Consumerism as addiction

Matt Rozsa of asked me to comment on ‘addiction as a metaphor for our ecologically unsustainable consumption patterns’ for a story he was writing. Unfortunately, I was too late for his story, so I publish here a lightly edited version of the largely substance-free content I sent to him.

Photo from Material World, by Peter Menzel

We all have emotional voids that we are trying to fill with consumer products.

We are all constantly bombarded with advertising, much of it telling us that if we want to be held in high regard by others, we need to buy some fancy car or expensive trinkets — if we want to be loved by others, we need to buy more and more costly consumer products.

If we were all constantly bombarded by advertising telling us that we could fill emotional voids and achieve social status by consuming heroin, we would all be heroin addicts by now.

Imagine how many heroin addicts there would be if as we walked down the street, there would be shop after shop with alluring displays of heroin in various forms, advertising 50% off this week only.

The promotion of consumerism is as dangerous at a global level as the promotion of heroin is at an individual level.

It is one thing to be in poverty, and meeting real needs with increased consumption (shelter, food, clothing, etc).

It is another thing entirely to be living a life of affluence, attempting to get another shot of dopamine through impulse buying.

We are embedded in a world in which we are encouraged at every turn to sink ever deeper into our addiction to consumer products in a futile attempt to fill our emotional emptiness.

But consumer products do improve my life. Some consumer products do bring me real joy. For example, I love my bass guitar and my motorcycle.

But when I look at all the junk in my closets and garage, I see wasteful and unsuccessful efforts to solve problems with consumer products that consumer products cannot solve.

We need to find some way of consuming only that which will bring us real joy, and look within ourselves, and to family, friends and lovers, to fill our emotional voids.