Consumer habits debilitate conscious efforts

Two customers leave Target with 50 flat screen TVs in their shopping carts on Thanksgiving during a Black Friday sale in 2016. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Two customers leave Target with 50″ flat screen TVs in their shopping carts on Thanksgiving during a Black Friday sale in 2016. 

Jack McClellan, Academics Editor

We approach the holiday season and, with it, the United State’s most widely celebrated holiday, Christmas. Over the past several decades, the Christian holiday’s spiritual connotations have been completely overshadowed in popular culture by a man in a red suit who’s said to dispense presents to all the good boys and girls across the world.

Spiritually hollow and economically viable, the absurd amount of marketing dollars centered around the holiday is indicative of a cultural bankruptcy that leaves many flailing for meaning as they purchase moments of happiness.

While Linus thoroughly nails down the true meaning of Christmas in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the $2.5 billion spent on holiday season advertising in 2019 tells a different story.

Long ago, American businesses realized the impact of advertising beyond the value of simply educating consumers on the benefits of products. After all, companies don’t need to continually remind consumers of the existence of their brand or product. They only need the consumer’s internal concept of their product to hold more weight than that of their competitors.

There lies the despicable nature of modern consumerism.

Rather than play any honest game encouraging healthy consumer habits, businesses work very hard to infest consumers’ conscious space and impact their buying habits without them ever perceiving it.

We can hardly claim to be the pilots of our own biological vessels. Instead, I see people and their decision-making process as more of a domino effect of genetic predisposition, past experiences and willpower.

​​We have conscious powers of observation and willpower, but that is only made up of less conscious desires and impulses. To say we have control over ourselves is to claim ownership of the things that make us up as individuals, which we have little control over. 

The argument becomes about willpower and the individuals’ struggle to maintain control over the forces within them. While the responsibility should rest on the individuals’ control over themselves, businesses actively spend money to empower the internal forces, which often lead us astray. 

This isn’t limited to advertisements urging people to buy products and invest in the trappings of wealth. It’s present across most forms of media, promoting lifestyles that are seldom attainable or beneficial to consumers, not to mention the negative impact they have on the climate.

On top of the promotion of such negative consuming habits, the streamlining of the flow of information (social media/internet) has proved corrosive to people’s attention spans and, with it, their ability to exert their own will on their own lives.

Henry David Thoreau’s book, “Walden,” presents a sensible alternative to the rampant consumerism much of the nation is afflicted with. 

He is correct when saying the man who does not eat need not work. I’m not saying every person should retire to the woods, build a cabin and live off potatoes, but there is something to be said about the excess people tend to live in.

What I’m trying to say is we are steered as much by unconscious/unintentional forces within ourselves as we are by our decisions, not to mention the circumstances that surround us in the outside world. Businesses and corporations that thrive off consumerism only add fuel to the fire by shoving their enticing products in our collective faces.

Our consumeristic habits only fuel the monetary mechanisms that perpetuate a cycle of environmental and individual destruction. Not only are we eating ourselves to death, but we’re drowning everything else in toxic materials.

What’s worse is this is our culture. Where throughout history, great civilizations have accomplished wonders and developed meaningful traditions, modern humans have only enormous amounts of garbage and cheap, mass-produced gimmicks to show for their vast intellect.

Thoreau had an interesting idea back in the 17th century. While “Walden” represents an extreme execution of minimalistic living, I think everyone could stand to live slightly closer to how he did.