Citizen Action Monitor

”Consumer culture perpetuates itself precisely because it succeeds so well at failure!”

The sheer novelty of new things carries a symbolic meaning that excites us, promises to fulfill the dreams and desires inspired by our consumer culture.

No 2082 Posted by fw, October 23, 2017

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin of the Home page. 

In his closing paragraph to Section 3, Chapter 6, titled Structures of capitalism, ecological economist Tim Jackson provided this bridge to today’s Section 4, Social logic:

The continual production of novelty would be of little value to firms if there were no market for the consumption of novelty in households. Recognizing the existence, and understanding the nature, of this demand is essential.”

In his very short Section 4, Jackson explores the nature of our seemingly “insatiable” demand for novelty in consumer-driven capitalist societies.  The equally short synopsis follows below.

Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.

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Social logic, a synopsis, from Chapter 6, “The ‘Iron Cage’ of Consumerism” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

There is no denying that material goods are essential for our physiological flourishing – health, life expectancy, vitality. But in terms of our social and psychological flourishing, they also serve as an essential “language of goods” that facilitate communication about who we are, our social status, our feelings, our hopes and dreams, and more.

Pronounced attachment to material possessions can reach a point where we think of them as part of who we are, our “extended self” — my home, my car, my bicycle, my favourite scarf, my lucky bracelet, my Apple iPhone, my teddy bear – they’re all a part of me.

“Our attachments to material things can sometimes be so strong,” writes Jackson, “that we even feel a sense of bereavement and loss when they are taken from us. … Without them, we are truly lost.

Extreme forms of attachment to things can have a therapeutic effect when life is going badly. “Retail therapy works for a reason,” writes Jackson, quoting marketing guru Ernest Dichter in The Science of Desire.

It appears citizens of a capitalist society are seduced by the novelty of the latest ___________ (fill in the blank) —

“It offers variety and excitement; it allows us to dream and hope. It helps us explore our dreams and aspirations for the ideal life and escape the sometimes harsh reality of our lives.”

What could Jackson possibly mean by the following astute insight? –

”Consumer culture perpetuates itself precisely because it succeeds so well at failure!”

To explain: Precisely because the sheer novelty of new things carries a symbolic meaning that excites us, promises to fulfill the dreams and desires inspired by our consumer culture, promises to make us more attractive, and more whatever (the list of shallow promises is endless) – they inevitably fail to fulfill our dreams, our desires. They fail. Well, they fail until the next time we are seduced by novelty. We are already hooked. Hooked and primed to try the next novelty fix that comes along – and rest assured, they will come along, because …

“Our desire for material goods appears so insatiable.” And that, declares Jackson, is why novelty matters to us.

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