Capitalism at its finest. It only works if there are consumers and more goods to be consumed. It is true that throughout time every civilization has accumulated objects, however that is what shows up in the archeological record. The record is biased. The individuals without objects don’t leave a mark. It’s like today. It appears thaat we are so obsessed with material objects, because that is what people see. No one sees the people who live off meager means because they aren’t as visible.
Material possessions are at the core of people’s perception of status. The more cars you have, the bigger your house tv, etc. the higher your standing in the community. Societies always tend to value wealth and power, and for our society, material possessions are a huge symbol of this. Many get caught up in the rat race to always have more, to be more, and find, at the end, they are unfulfilled. Material possessions are superficial indicators of success, but they can’t guarantee happiness.
I think it’s because we have a strata of jobs that are soul-destroying. We are unable to find fulfillment in our work, and a quick fix is retail therapy.
I agree with the last poster. I think consumerism has been a historical constant – the significant difference now is the scale upon which we are able to consume. Before the industrial revolution (and even for sometime afterwards), production of good was time prohibitive- it previously took weeks or months to produce goods than can now be done in days or even hours, and on a much (much) larger scale. And it isn’t just America. In terms of US dollars, the number one consumer of luxury goods is currently Japan, with China slated to surpass it in the next five years.
But I agree to some extent with the original premise. I think that it stems from the cultural identity of the United States. We’ve all heard the maxim “Keeping up with the Jones” (some of us remember living by it), and in a capitalist society, consumption is a normative good (or necessity, depending on to whom you’re talking). Great question though!
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