can lead to those down under to absorb into their identities the conditions of their entrapment, and to do whatever it takes to distinguish themselves as superior to others in the group», wrote Isabel Wilkerson in Caste: The Lies That Divide Us , «to be the first among the lowest» [13]. Human is a title reserved for members of only the same or higher socio-economic level as one. If one is homeless and sleeps among the pigeons, they are like an animal. If one can’t afford an own place and lives in cramped dorms, they are like an animal. If one eats fast-food directly out of the packaging due to their living situation, they are like an animal. And they should be treated as such.

The lesser-than humans will either be interpreted as fundamentally incapable of being contributing members of society, due to believed genetic inferiority, or as losers who chose failure. In the case of the latter, the lesser-than humans are expected to «pull themselves up by the bootstraps», and when they fail to do that due to restricted social mobility, imposed by the capitalistic system to protect the elite circles from any lesser-than humans, the lesser-than humans are marked as lazy and unjustified members of society. This Kafkaesque hypocrisy is put in place so every citizen has their designated place from which the citizen should never be able to move. This socio-economic placement of a person could be referred to as a «caste», because unlike class, one’s place in a caste is hereditary.

A lesser-than human barging in on the elite’s cocktails party would mean that the elite’s power has been demolished, since the very essence of the elite’s power lies in controlling the lower castes beneath them. But even other lesser-than humans will turn their backs on certain lesser-than humans if they believe that they are superior in any way.

The phenomenon of fake class solidarity illustrates the process. Class solidarity is reserved for sympathy between members of the same socio-economic classes. There is, however, a tendency for middle-class as well as lower middle class to try and protect the elite. The lower- to standard middle classes do not belong to the same class as the elite. Their sympathy is one-sided. As Ronald Wright wrote in AShort History of Progress , «John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires» [14]. When other lesser-than humans propose higher taxes and minimization of economic inequality, fake class sympathizers will side with the elite to advocate for a system which does not benefit themselves in any way. Perhaps, it’s a product of the myth that the elite has earned their wealth through hard work. That brings up the question, what qualifies as «earning»? A report by American Economic Policy Institute shows that CEOs now earn 320 times as much as a typical worker. [15] Does that mean CEOs work 320 times harder than the typical worker? However, accepting the fact that the fake class sympathizers’ positions are not directly based on the amount of work they perform means accepting that wealth is not a promised reward for labour — and that shatters the myth that any member of any caste has enough social mobility to wake up one day on the suit of a billionaire. To accept the fact that they will most likely never have a chance to climb up the castes means to accept that they have a designated place. That they are fundamentally incapable of joining a higher caste. That they, too, are lesser-than humans in the eyes of the elite.

One option for coping with this realization is rejection of anything human. Refusing to value love, art, and other things which traditionally are considered human traits in popular culture — as well as rejecting emotion. A worker must not cry; a worker must work. Embracing the idea that life isn’t fair, and instead of fighting for something more humane, one should just get used to being mistreated. That being a member of society is a damnetion to pain, and that as a citizen, it’s one’s duty to bear it. This is not a new phenomenon, rather, a typical patriarchal approach to unfairness. Men should not complain. Showing vulnerability is emasculation. As taught in the army, men should not oppose authority. The men hunt, the women, with their irrational emotions, take care of the sick and poor.

Laissez-faire economy is a system which relies on survival of the fittest. The fittest are those who were born into the right caste. It is no coincidence that the laissez-faire economy was introduced by the Western man; the laissez-faire economy depends fundamentally on dehumanization. Even the last crumb of sympathy in laissez-faire economy — the trickle-down theory and the idea of civil society — still relies on somebody else, ideally, bored housewives, taking care of citizens which the government has failed. I would state: the invisible hand is, simply, Mother.

Imperialism and colonialism didn’t start out of hate — they started in the name of «the economy», the hate was but necessary dehumanization in order to colonize. The greatest crimes of the modern world have been committed armed with capitalism’s inherent dehumanization.

At this point, I would like to remember that all of economy is but a social construct. And yet, when the joy of buying those cherry earrings wears off, the sadness prevails.


  1. Jim Chappelow, «Consumerism Definition», Investopedia, last modified September 16, 2020, .
  2. OpenStax, Prosperity and the Production of Popular Entertainment. OpenStax CNX. 1 Sep 2020–08b8–4ba4-b359-f04701726a66@12 .
  3. Shirk, Adrian. «The Real Marlboro Man». The Atlantic. Last modified February 17, 2015. .
  4. Osman, Maddy. «Lifestyle Marketing 101». The Pixlee Blog. Last modified June 29, 2020. .
  5. Dystant, Lena. "‘Lifestyle’ in Advertising — FreshBritain». FreshBritain. Accessed October 25, 2020. .
  6. Kerry Young, Kerry D. «Drug Prices: Why Prescription Medicines Are Unaffordable for Many People». Journalist's Resource. Last modified September 29, 2020. .
  7. Laertius, Diogenes. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers . New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  8. Gen 9:6
  9. Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Brooklyn: Verso, 1997.
  10. Editors. «Human Biology.» Biology Dictionary., May 26, 2017. .
  11. Plato. The Republic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
  12. Wismer, Asher. «What is Plato's Definition of the Human Person?" ENotes. Accessed October 20, 2020. .
  13. Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Lies That Divide Us. London: Penguin UK, 2020.
  14. Wright, Ronald. AShort History Of Progress . Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2010.
  15. Mishel, Lawrence, and Jori Kandra. CEO Compensation Surged 14 % in 2019 to $21.3 Million: CEOs Now Earn 320 Times As Much As a Typical Worker . US: Economic Policy Institute, 2020.–3-million-ceos-now-earn-320-times-as-much-as-a-typical-worker/ .
Основные термины (генерируются автоматически): CEO, CNX.

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