Consumerism makes liars out of us all. We may not realize it or want it to, but it does. We may say we aren’t defined by our stuff until said stuff is unexpectedly taken away or downsized. We may say that we want to spend our money on experiences instead of stuff, while weaving yet another web of debt that will sooner or later overwhelm our lives even as we are untangling the last web. Why do we lie to ourselves so we can present an illusion to the rest of the world? Is it so that we don’t have to face the truth – that by placing more value on our stuff than on ourselves we are being shallow and self-destructive?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-consumerism. However, I am against consuming beyond a reasonable bottom line. The stark reality is that if you don’t have an emergency fund and/or savings, if you have to borrow to repair your car, etc., then YOU CAN’T AFFORD YOUR LIFESTYLE!! Often times, the biggest offenders are those people who appear to have it all together – the perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect hair – by all outward appearances, the perfect American family. Well hidden from public view are the financial fights, and the health issues caused by the stress of keeping the illusion alive.
This illusion is complicated when our self worth is entangled in it. The need to keep it is so strong that some people are willing to go to unethical and illegal means to keep it going. Worse yet, are the harsh punishments we put on ourselves for being unable to perpetuate the illusion. Over the past few years, news of people who are killing themselves and sometimes even their families because they lost their job or social standing in their community, has become commonplace. So much so that media outlets were told to stop running the stories because it was actually creating more of the same. So what is it that makes us behave in such irrational ways?
My answer is FEAR! We are afraid of not being good enough. We are afraid of not fitting in. We are afraid of not being worthy of love. We are afraid of what society deems failure. It is a scientific fact that when humans are in a state of fear, we are incapable of rational thought. Advertisers employ psychologists and sociologists to manipulate us by using our humanity (emotional and biological responses) against us. Look for the fear in the seemingly innocuous ad – really pay attention. And it’s all around us – in our televisions, on the web, billboards along side the road. The normalcy bias doesn’t allow us to see these not so subtle tactics of brainwashing because it bombards us from the moment of birth until the day we die. We are all affected whether we realize it or want to believe it. And then we all participate in reinforcing this unhealthy system through peer pressure.
So why does the public put up with it? Because we don’t know what it is we don’t know. This information isn’t considered common knowledge. Most likely, unless we go into advertising or are lucky enough to attend a liberal arts college (approx 2%), we aren’t privy to this information. So keep that in mind when some of us are forced into bankruptcy due to overspending, that it isn’t entirely our fault. And, while financial literacy classes are a must and should be taught in every school, unless we change our emotional relationship with money, that knowledge is useless.
We lie to ourselves and to each other about money because we are unaware of the dichotomy created through the manipulation of our humanity. We lie because we are afraid we are bad for giving in to the peer pressure. As long as we continue to fear the repercussions of not participating in consumerism to its fullest extent, we will continue to spend ourselves into oblivion. And so the illusion and all it’s unhealthy consequences continue.
Note: I could have inserted links to varies academic studies, books, etc., but I purposefully chose not to because I didn’t want my readers to assume what I was stating was true simply because I cited a source, and didn’t bother to check them. My hope is that you will start doing research yourselves. You may be surprised at what you will find.