Citizen Action Monitor

Fear of social shame drives our relentless pursuit of stuff, threatens promise of a life of true prosperity

The language of goods has failed us, leaving no escape from this social trap in pursuit of a life without shame.

No 2088 Posted by fw, November 2, 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 concluding paragraph to Section 2, Chapter 7, titled “The paradox of materialism”, Jackson puzzled over this paradox, asking: Why do rich societies continue to pursue material growth when confronted with irrefutable evidence that “the negative aspects of modern society [are] attributable to the pursuit of growth itself?

In this synopsis, Section 3, “A life without shame”, Jackson cites Amartya Sen’s argument that for social (and psychological) functioning and flourishing at the individual level, it makes perfect sense for people to want to avoid feeling ashamed in public settings. To lead a life without shame means being able to visit and entertain one’s friends, keeping track of current fashions, topics of conversation, latest iPhones, automobiles, and so forth.

However, this mechanism for social functioning and flourishing in the consumer society is inherently flawed. At the societal level, contends Jackson, the relentless, competitive pursuit of material possessions as a means to escape social shaming will ultimately lead to a fragmentation of one’s social identity within a community.

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

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A life without shame, a synopsis, from Chapter 7, “Flourishing — Within Limits” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

In his concluding paragraph to Section 2, Chapter 7, which Jackson titled “The paradox of materialism”, he puzzled over this paradox, asking: Why do rich societies continue to pursue material growth when confronted with irrefutable evidence that “the negative aspects of modern society [are] attributable to the pursuit of growth itself?

Jackson cites Amartya Sen’s argument that for social (and psychological) functioning and flourishing at the individual level, it makes perfect sense for people to want to avoid feeling ashamed in public settings. To lead a life without shame means being able to visit and entertain one’s friends, keeping track of current fashions, topics of conversation, latest iPhone, automobiles, and so forth.

However, Jackson points out, “If we take for granted the indispensability of material commodities for social functioning, we would have to accept that there is never any point at which we will be able to claim that enough is enough.

Thus, this mechanism for social functioning and flourishing in the consumer society is inherently flawed. At the societal level, contends Jackson, the relentless, competitive pursuit of material possessions as a means to escape social shaming will ultimately lead to a fragmentation of one’s social identity within a community.

Jackson concludes Section 3:

It looks suspiciously like the language of goods just isn’t doing its job properly. All that’s left is an undignified scrap to try and ensure that we’re somewhere near the top of the pile. Most worrying of all is that there is no escape from this social trap … While social progress depends on the self-reinforcing cycle of novelty and anxiety, the problem can only get worse. Material throughput will inevitably grow. And the prospects for flourishing within ecological limits evaporate. Prosperity itself – in any meaningful sense of the word – is under threat. Not just from the financial crisis. Nor even from the continuing economic fragilities. But from the relentless surge of materialism, and from the economic model that perpetuates it.

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