VS: Consumerism Vs. Capitalism
I would like to start a new series called “VS” that basically looks at two words and examines what they mean. This won’t be the official websters dictionary definition but I would like to think that after reading these you, dear reader, might be interested in changing your own usage of them. There are no expectations that these changes will change the world, I am not so far up my own ass that I would think badgering you on the internet would fix something. But instead I would like us both to enjoy this moment and see if something comes of it, worst case scenario I got to evacuate my brain and you got a moment away from the marketing madness that is the rest of the world [If you can get beyond that single ad up above here].
The United States (and arguably all “capitalist” countries) are currently experiencing what they now happily call a “Consumer Culture”. This is usually seen as a perfectly natural thing and even the average person is likely to say things are “pro” or “anti” consumer. The general rules of consumer culture are very simple and I’ll try to detail them, these are not all inclusive because [as with all my writing] this is done stream of consciousness style. [That’s code for it’s probably terrible.]
- A business should make the maximum amount of money possible.
- Morality plays no part in business.
- As long as it is legal it is an acceptable avenue for business (playing off the previous bullet point).
The thing about these rules is that there is no expectation of quality. A for profit business exists explicitly to raise money for its owners or investors, nothing else. It is not here to better your life, to better the world, or to answer any need. In fact there are many instances of businesses creating a need and then filling it. Male engagement rings, cigarettes for women, various fad diets, and just about anything that targets a gender or cultural entity. You “as a consumer” should have no expectations other than to be sold something. Quality, safety, or any other thing you might think is demanded of this business does not exist.
The onus also falls upon you to investigate the products. It is your job as the consumer to figure out if it will make you fat, sick, or even kill you. Unless these things happen widespread there is little chance of the company making them caring or changing course. Large pharmaceuticals in the US has managed to survive pretty impressive death tolls since I’ve been alive. The fines they receive pale in comparison to profits. Generally speaking the common complaints about business and government come back to consumerism. Because there is no sense of moral imperative or humanity in the infrastructure of consumerism it leaves the average person to suffer in its wake.
Initially in a consumer culture there are not major problems because of choice. Simply put if a business starts giving everyone cancer you can just stop shopping there and shop at the nice non-cancer shop down the road. It is with the rise of mega corporations that this most powerful and important of regulators breaks down. Consumerism cannot function without the majority of its content being handled by small (arguably very small) businesses. The moment that changes everything falls apart and people suffer. But are there any good examples of this?
This creates an interesting problem. Like lets say you don’t like the Koch brothers? I can’t blame you, personally they come across as douchebags, but in the US that puts you in quite a pickle! You’d need to stop buying Angel Soft, Brawny, Dixie, Northern, Soft ‘n’ Gentle, Sparkle, Zee, Mardi Gras, Vanity Fair, Stainmaster, UnionGas, Union 76, and Conoco products just to name some of them. If you are like me you just knocked out nearly 100% of the paper products at your store.
So either you go with plastic which is a terrible choice or you give them your money. This is the problem with consumerism, it leads to a monetary vacuum almost by design and your most powerful tool is completely stripped away from you. If a company outsources their customer support, or does anything shady (no matter how small), they are a consumerist company. They are not capitalist.
So Mr. Smarty Penguin, I hear you ask, what do you think a capitalist company is? I’m glad you asked, fake person. A capitalist company has a relatively small list that defines them.
- Make as much money as possible while causing the least harm possible.
- Answers needs, does not create needs.
- Exists to create good in ways that a single citizen could not.
This is not a complete list and it requires that you take it without deception. A person must literally believe, not merely say they do, that they are causing the least harm possible. To find every avenue to accomplish this. If I am creating a company that sells food I want to find the best practice for producing my food. The best practice is not the way that provides maximum yield, it is instead the process that provides the maximum yield that the land can safely sustain. If I am producing plastic products I want to do so with the least amount of waste not because it maximizes profits but because it does so while also minimizing harm to the environment (and by relation all life including people).
I don’t fire people because its cheaper to hire them in a country that has less concern for the safety and wellbeing of its people. I also don’t avoid taxes by abusing laws that have been altered or obfuscated by lobbyists. I pay them because I recognize that everything I have accomplished is only possible because of the combined intentions and actions of the society I am a part of. Its a matter of giving back, symbiosis rather than parasitosis.
In fact I think that sums it up nicely. Capitalism is a symbiotic relationship, Consumerism is a parasitic one. The great comedy of this all is that the consumer is seen as the parasite in popular media portrayals when really it is the consumer business that is feeding on them.
Some closing thoughts:
When a business uses HFCS (for instance) you should stop buying their products. Not because it is necessarily going to kill you, but because they have made a statement. They have told you that they are unwilling to use the best ingredients available to feed you. They are looking for the cheapest quality products to maximize the revenue they generate from you. You don’t matter to them, you are not a person but an ATM. When a company ships their customer support overseas they are equally saying that you don’t matter. They don’t want to give you the best support, they want to give you the cheapest support. A consumer company wants to provide you with the least services and quality possible at the highest price possible.
This is not healthy and it benefits you in no way.