Is Consumerism Making Us Complacent?
Latter-day capitalism. Like it or not, it's the society we live in. Even the standard of right and wrong has been subdivided, made sophisticated. Within good, there's fashionable good and unfashionable good, and ditto for bad. Within fashionable good, there's formal and then there's casual; there's hip, there's cool, there's trendy, there's snobbish. Mix 'n' match. Like pulling on a Missoni sweater over Trussardi slacks and Pollini shoes, you can now enjoy hybrid styles of morality. It's the way of the world—philosophy starting to look more and more like business administration.
Although I didn't think so at the time, things were a lot simpler in 1969. All you had to do to express yourself was throw rocks at riot police. But with today's sophistication, who's in a position to throw rocks? Who's going to brave what tear gas? C'mon, that's the way it is. Everything is rigged, tied into that massive capital web, and beyond this web there's another web. Nobody's going anywhere. You throw a rock and it'll come right back at you.
- Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance, 1988
The news recently, from natural disasters and a view into what challenges lie ahead with climate change, to the Rohingya refugee crisis and the responsibilities of our global community to defend human rights, to the role that peaceful protest plays in transforming a country's social contract, has had me questioning my place in the world. What's my role in all of this? Passive bystander? Active participant? Part of the problem? A piece of the solution? We're all connected to all of it, so where exactly do I fit in?
I have felt for some time that our consumption decisions are consequential. Now I'm wondering, reflecting on our history of advocating for social change by standing up for what we believe in through protests and activism and marches and boycotts, if we have arrived at an era in which the duties of citizenship have given way to the demands of consumerism. At a time when we need to be engaged and vigilant and prepared to take a stand, is consumerism making us complacent? Is our attachment to things, and our investment in the pursuit of those things, diverting our time and energy and resources and attention away from shaping our societies into what we'd wish them to be? Has consumption made us too comfortable to care? Or, more pointedly, has consumption made us too comfortable to do something about it when we care?
For me, at least, these are uncomfortable questions, which means there's likely more than an ounce of truth here. What does believing in climate change really mean if I'm not prepared to buy less in the interest of a healthier planet? What does defending human rights amount to if I buy things made by people whose human rights aren't protected? It seems the problem with taking a stand as a consumer just might be that the act of consuming makes us part of the problem, leaving us in a precarious position.
In my own life, for as much as I've thought about this, I've ended up practicing moderation. I participate in the capitalist system and I consume things, but I've learned to slowly taper and measure that consumption. Maybe the trick is to find a way for consumption to make us care more about the way in which we interact with the world and not less. Consumption connects us. Whether that connection is a gateway to consciousness or complacency seems like a decision that's up to us.