Ritualistic Consumerism and the Loss of Meaning

This is a really interesting blog post, the author has a fascinating insight about consumerism:


Of all the economic heresies imaginable, perhaps the most heretical is to recognize what we label "prosperity" as increasingly meaningless rituals more akin with Soviet-era staged parades than actual well-being.

This is the most dangerous heresy because it breaks the link between consumption--the core activity of our economy--and human happiness. If conspicuous / surplus consumption is ritualistic rather than fulfilling (i.e. it adds to our well-being), then it becomes meaningless or even corrosive.

The focus them shifts to the negative consequences of consumption, i.e. how the rituals of consumption are eroding / disrupting our well-being.

Rituals are satisfying because the performance of the ritual is itself the source of our satisfaction. Belief or enjoyment isn't necessary; completion of the ritual is its own reward.

But once we pull away from the rituals, the emptiness of the performance becomes clear and we start asking, what am I getting out of this for the expense and effort?

http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2020/09/goodbye-to-all-that-are-our-rituals-of.html

I think that over the years, people have gradually shifted towards consumption as the be-all-end-all of life rather than as a natural outcome of life.

Think of it this way—having children naturally means you have to buy and consume products, not just things like diapers or soap, but also things like nice glassware for the inevitable Christmas celebrations or maybe a vacation when the kids are old enough to appreciate it and have fun. Nowadays for a lot of people, much of the consumption for these kinds of luxuries has become divorced from natural causes and is now little more than economic m*****bation. Your enjoyment is transferred from the natural cause, which for many no longer exists, and is placed solely on the act/ritual from which you get no pleasure other than the momentary rush.

You don’t have the pleasure of having your friends and family drinking out of those nice wine glasses with you during a celebration, its just childless you and your childless wife or girlfriend getting drunk. You’re not having the bonding experience of extended time away from work surrounded with your wife and children, you’re just racking up snapshots of you (and probably only you) standing in front of some landmark that will have no other purpose than to be posted on Facebook.

The most disgusting example of prosperity as ritual is Black Friday. For those readers who aren’t American, Black Friday is the day after our holiday Thanksgiving and is generally considered the start of the Christmas shopping season, during which millions of people flock to retailers to spend much of the preceeding year’s wages—and often a big chunk of next year’s wages via the good old credit card—on cheap crap from China. Its the Black Mass of Capitalism where people sacrifice their savings and earnings so they can BUYBUYBUY and enjoy the rush of beating the other guy to the register (and sometimes actually beating him in the process), then they get to repeat it all again next year when that cheap crap made by a Chinese slave has fallen apart. You’re not gaining anything lasting from this, its all just ephemeral. You’re not taking a leisurely stroll through a couple small stores owned by your neighbors and chatting with other people, you’re rampaging through a megamart so you can get a discount vegetable steamer.

Thinking about it, consumerism seems to be a big cause of the spiritual and emotional malaise that such a big part of society finds itself in. Meaning has been divorced from ritual. Whereas there was once meaning behind the ritual—in this case real family needs or honest generosity as the cause of the ritual of consuming—now all we have left is the ritual itself.

With the ritual now empty, we become empty because as humans we use ritual to explain meaning and cement it in our lives. Holy Communion is much more than the bare ritual of standing in line to consume a wafer, it is also an expression of solidarity with God, family, and society. There is meaning in it, and one that is vital to our well-being. Without that meaning it becomes useless.

I think the coronavirus lockdowns will have a long-lasting effect on Western society. The loss of employment will be one since the loss of prosperity (ideally) negates the ritual of prosperity, but I think another will be the rediscovery of meaning in life. Since a major chunk of the population has been deprived of the ritual I think those people—maybe not all but I’m sure a lot—will have some time, in the absence of other activities, to reflect on the meaning that originally led to those rituals, and hopefully will recognize that when you have ritual divorced from meaning you really have nothing.
 

Hermetic Seal

Kingfisher
Gold Member
I like how you correctly identified traveling and Instagramming scenic shots as consumerism. It really is. Millennials like to pretend they're so much better than their dumb parents who splurge on a boat or whatever, but it's really just the same thing, but worse - with the added smugness of thinking they're superior for not consuming physical stuff. Social media is psychological consumerism.

I'm definitely not free from consumeristic impulses by any stretch, but I hope that as a husband and father I'm spending it on things that are ultimately more productive for my family and not just myself.
 

Radoste

Sparrow
Millennials like to pretend they're so much better than their dumb parents who splurge on a boat or whatever, but it's really just the same thing, but worse - with the added smugness of thinking they're superior for not consuming physical stuff. Social media is psychological consumerism.
I would say the Millenial cohort is better characterized by experential consumerism. Yes, Millenials base their consumptive habits on more than the gross material aspect of whatever it is, but they certainly don't eschew materiality by any means, they just sublimate it by attaching socio-cultural context and a narrative to it. They don't want to buy the meat from the local farm just because the meat is of greater quality, no. They want to buy it because it comes from a small family with a website and blog about how the farmers left their jobs in the city to fulfill their dream of owning a farm. By purchasing a pound of meat from these people, they inject themselves into this narrative.

Having been infantilized and deprived of any generational power, the Millenial perambulates the post-modern marketscape looking for a chance to purchase agency, meaning, and moral superiority. They do not want to be a sold a simple physical object, they want to be sold an object imbued with the psycho-spiritual significance of a tale, so that they may drape their purchases around their small souls and signal themselves as aristocrats of consumption.

The Boomer is satisfied to buy a thing because of what it is, but Millenials need to know how it was made, where it came from, who made it, and what the person who made it believes.
 

Dr. Howard

Peacock
Gold Member
I would say the Millenial cohort is better characterized by experential consumerism. Yes, Millenials base their consumptive habits on more than the gross material aspect of whatever it is, but they certainly don't eschew materiality by any means, they just sublimate it by attaching socio-cultural context and a narrative to it. They don't want to buy the meat from the local farm just because the meat is of greater quality, no. They want to buy it because it comes from a small family with a website and blog about how the farmers left their jobs in the city to fulfill their dream of owning a farm. By purchasing a pound of meat from these people, they inject themselves into this narrative.

Having been infantilized and deprived of any generational power, the Millenial perambulates the post-modern marketscape looking for a chance to purchase agency, meaning, and moral superiority. They do not want to be a sold a simple physical object, they want to be sold an object imbued with the psycho-spiritual significance of a tale, so that they may drape their purchases around their small souls and signal themselves as aristocrats of consumption.

The Boomer is satisfied to buy a thing because of what it is, but Millenials need to know how it was made, where it came from, who made it, and what the person who made it believes.
Well said. An 'aristocrat of consumption' wants to feel like they are smarter than the plebians for buying what they are buying. The purchase gives them self importance.
 
The Boomer is satisfied to buy a thing because of what it is, but Millenials need to know how it was made, where it came from, who made it, and what the person who made it believes.
I think this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Globohomo Inc. is definitely one of the main drivers of societal atomization via mass consumption, and I think the Boomers had a hand in this atomization by not caring at all about who makes their products and where they are made. This kind of attitude probably led--at least in part--to the situation we now find ourselves in where much of our products are made by Chinese slaves and 14 year old girls in third world sweatshops, instead of the local factory where your brother works.

I agree that Millenials have gone overboard by trying to purchase meaning, but I think it is an understandable pushback in the other extreme direction, i.e. extreme homogenization vs extreme localism. To the extent that I can I prefer to buy products from local companies because the people who run those companies are my neighbors and I want to support them. Solidarity has gotten a bad reputation from its long-standing association with socialist/communist ideology, but it really does seem like a necessary condition for a healthy functioning society.
 

fokker

Pelican
Millenials need to know how it was made, where it came from, who made it, and what the person who made it believes.
I think that's the same mentality behind "let's cancel so-and-so celebrity because he or she typed "nigger" on twitter 10 years ago".
 

Radoste

Sparrow
I think this may not necessarily be a bad thing.
It wasn't my intention to imply that the Boomer mode of consumption is better. If there was a single thing I could change about Boomers, it would be their mindless consumerism.
Clearly, there is evidence of a kind of consumer evolution when you contrast the barbaric materialist consumerism of the Boomers with the puritanical transcendent consumerism of the Millenials. Indeed, it is a proliferation of consumer consciousness—but nonetheless a reaction to Boomerism. Likely we will see a correction towards the median as long as the megacorps don't quash local business in perpetuity. Traditional localism accented with online shopping is probably the ideal.

I think that's the same mentality behind "let's cancel so-and-so celebrity because he or she typed "nigger" on twitter 10 years ago".
I'm not sure how confined the practice is to Millenials, but the it seems to hinge on having a person's history readily available and refusing to believe that people can change, or perhaps an unwillingness to forgive (even if the "crimes" are only perceived as such). The more information available about you, the larger your burden is, and the more people can find wrong about your past. There has to be a psychological impact as a result of this.
There's an obsession with narrative at play in both cases, I suppose, but with more petty vindictiveness and shallow sentiments because the people involved have been fed a steady stream of distorted, delusional takes on the world through fiction, news, and the education system.
 

Hermetic Seal

Kingfisher
Gold Member
The Boomer is satisfied to buy a thing because of what it is, but Millenials need to know how it was made, where it came from, who made it, and what the person who made it believes.
Yeah, to be honest, this is very much true of my clothing hobby. I hate giving money to Globohomo Levi's when I can buy stuff that's made by small companies in Japan or the US and made from better materials and (hopefully) ethical manufacturing, and I'm perfectly fine with paying more for it. But I don't try to pretend it's not just another type of consumerism or that I'm morally superior to people who don't want to pay more than $40 for their pants.

The one saving grace is that this isn't like strutting around in a Saint Laurent Paris rhinestone-studded leather jacket. Only other nerds could identify this stuff, there's nothing flashy or conspicuous status symbol-y about it.
 
It wasn't my intention to imply that the Boomer mode of consumption is better. If there was a single thing I could change about Boomers, it would be their mindless consumerism.
Of course.

puritanical transcendent consumerism of the Millenials. Indeed, it is a proliferation of consumer consciousness—but nonetheless a reaction to Boomerism.
That's a good way of putting in. Thinking about it, the Millenial--at least the younger ones--have been fed in high school and college a steady diet left-wing cultural and economic righteousness, so it would make sense why they would be endlessly fixated on this kind of thing.

It makes sense for corporations to advertise righteousness as well (i.e. Gillette) as it attempts to delude the woke consumer into thinking a particular product is morally and not just qualitatively superior. Thinking further into it, this looks like at least one possible explanation for the phenomenon of Millenials taking on consumer products as elements of their identity, like the comic book fanboy. All that type of Millenial has is woke meaning due to leftist schools and a lack of religion, so by purchasing woke products from woke companies he completes the ritual self-display of wokeness.
 
I think some shoppers go home with as much pride in their bag of goodies as a successful hunter from long ago did when they brought home meat so the family could live another week. I think that the urge to purchase is enough to drive one to throw things away for no reason, and to take little or no interest in repairing old things..

The neighborhoods I have lived in have all been middle class, and I am amazed at what people throw out in the alley. Three pieces of furniture in my home were cast offs from neighbors--a coffee table that needed minor refinishing, and a cabinet and side table that just needed some paint. Found a working TV and DVD player about a month ago. A good caulking gun that just needed cleaning. A nice Dyson vacuum cleaner that just needed to be cleaned to run like new--still use it. A leaf blower that works just fine. Coils of copper tubing the scrap man would buy. Some stuff I keep, other stuff I clean up and drop off at a charity. In the past I rescued from an in-law who was cleaning house a Technics turntable from being thrown away, as well as the set of flatware that my family still uses today. That is hundreds and hundreds of dollars of stuff that people threw out.

In the past few years I have repaired the microwave (25 cents in parts), the clothes washer ($100 in parts), the DVD player ($0), the clothes dryer ($15 in parts), and the dishwasher ($40 in parts). All for a fraction of what they would cost to replace. Our washer and dryer are 19 years old and still working--for a family of five. The shoes I wear I had resoled last month for less than half the cost of a new pair. The stove in the house is 37 years old. The car I drive is 17 years old and runs fine--averages 32 MPG. Lawn mower is 9 years old. Weed eater is older than that.

Not trying to brag about being handy or frugal, rather the point is that a lot of what gets thrown out does not need to be thrown out, and while years ago there was enough demand to keep repairmen in business, something has changed. There used to be TV repairmen, VCR repairmen, people who fixed small appliances, etc. People seem to prefer going and buying something new. People can not stand the thought of going without cheap stuff made in China, when they could save money with higher quality stuff that would last several times longer. It seems it is not the having that is the issue, but the purchasing experience.

In WWII the slogan on the home front was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Now it is "Throw it out, buy it cheap from an evil company, made in an evil country , and charge it on the usury card...but be sure and recycle the box it came in."
 

andy dufresne

Woodpecker
In the past few years I have repaired the microwave (25 cents in parts), the clothes washer ($100 in parts), the DVD player ($0), the clothes dryer ($15 in parts), and the dishwasher ($40 in parts). All for a fraction of what they would cost to replace. Our washer and dryer are 19 years old and still working--for a family of five. The shoes I wear I had resoled last month for less than half the cost of a new pair. The stove in the house is 37 years old. The car I drive is 17 years old and runs fine--averages 32 MPG. Lawn mower is 9 years old. Weed eater is older than that.

In WWII the slogan on the home front was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Now it is "Throw it out, buy it cheap from an evil company, made in an evil country , and charge it on the usury card...but be sure and recycle the box it came in."
Those skills will come in handy in the next few years. The minute the real hammer drops with China we're gonna need every repair skill in the world to fix the crap we've all become dependent on.
 

asdf

Sparrow
All relevant points but also consider people did not necessarily choose consumerism. Consumerism is something that modern people are born into and have to actively deny so in that sense i dont see lesser of anyone who participates in it as it is the status quo of the time.

It really is an absolute tragedy what people live for now as opposed to past generations ideals.
 

MKE-Ed

Robin
I think some shoppers go home with as much pride in their bag of goodies as a successful hunter from long ago did when they brought home meat so the family could live another week. I think that the urge to purchase is enough to drive one to throw things away for no reason, and to take little or no interest in repairing old things..

The neighborhoods I have lived in have all been middle class, and I am amazed at what people throw out in the alley. Three pieces of furniture in my home were cast offs from neighbors--a coffee table that needed minor refinishing, and a cabinet and side table that just needed some paint. Found a working TV and DVD player about a month ago. A good caulking gun that just needed cleaning. A nice Dyson vacuum cleaner that just needed to be cleaned to run like new--still use it. A leaf blower that works just fine. Coils of copper tubing the scrap man would buy. Some stuff I keep, other stuff I clean up and drop off at a charity. In the past I rescued from an in-law who was cleaning house a Technics turntable from being thrown away, as well as the set of flatware that my family still uses today. That is hundreds and hundreds of dollars of stuff that people threw out.

In the past few years I have repaired the microwave (25 cents in parts), the clothes washer ($100 in parts), the DVD player ($0), the clothes dryer ($15 in parts), and the dishwasher ($40 in parts). All for a fraction of what they would cost to replace. Our washer and dryer are 19 years old and still working--for a family of five. The shoes I wear I had resoled last month for less than half the cost of a new pair. The stove in the house is 37 years old. The car I drive is 17 years old and runs fine--averages 32 MPG. Lawn mower is 9 years old. Weed eater is older than that.

Not trying to brag about being handy or frugal, rather the point is that a lot of what gets thrown out does not need to be thrown out, and while years ago there was enough demand to keep repairmen in business, something has changed. There used to be TV repairmen, VCR repairmen, people who fixed small appliances, etc. People seem to prefer going and buying something new. People can not stand the thought of going without cheap stuff made in China, when they could save money with higher quality stuff that would last several times longer. It seems it is not the having that is the issue, but the purchasing experience.

In WWII the slogan on the home front was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Now it is "Throw it out, buy it cheap from an evil company, made in an evil country , and charge it on the usury card...but be sure and recycle the box it came in."
There was a time when people would actually take their small appliances and TVs to a local shop to get repaired. I can remember when I was a kid growing up in Chicago in the late 1970s actually seeing TV repair shops in my area where they had guys actually fixing TVs from brands like Zenith and RCA and a few others. Back then, TVs were simple to fix and this was common to do along with repairing washers and dryers.

Today’s TVs are essentially throw away items when they break down. I hate to admit this, but I sometimes actually miss the variety of electronics that existed back then.
 
Bobby's Perspective is a great YouTube channel, I think I first discovered him here on RVF. He is an ex bodybuilder/drug user who turned to Orthodox Christianity after having a particularly intense experience using hallucinogenic mushrooms; most of his videos consist of reactions to veganism, which he has called in past videos "the philosophy of devils."

The one thing you notice about veganism is that it is expensive. To be a proper vegan, you have to be a good obedient consumer and spend all your income on disgusting concoctions like Just Egg or Beyond Meat and on tons of supplements and vitamins. You also need a good high-quality blender because easily 50% of your diet consists of glorified baby food.

The vegans have their rituals, no doubt. Everything that the vegan eats is blended or blasted in the food processor, they congratulate themselves on not killing the gentle cow or the timid chicken or the dirty pig. They talk about the vegan lifestyle and transitioning away from meat. They dutifully buy the latest product that will allow them to avoid anything animal related.

They try to attach some kind of meaning to this lifestyle; ultimately it is an attempted moral exercise, but in the end it is all fake. It is virtuous behavior that is all for show--they are broadcasting their supposedly superior morality via self-abnegation by eschewing all animal-based foods for all time, but without the religious base of fasting and asceticism.

When Catholics and Orthodox give up meat and rich food for Lent, we have a specific meaning behind that ritual. When vegans give up all animal foods, it is not typically because of some deeply-held religious belief but out of a preening sense of superiority with a heavy dose of consumerism: "I'm so rich that I can afford these expensive morally-superior foods unlike you low-down dirty Christians!" Their meaning comes from the fact that they have the cash to engage in consumerism, instead of the community and emotion that comes from shared meals and shared religious sacrifice.

A daughter traditionally would inherit recipes from her mother and grandmother, and by passing that down to the next generations sustain traditions that have real meaning. Now, with the assistance of Globohomo Inc. we can look forward to simply combining different jars of slop. We might find that depressing, but the CEO of Beyond Meat has little dollar signs in his eyes like a cartoon character and is ecstatic at the prospect of higher share prices.

Bobby's commentary is golden as usual. The first video here explicitly shows off the huge quantities of money you need to spend on expensive kitchen gadgets just to make this garbage edible. Its really just a long ad. The second is ostensibly about making inexpensive vegan food, but if you've ever actually looked at the price tag at the supermarket you'd know that in the end a diet laden with dairy and eggs will cost you a fraction of the manufactured goop needed to sustain veganism.




 
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