Imported from MySpace blog
Bored? Read this interesting column from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
IN CASE YOU’VE been wondering what to do with your life, John Boehner has the answer.
House Minority Leader Boehner, a Republican congressman from Ohio, celebrated the recent passage of the economic stimulus package by saying, “The sooner we get this relief in the hands of the American people, the sooner they can begin to do their job of being good consumers.” Your title: “consumer;” your mission: “buy stuff.” Echoes of the president’s call, amid the crisis of 9/11, to get out and “shop.”
The distance between “citizen” and “consumer” is the distance we have traveled. Where “citizen” has a certain dignity, even gravitas, carrying with it notions of responsibility and capacity for decision, “consumer” conjures something far more passive, lacking either dignity or responsibility, save responsibility to one’s self and for getting the best deal.
Yet “consumer” has steadily infiltrated our language and become our self-designation and default definition of what it means to be a person. Group Health Cooperative, of which I am a member, does not speak of us as either patients or members, but as consumers. We are health care consumers. Higher education mutes talk of the educated person in favor of consumers of educational services and getting the best value for your education dollar. Churches gear up for “church shoppers,” religious consumers.
The subtext of cultural change in the past 30 years has been the way the market has seeped into every sector of life and come to define how we think of who we are and what we do. We are consumers, feeding the great insatiable maw of the consumer economy.
Is it too much to suggest that consumerism has become a kind of alternative faith, a religion of sorts? Religions are characterized by some vision of a good life, by their rituals and by a particular language. Consumerism seems to be developing all three apace.
Consumerism’s vision of the good life is the gaining of goods and experiences. Consumerism also has its own rituals that form and promote consumer character. The acquisition of credit cards and debit cards by the young becomes some sort of rite of passage. The Friday after Thanksgiving is consumerism’s high holy day, the No. 1 shopping day of the year. How much we shop during the Christmas season is an indicator of our national health. Television offers the liturgy of consumerism 24/7, and wonder of wonders, we consent to having it piped into our homes!
One might even do a compare- and-contrast between religion’s historic and characteristic virtues and consumerism’s virtues or qualities of character. For faith and religion, the crowning virtue is love, a capacity for other regard. For consumerism, self-regard would lead the list. No. 2 in a listing of religious virtues would be joy with the associated notion of contentment.
Yet for consumerism, discontent is essential. One must be in a constant state of anxiety about keeping up, having the newest and the latest. Virtue No. 3 of the spiritual life is peace and harmony with others. But for consumerism, envy is to be preferred.
The list goes on: The quality of patience is met with consumerism’s virtue of instant gratification; generosity with maximization of profit and pleasure; gentleness with the hard sell and hype; faithfulness with planned obsolescence. Finally, religion has understood self-control, imagine that, as a virtue. The good consumer learns the virtue of impulse buying.
How we name ourselves is important. Democracy names us as “citizens.” Religion names us as “persons made in the image of God.” Each has a dignity, even a nobility, that “consumer” lacks.
So now, because mortgage and finance companies succeeded in gaining more consumers with loans they could neither afford nor sustain, creating the subprime crisis, we have a stimulus package, a kind of consumer Viagra, to get us up and buying again. Is something wrong with this picture?
Lent, the Christian season of penitence and self-examination, began this week. The sins to be repented are still with us: greed, envy, sloth, covetousness. Only they are no longer sins. They are the virtues of “the good consumer.”
Anthony B. Robinson’s column appears Saturdays. He is a speaker, consultant and writer. His recent books include “Common Grace: How To Be a Person and Other Spiritual Matters,” and “Leadership for Vital Congregations.” Want to suggest ideas for future columns? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps it’s time for me to revive my long-forgotten habit of giving things up for Lent. Oh, Catholicism, when will you stop pestering me?
Currently reading :
Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything