The scourge of consumerism

The Scourge of Consumerism

Sir David Attenborough is probably the best known environmentalist in the world. He is 94 years old and recently made his debut on Instagram and promptly entered the Guinness Book of World Records with the fastest time to reach 1 million followers. It took this legendary broadcaster and naturalist only 4 hours and 44 minutes to surpass Jennifer Ariston’s previously held record. Since making his debut on Instagram on September 24th this year, his followers have more than quadrupled to nearly 5 million. Sir Attenborough also holds several other Guinness World Records including one for the most in demand TV documentary for his 2006 masterpiece titled Planet Earth. Recently I watched his interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show where he warned that this is the last chance for humans to change their behaviour and save the planet. When asked, what would be his one most important advice to the world, he said, “Stop wastage of any kind”.

Really? Is wastage the most important reason for our environmental catastrophe? It would not appear to be so on the surface but if one were to think about it deeply, I think it is true. It is our insatiable desire and craving for “more” that takes its toll on our planet. The wealthy nations which have been blessed with abundance are the main culprits of waste and environmental pollution. They have a systemic obsession for materialism which has become a part of their social fabric. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is an oft used idiom which accurately reflects this phenomenon of hyper consumerism.

The consumer society emerged with the dawn of the industrial revolution in Europe in the 18thcentury. The industrial revolution brought new found wealth and created a growing middle class who embraced the erstwhile unknown concepts of luxury and buying for the sake of buying rather than for necessity. Though he was a prominent figure during this period which is also known as the Age of Enlightenment, the French philosopher Denis Diderot lived his entire life in relative poverty. In 1765 his life took a turn. When Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia heard that this intellectual could not afford the dowry for his daughter’s marriage, she offered to buy his library from him for a princely sum of £1000 GBP. Suddenly Diderot had money to spare and that is when everything went wrong. The phenomenon known as the “Diderot effect” was first described in Diderot’s essay “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown”. In the essay Diderot describes how with his newfound wealth also came a beautiful new scarlet robe. Diderot was very pleased with his new possession but soon realized that the rest of his possessions seemed very much inferior compared to his new robe and felt the urge to buy new things to match the beauty of his new robe.  He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus; his old chair was thrown out and an arm chair covered in expensive Moroccan leather took its place; his old desk was replaced by an expensive new writing table. His lust for more expensive things led to his financial ruin. He rued his predicament by writing, “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown but became a slave to my new one… Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances but the rich man is always under a strain”.

Consumerism really took its hold on the western society at the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of mass production. Rapid manufacturing expansion led to a manifold increase in industrial output that was much more than the hitherto demand of the consumer. To overcome the problem of oversupply, the capitalist system created strategies to manipulate consumer demand through clever advertising. In America today an average person is exposed to more than 650 advertisements daily. The objective is to create a compulsive desire to spend. Campaigns like “Have a Coke and a Smile” border on malpractice. There can be nothing to smile about if you are consuming a bottle full of fizzy sugary drink which is hazardous to your health. Burberry, an icon of the fashion industry has admitted to manipulating people into buying their products by increasing prices to give a false impression of superior quality. Credit card companies also joined the bandwagon to lure unsuspecting consumers to live beyond their financial means. In my opinion, this grotesque exploitation of society forms the basis of consumerism that has eventually culminated into another Ponzi scheme. In the process of this mass exploitation, we have created a culture of unimaginable waste which is now threatening the very existence of our planet.

Let’s face it. We all fall victim to the lure of consumerism. We have all experienced the Diderot effect at some time in our life when we felt that perhaps we should not have indulged in a particular luxury. So why can we not change our way of life and our thinking? Why can we not extricate ourselves from this culture of wanton waste? Life should be about experiences not worldly possessions. It is not about affordability; it is about responsibility. Let go of wanting things. Buy what you need not necessarily what you want. If you buy a new dress, why not give away an old dress to a needy person? Keep your possessions to a bare minimum. Look around your house. I am sure that most of us will find things that we have not used for a long time. This means that we don’t really need those things. Why not give those away? Unclutter your life. Live a simpler life with lesser possessions and bigger values.

In Diderot’s words, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedom; opulence has its obstacles.”

Comments (21)
  • You’re right Sir, we have indulged too much in
    consumerism and lost and forgotten to live a plain life.

    • Thanks for addressing these problems . Someone had to. All these chaos have been created only from one thing and that is from ‘ I want more’. Wanting more has led us here. We need to keep our insatiable desires in check. Wanting less will force big companies to produce less and hence the world will not be flooded with unwanted or short time usage things.

      • Dear Sir, I’m not going to buy a new motorcycle at thismoment. Now, I realise, it’s not my necessity, rather I wanted it. Thank you for bringing the Diderot’s effect in front of me. Allah bless you.

  • This is a great article, truly admire your writing!! Keep up the good work!

  • Well narrated article,go ahead with more like this one,best wishes.

    • In the name of innovation we made a lot of stuff for consumption. We allowed China to copy anything from any where in the world and supply back with any price. In the US FDA kept some check on quality. At personal level we now have too many hobbies and everything has to match from head to toe with luxury. My son has become minimalist after his days of luxury and now one T-Shirt and a trouser and show or sandle is good enough. His value system changed when he found out its fake and distance himself from his friend. He wants to be normal person. Nice article.

  • Excellent article as .Makes one wonder how we have become slaves in this materialistic world and are constantly competing for recognition by any means.

  • Thank you sir for sharing your ideas and all of these information!

  • Indeed, consumerism is at the roots of today’s monumental global pollution from waste that is choking the land and water resources of the world, including the oceans. The hunger for more and more of everything is a common disease with most people in the so-called “developed” economies; unfortunately, the developing countries are also following the same or similar model of development. This dangerous trend must be properly addressed and stopped before it is too late. According to some estimate, we will need five Planet Earths to accommodate the people of today’s world if all of them lived like those in today’s “developed” countries.

  • Understanding and balancing between wants and needs is important in life. One who can do it, likely to be more happy and more aspirant of the society.

  • Thank you

  • You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you need.

  • You are a good writer with exceptional writing skill. You have brilliant mind with in-depth knowledge of the world no doubt about it. I do admire your skill, but all are hypocrisy. your life is full of exploitation. Exploiting the innocent land owner, taking advantage of their vulnerability, finding a loophole of the real-estate law of the country… you are a successful real-estate much for your fowl cry…

    • I beg to differ with the views expressed here given my excellent experiences with BTI. As a landowner, we had decided to go ahead with BTI as we found them to be very competitive, customer centric and highly professionally managed. They have delivered more than they have promised us and handed over the project well before the deadline. Our experiences with them from start to finish though the entire process were phenomenal. I’d highly recommend them for strong professional expertise and integrity!!

  • Dear Mr. Abul Faruque,
    We strongly object to your comments. With nearly 4 decades of operation bti stands for integrity, trustworthiness and reliability. This is backed by the trust of our hundreds of landowners and thousands of customers & .

    Mr. Arshi Haider is passionate to provide viable housing solution to all segments of our society and he has contributed enormously in developing the real estate sector of Bangladesh. Being the founding member of REHAB he has a strong contribution to organize and to give a structured platform for the real estate industry of the country. To many, he is the institute for delivering excellence, integrity and reliability.

  • As a proud bti family member I have been working here for more than six years. We have more than six thousand satisfied customers and landowners and it is our big achievement. NO COMPANY can achieve such a good number of satisfied customers by exploiting landowners/ customers. I stand totally averse to the comments of Mr ABUL FARUQUE and strongly protest him.

    We have a culture in bti of maintaining honesty and integrity personally as well as professionally. Arshi Haider Sir is our mentor, under his visionary leadership bti stands unique in this industry.

  • Mr. Abul Faruque,
    Being a land owner previously of BTI Ltd, we fully disagree with your comments. We had no complaints what so ever, as a land owner at Bashundhara R/A, Dhaka-1229, about the quality of construction work of BTI Ltd. Importantly, BTI Ltd handed over the completed building in 2012 about 2 months earlier than handing over date as per deed of agreement. All financial dealings with us were well documented, fair and crystal clear. We would like to judge BTI Ltd as one of the best (Top) developers in Bangladesh.

  • Dear Mr. ABUL FARUQUE:
    I was in absolute awe to read your unfair criticism of bti. I have been fortunate to know bti first hand since 2009. I have had our land developed by bti and along the way, during all this time, I never found any foul play by bti, whatsoever! I mean, what is your INTENTION?! Your feedback is utterly sloppy, because you have failed to point out or back up your position by one single real life example! I don’t know if you have a personal angle to this, but I’m sure one ill-received piece of feedback or comment won’t completely derail bti’s legacy!

    Md. Imtiaz Karim
    The Jubilation

  • Article is well written. Having spent all my working years ( over 42 years ) at sea, my knowledge about the subject is not sufficient to comment. But as regards Bti as developer/builder, I have all the praises for them. My plot of land was developed very nicely as per agreement and within the agreed time. I fact, handing over of the premises was done about two months before the contracted time, fully completed, even though two of Bti’s apartments remained unsold. We had no complaints to make during and after the completion of the building. I wish Bti well and success in the coming years.

  • I could not but to say something about the comments of Mr. Abul Farque. As a long serving employee of bti, his comments made me very hurt and annoyed. I am one of the long serving employee (more than 20 years) and playing role Head of Customer Service in bti. One of the main reasons to serve in bti in longer period of time is that honesty and integrity of bti and Arshi Haider sir. I did never see, bti or Arshi Haider sir took any policy which is unfair for the customers or landowners. He made bti topmost customer centric organization in Bangladesh. He does not think only improvement of bti but also think for betterment of entire real estate sector in Bangladesh. He is always in favor of customers and Landowner’s legitimate right. He added many clauses in standard Deed of Agreement for Rehab members which are favorable for Purchasers.

  • The author sheds light on a critical if difficult issue of our time and clarifies the crucial distinction between need and want. Indeed, consumerism leads to waste and is ultimately destructive for our lives and our planet. But it is also true that consumerism and waste are an integral part of modern capitalism and it will be a tough struggle to reduce consumerism. I hope we see more such thought-provoking, well-argued writing from Mr. Haider.

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