What does it take to be satisfied?
If the flyers jamming my mailbox this week are any indication, marketers hope our desires are insatiable.
And they have long honed the skills necessary to convince us of that proposition.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Vance Packard’s landmark book The Hidden Persuaders.
In it he explored the early use by advertisers of psychological techniques geared specifically to manipulating consumers and turning the necessary act securing our daily bread into an uncontrollable urge to purchase the unnecessary and superfluous.
Economic growth in 1957 marked the post-war era that Packard wrote in.
Maintaining an ever-upward spiraling curve of production demanded an equally dramatic consumption pattern.
One theorist he quotes in his last chapter entitled The Question of Morality maps out a “grand design” for “making us all more dutiful consumers.”
This professor accepted without question the basic assumption that the goal of increasing consumption, according to Packard “was worth any manipulating that might be necessary to achieve it.”
Even in this early stage of the evolution of our mass-marketing-driven consumer society, basic questions about the sanity of this approach to prosperity were being raised.
“One of the experts consulted, Bernice Allen, of Ohio University, did question the assumption.” Packard noted, “She said: ‘We have no proof that more material goods, such as more cars or more gadgets has made anyone happier — in fact the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.’”
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr likewise took note of the dilemma by pointing out that the problem of achieving “a measure of grace” in an economy of abundance was very perplexing.
And he added that “we are in danger … of developing a culture that is enslaved to its productive process, thus reversing the normal relation of production and consumption.”
“This larger moral problem of working out a spiritually tolerable relationship between a free people and an economy capable of greater and greater productivity” Packard reflected, “may take decades to resolve.”
The five decades since the publication of The Hidden Persuaders clearly haven’t been enough.
Many others since Packard have echoed his concern.
Ivan Illich in his Tools for Conviviality wrote about the “counterproductivity” of growth.
He argued that the wealthy 20 per cent of the world has reached the point where economic growth is actually decreasing our well being.
The toxic quality of our consumer society is well documented in a host of studies on our declining psychological health not to mention environmental and social well being.
What can we do?
Kalle Lasn is the co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation.
This is the organization responsible for launching Buy Nothing Day on November 23rd.
“Buy Nothing Day isn’t just about changing your routine for one day,” Lasn argues, “It’s about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment.
“With over six billion people on the planet, it is the responsibility of the most affluent — the upper 20 per cent that consumes 80 per cent of the world’s resources — to set out on a new path.”
We have got to learn how to make do with less or face the coming Shopocalypse, or so says Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir in the serious docu-comedy being released to theatres this week.
What Would Jesus Buy? from producer Morgan Spurlock of (Super Size Me), according to their media release, follows Reverend Billy on a “journey into the heart of America — from exorcising the demons at the Wal-Mart headquarters to taking over the centre stage at the Mall of America and then ultimately heading to the Promised Land … Disneyland.
“Through retail interventions, corporate exorcisms, and some good old-fashioned preaching,” Reverend Billy is on a mission “to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!”
Maybe another remedy would be to find a way to effectively share our wealth.
The 16th annual Global Village Craft Fair Saturday, November 17, from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. in the CYO Hall at 4th and Steele offers Yukoners fair trade, co-operative and self help group crafts from around the world and a chance to support local and global social justice work.
The 15th annual Buy Nothing Day this November 23rd is a call by environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in as many as 65 countries for a 24-hour consumer fast.
This idea is gaining momentum as the climate crisis challenges people to seek out earth sustaining alternatives to unrestrained consumption.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.