Thursday, 6 August 2009

Challenging the consumerist ethic

Tony Emerson has posted this on the Christian Ecology Link bulletin board: worth repeating, I thought.

We need to be challenging the consumerist ethic. The marketing processes adopted by modern business are at a level of sophistication undreamt of previously. Advertising is only the tip of this iceberg - market research, motivational research, 'sexy' product design, packaging, product placement, viral marketing, the availability of easy credit, corporate lobbying... these are only a selection of the techniques used either to create or to shape artificial demand, create (artificial) replacement demand or create addictive or dependency-induced repeat demand.

Small environmental movements cannot even think of matching the resources used in such processes. But we can adopt a range of approaches or techniques to undermine their unnecessary consumption-promoting strategy.

First, always challenge the economic dogma that 'consumer demand' is something natural and spontaneous: JK Galbraith exposed that myth 50 years ago, but Governments still base their policy on it, and say 'environmental action should be confined to technology of production.'

Many environmental campaigners also go along with the dogma. So, the need for the journey, the need for living in a particular size house in a particular location, the need for heating your house to 26 degrees C, the need for changing your clothes with the fashion, the need for a particular meat diet… : these are all 'spontaneous' and 'natural'. We are 'arrogant, elitist killjoys, would-be cavemen' if we challenge this dogma. 'We must wait for a new magic generation of green machines to come on the market.'

We have to take that risk of unpopularity - nothing new here for Christians.

Secondly: we need to discuss more how we best challenge the economic dogma of (spontaneous) consumer demand. We can sound as if we are rather elitist, effectively accusing people of being silly or foolish. One principle is that it is easier to challenge someone if you have built up a trusting, mutually-respecting relationship with them. This does make it easier to get an effective environmental programme going in a Christian community, where hopefully we have developed such relationships.

1 comment:

Stella said...

Thank you for passing on this post.
We may not be able to reach a mass audience, but I think that the best advertisement for turning our backs on consumerism is this.
As Christians, we must live a joyous life which shows all who come into contact with us, that if you have a meaningful spiritual life, the attraction of consumerism ceases to exist. The constant need for the buzz of aquiring more and more, is a sure sign of a spiritual void.