Why Do We Consume?

Maslow would say that I consume because I have needs, basics and advanced, and I need to consume to fit these needs to survive. Maslow is correct in this, I most definitely have needs, I need to consume food and water to survive, I need a roof to keep out the cold, and, if we’re being generous, we might say that I need this shiny degree I’m working toward in order to fullfill a human desire for academia. But, to say that I consume simply because I have to is far beyond the truth. Have I ever truly needed a bowl of ice cream? Do I really need an education to get a job with which I can sustain myself? Probably not. Truthfully, I could probably get by without a job, perhaps as a scavenger for food or a small farmer, but I am not progressing toward those futures because I have desires and aspirations. I want to live a better life, I want to be happy and comfortable, I want that bowl of ice cream.

So then the question becomes why do I desire these things? And a good portion of those desires probably stem from my understanding of what life is for, and up to this point, life has seemed like a vessel with which to prove my worth to the world and to myself. Why do I want an education? Maybe to prove to myself that I’m smarter than other people. Why do I want to eat that ice cream? Perhaps to prove to the world that I am as good as other people, and that I have the same right to eat as much as I want as they do, and by eating more than others, maybe I’m proving through conspicuous consumption that I’m more successful than other people.

Now, the narrative shifts to why I would want to prove my worth to the world, and I would link that desire to both the nature of the culture in which I was raised and Luke’s 3rd face of power. Firstly, I’ve been raised in the US society that glorifies competition. In the US, to settle for simple happiness is not enough, we have to work to beat people to try to reach the top and so by proving to people that we are more educated, or make more money, we believe we are saying we are successful. On top of this cultural sentiment is the nature of products and advertising in the US. Corporations for years have told us what we need to live and to be normal and to keep up with the Joneses, and by executing a slow subliminal overthrow, these corporations exhibit the 3rd face of power. US citizens only know how to consume because for so long that has been the norm, and to consume is to keep up with the Joneses in order to make sure that we are not being surpassed on the totem pole of success by those around us, because disposable money is success to us after all. Through advertising and our competitive cultural sentiment, we in the US have begun to believe that consumption and greater consumption are emblems of our successes. And to reuse or repair would be a sign of hard times, that we can’t afford to consume further which would be a clear slight to our status of normal and successful.

We love conspicuous consumption because we prove to others what we cannot prove to ourselves; that all of our hard work is a worthy cause. And we love consumption because it is a vessel for us to make up for all the time we’ve spent working, by using all of these time-saving products. By clouding our vision of what is normal and what is success, corporations have turned social norms and success to be equated with consumption and we all believe that our consumption is natural and our consumption is unmovable and so we all go on living our lives of consumption. All the while, corporations fill their pockets and exhibit the 3rd face of power over us all.

So, to simply say that I consume because I need to to survive is quite an oversimplification of the matter. In Maslow’s description of needs, I consume because I need that belonging and esteem that comes with consumption in the US. But beyond that description of need, I consume because it can make my life easier. Easier to view myself as normal and just another Jones, rather than having to deal with all of the ways I don’t fit into a society that attempts to be homogenous. I consume, because it makes me feel good, and in control, through consumption I can attempt to define the ways others view me. I consume because I’m lead to believe it is the right way. I consume because it helps me to bridge all of the gaps of myself that I dislike about myself, and instead fill the gaps with a new t shirt. I consume because I never spend enough time doing what I love or what makes me happy, and so I substitute the true and deep moments of happiness with the shallow and fake happiness consumption can provide, because it is easier.

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