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Is Consumerism The Eighth Sin?

I quote from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, ‘This world is but a thoroughfare of woe, and we are pilgrims passing to and fro,’ and suggest we replace the word pilgrims with consumers because in the modern day we try to buy our way out of sorrow. Yes, sure, consumerism improves the economy claim the financial pundits, but the public has been manipulated for hundreds of years now; since industrialization created artificial demand.

In the book Happiness A History by Darrin McMahon, he explains that the very word happiness comes from the Middle English and Old Norse word happ, meaning chance. The idea that happiness can be acquired is a relatively modern concept.  In ancient times religion was the source of joy and during the eighteenth century with the outbreak of the revolutions-American and French- people derived happiness by working towards an ideal society. In the present day our contemporary understanding of happiness is success.

‘That which constitutes the cause of the economic poverty of our age is what the English call over-production (which means that a mass of things are made which are of no use to anybody, and with which nothing can be done),’ wrote Leo Tolstoy. And he didn’t live in the time of psychological pricing with price tags that read 9.99/- or pass by department stores with posters that screamed, ‘Buy 1 get 1 free.’ The writers and philosophers back then assumed that the great vacuum inside human beings could be filled with knowledge, work and love. But somewhere down the road, people realised that a Sony X 900E T.V is easier to acquire than knowledge and infinitely less troublesome than love. And the best part is that it’s available on easy instalments.

The purchase high doesn’t last they say; your Baglietto yacht won’t pass by your eyes in your final moments, the endearing memories shared with family and friends will. But the sentient and material world are so intricately intertwined that it is no longer possible to be content with only one of the above. Creature comforts reign supreme, so it is hardly possible to have a family and be content with them and vice versa on sentiment alone. From education to experiences, everything is available in pyramidal fashion, where you have to spend more to get more. Every commodity is defined as ordinary, mediocre or luxurious. No wonder we have begun to believe that our chance to be happy increases if we can buy the best things in life. Even harmonious family life is a perk that comes along with big splurges.

Some of the best advertisement campaigns sell goods by making the consumer believe that a product- running shoes, chocolate, car- can make one feel special. Imagine feeling good about yourself by buying  shoes; not by reading Plato and Aristotle, or by having a conversation with your eighty year old grandmother, or learning a life skill: but by merely buying a pair of shoes. The very idea that we buy an object to fulfil an emotional need is in itself absurd. We have little hope when self appointed life gurus have packaged spirituality in a format that suspiciously resembles consumerism. The big question here is: Is consumerism the eighth sin? I can’t say. It’s the twenty first century, and the world does not condone judgement anymore.

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