Also: The epistemic virtue of scope matching
My analogy here is with “processed foods”. Processing foods (freezing, canning, grinding to a paste, etc) was a crucial invention for us. It allowed early civilizations to eat during times that were difficult to grow or hunt. Later, it eliminated the need for every single person to be a farmer / hunter.
So processed foods are “good”. But, as with everything, we took a good thing too far. Eventually we invented food products that were never really food to began with. Oreos and instant noodles are “bad” processed foods. Sure they’re helpful occasionally in a pinch, but they’re also so cheap that many Americans rarely get access to food that ever resembled fruits, veggies, meats, or starches.
So adding some qualification I think helps. There’s a flavor of “unproductive” Consumerism here, like creating a craving for products that we don’t need then building to solve it. There’s unhelpful processed foods that are junk.
I understood "consumerism" to mean not consumption itself, but the value system (hence "ism") where people seek self-worth or identity in consumption--that is, a "consumerist" is someone who thinks of themselves primarily in terms of what they buy, rather than either what they can make (as in the classic Protestant work ethic), or in their relationships, knowledge, skills, hobbies etc. The basic argument against consumerism is that since the latter are more likely to be actually fulfilling than the former, and people have only so much time and money to spend, consumerism is a pernicious distraction. People who buy lots of kitchen gadgets they never use or books they never read are probably a little deluded about the actual value those things will give them--better to keep the money and learn to cook a new dish with your old tools, or spend time actually reading rather than shopping.
It's true that only a small fraction of the world's post-Industrial-Revolution growth in consumption has been directed to consumeristic goods, but the same could be said of many types of consumption, from Hollywood movies to nuclear weapons. Neither amounts to much as a percentage of GDP, but they could hardly be called unimportant. I guess you can criticize "consumerism" the word on the grounds that it could be confused with "consumption," but that line of argument doesn't mean anything one way or the other for consumerism the phenomenon.
That said, it's not clear to me how widespread or problematic consumerism actually is. My own family and social circle don't seem particularly consumeristic, except maybe around Christmastime when they give each other too many books. I would be interested in seeing someone really try to measure consumerism and chart its history.
I can appreciate your point on consumerism, but I can’t agree.
The dislike of consumerism stems from accumulating things that people think they want but don’t actually need (and once they have it, don’t even want it anymore).
I’ve got family/friends that dive into this head first. Spending hundreds of dollars buying things that sit in the basement, or storage shed, never to see the light of day after the initial purchase.
I’d imagine it harkens back to our hunter-gatherer mindset, where getting more stuff was something that could help you survive. It would also explain why women, who did most of the gathering, typically spend more on consumer goods whereas men tend to be a bit more skeptical before buying this or that knickknack.
There’s a POWERFUL hit of dopamine you get making a purchase like that, even if it’s just new clothes you’ll never wear or a book you never actually read.
I REALLY want to believe that all these little purchases did actually make our lives better, but when I look at my my family member’s storage shed filled to the brim with crap they never used and no longer want, I can’t help but feel that it was all one big waste.
As Ghandi once said: 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.'
The perk of convenience consumerism is that it affords us more time, but what do we spend that time on?
There's the pitfall of infinite convenience consumerism where despite of the almost infinite convenience, we somehow remain stuck in work mode, where even our alleged leisure doesnt register as pleasant; or the pleasure becomes fleeing and guilty, such as a hastily gulped down fast food meal. As Srini pointed out, a lot of convenience is better in a very short term, and worse after that; the consumption is junk. Junk food, junk tv, junk activities, junk consumption. Here the mistake is to "convenience consume" infinitely, where we can end up feeling like even our free time is somehow unsatisfying.
Convenience consumerism only remains good if the consumer is disciplined about utilizing his free time and resources (afforded by convenient consumerism) to maintain their time spent "playing". David Graeber presents this idea in Anthropological Theory of Value: What comes to mind about a lot of human activity is animals that actually spend a significant amount of time relaxing and playing, instead of working, making laughing stock of humans when "we work to buy things we dont need".