Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The disease of consumerism

A recent book argues that consumerism is making us ill.

"The citizens of selfish capitalist countries are twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness as the citizens of countries in mainland western Europe, which practise 'unselfish capitalism'," argues Clinical psychologist Oliver James in his book The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza.

He says that while the average English-speaking person's real wage has broadly remained the same since the 1970s, he or she is now constantly bombarded with messages to buy, buy, buy.

"The media, advertising, reality TV shows and so on, they give people unrealistic aspirations that they simply cannot meet with their wages and living standards. As a result, people get sucked into competitiveness and workaholism.

"We end up tirelessly striving for material wealth and valuing it over family and friendships. This really heaps pressure on people, damaging their health."

According to a BBC article, "Simon Wessely, professor of epidemiological and liaison psychiatry at King's College, London, believes that cultural factors, not capitalism itself, have created a situation where more people define themselves as mentally ill."

"It is true that rates of self-reported symptoms are on the rise," says Wessely, but that has to be seen in a context where "more human experiences" are seen as illnesses nowadays.

"In my trade, for example, states of sadness are now seen as 'depression', shyness has become 'social phobia', and all sorts of variations in childhood temperament, personality, emotions and behaviour have become characterised as diseases that need treatment, be it Asperger's autism or ADHD."

Daniel Ben-Ami, author of Cowardly Capitalism: The Myth of the Global Financial Casino says that "Today it's widely assumed that the solution to inequality is restraining growth and consumption, in order to protect people from ill-health. In the past, tackling inequality would have meant calling for more growth and increased consumption for the mass of society."

The BBC article says that "some experts believe 10% of Britons, and possibly 20% of British women, are manic, compulsive shoppers whose condition can lead to family break-ups, depression and in some instances suicide." When you think that the average British person is £8,000 in debt, discounting mortgages we ought to be concerned.

Another book, Affluenza: The all-consuming epidemic by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H Naylor takes a similar view. It defines Affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." It is destroying individuals, families and communities with waste, massive debt, constant dissatisfaction and work obsession. The buy, buy, buy messages stir up the want, want, want desires in all of our hearts.

We get nowhere until we realise that Affluenza is a sin, the sin of covetousness, and it shows what all sin is, a destructive disease that aims at maximum destruction.
"The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give." Proverbs 30:15. None of us think that we are covetous or the victims of consumerism but if we searched our life, hearts and habits honestly - our time and our thoughts we would know otherwise.
We need to be seeking our treasure in heaven and to be rich towards God in faith.