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The culture of consumerism


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— File Photo
— File Photo

OUR lives today are totally different from the lives of our elders a few decades ago. Their lives were mostly connected to and dependent on nature.

Senior citizens often recall their past days of simplicity when society was not driven by materialism and selfishness. They were unaware of problems of today’s life like loadshedding, gas shortage, CNG crisis etc. They were free to move about at night without having to fear street crime and mafias. In short, they were more content with their lives.

With the dawn of modernisation and urbanisation the old living patterns have been broken. Modernisation has many positive elements, but it has some negative aspects also. These have spread across many societies with adverse and serious consequences on the social, health and economic aspects of life.

Among the negative aspects of modernisation is consumerism, which means buying beyond one’s needs. People buy things not keeping in view their genuine needs but on impulse, just to satiate their desires. Many well-off people flaunt their riches by indulging in consumerism. They frequently change their home furniture, appliances, jewellery and cars without taking into consideration the necessity of doing so.

They hang out in eateries and consume sumptuous meals on a regular basis. Food is a basic human necessity but devouring lavish food on a regular basis is an extravagance. Weddings can last for days with much fanfare. Slick TV commercials also bewitch many people by promoting a luxurious, ostentatious style of living.

As a corollary, people indulge in the rat race of accumulating more money, even through illegal means. Some also allow themselves to get caught in the vicious cycle of borrowing money on high rates of interest. All this makes life more perplexing.

No doubt money is a must for living a quality life, but it should not become an overarching force. An opulent lifestyle based on extensive consumerism bodes ill for any society. Therefore, serious efforts are required to simplify lifestyles.

Islam does not favour excessive materialism or extravagance. In this respect the Holy Quran describes various attributes for believers such as: “And those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes) (25:67).”

People are endowed with intellect therefore they are masters of their lives. They are free to lead life as they wish but Islam gives some value-laden directions to have contentment and happiness. Islam does not like those who amass wealth and indulge in ostentation. For example the Quran says “…But the mercy of your Lord is better than the (wealth) which they amass (43:32)”.

In the national context, it is on record that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his speech at Ziarat in 1948, lamented the spending habits of the subcontinent’s Muslims. He said: “We Musalmans in general and young men in particular do not know the value of money. A paisa saved today is two paisa tomorrow, four paisa after that and so on and so forth. Because of our addiction to living beyond means and borrowing money, we lost our sovereignty over this subcontinent.”

Consumerism also risks human health. It generates continuous mental agony and destroys peace of mind. It compels people to remain engaged in an unceasing struggle to make money. This artificial lifestyle leads towards a conflicting situation within families resulting in the loss of happiness, love and affinity.

Health and peace of mind should take precedence over the things money can buy. One must remember that hard-earned money can change people’s lives in a positive manner but ill-gotten money plays havoc with society. Unbridled pelf destroys the social fabric of society and damages the moral integrity of people. It makes people self-centred and callous to others’ needs, thereby increasing the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

We live in a world consumed with consumption but people are beginning to realise that pleasure through shopping is a losing proposition. There is more to life than the latest expensive gadgets, fancy clothes and luxury cars. Buying on impulse should be avoided.

It is a matter of reflection for everyone to see what constitutes our genuine needs and how to have a good grip on finances. Sometimes, people are affected by others’ lavish ways of living, which they try to imitate.

We are living in an era of economic crisis. This requires us to be more cautious on an individual level to control the cost of living.

A glamorous lifestyle may be a recipe for bankruptcy. The present world population has crossed seven billion people and is growing. Hence, one of the major problems the world is likely to face is the management of resources and controlling the over-consumption of resources.

Feeding the growing population would be a marathon task for future governments. Therefore, wasting food makes no sense economically, environmentally and ethically. Similarly, the aging population is also growing. People live longer but their working life is not increasing. They want financial security during their retirement years.

Ideally everyone should try to save as much as they can. This would benefit people in their retirement days.

The writer is an educationist.

Comments (13) Closed

Abdalian May 03, 2013 05:55am
An important topic and very well written. Thanks Mr. Valliani. The following sums up the western philosophy of consumerism. Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate -Victor Lebow - American Economist - (1955) There are people in the west who challenge consumerism. A good example is Annie Leonard. She has created short movies that brilliantly explain the effects of over-consumption. Link is below
iqbal carrim May 03, 2013 05:03pm
The choice is between low thinking,ostentatious living and high thinking and sobre living.
Shahban May 04, 2013 10:24pm
In our Pakistan most of the public funds we need to spend on welfare of the societies and its improvements but we let off on lavish meetings, plannings and unnecessarily arrangements in result, our all funds go off on that and on ground no any development take place. This way our NGO or INGO funds which we have to spend on development so we spend 80% on such arrangements in costly restaurants! No way, this way we can help to develop the country.
Asif Sid May 03, 2013 02:51pm
I agree with Umesh completely....
punevision May 04, 2013 11:48am
Consumerism allows money to flow to the less fortunates. If rich people quit eating at restaurants, what will the blue collar staff at the restaurant will do for living??? Instead of giving away money as charity to financially weaker section, isn't it better to give them employment? The world is full of all kinds of people. Some people are going to live below their means and some are going to live beyond their financial status. Everybody is going to have different view of whats extravagant and whats not. I am sure a few million people in Pakistan would consider buying laptop and paying for internet is useless expenditure but that has not stopped our author from owning it. Loadshedding must have been less a few decades ago but then electricity was a luxury those days. Do you think that having equal right to electricity is not fair? With increased use, electricity will become scarce and there will be loadshedding. If you want loadshedding to go away, you will have to bring number of electricity consumers back to 1960 level. Do you really want that? Saving money is good for the national economy as the banks where you saved that money will lend it out to businesses. I do not know how good it is for the individuals...unless buying real estate and gold or keeping it in your mattress is your idea of saving. All the best and I hope Dawn ropes in people with basic understanding of economics to write such articles.
amer May 03, 2013 07:20am
When there is no adequent health care, rapid corruption, loss of hope, false promises, crime, lack of security, and no freedom of movement, then, the only thing people have is trying to pass time through spending money on unnessecary things to absolve their minds from daily anguish.
TamzaK May 04, 2013 03:21am
It seems to me that the author has a limited understanding of economics. There is a basic concept of the circulation of money; if that is suppressed the economy (and with that people's ability to feed themselves etc) will collapse. Generally one person's 'consumption' (or waste, if you wish) is another person's livelihood. When the author talks about the "Senior citizens often recall their past days of simplicity when society was not driven by materialism and selfishness. They were unaware of problems of today
aaa May 03, 2013 01:59pm
I feel consumerism will create more problems than we are aware of. A generation ago even if one had good economy one did not go for luxury it was more saving, buying property or paying off mortgage. Next priority used to help your relatives. People lived in reality and mostly in pakistan live in reality now as well but its going more in the other direction every passing day. I often wonder what happens when the younger generation turns into parents. Will they still be thinking more of clothes, dining out, buying the newest mobile. Wouldnt saving for children giving them time be painful.
Umesh Gupta May 03, 2013 03:45am
Sometimes I fail to understand why are we against consumerism. Do we realize that all humans in this world should earn to survive. To earn, there has to be work and for work there has to be need and without consumer need is not possible and sometimes needs have to be created and marketers do exactly same thing. Let us understand God has not created this world for Saints alone. India has USD 10 billion marriage industry. How much it must be adding to GDP. How many people must be employed in this industry starting from caterer to beautician, servers, jewelers, hoteliers etc etc. Therefore, let us not confuse wastage with consumerism.
Ali May 03, 2013 04:16am
Very well written and pointed out very true reasons of todays unrest.
Chaman May 03, 2013 12:27pm
Anything taken to extremes is bad and consumerism by itself is no exception but if practiced sensibly it can be very productive. Without consumption, there can be no demand, without demand, the economy can not grow. Most of the middle class people while improving qualities of their lives, do save for children's education, homes and old age survival. Poor merely survive and the wealthy have no qualms about spending with lavishness. The social scenarios will change and evolve as the economies expand, centers o f employment shift geographically and young ones will move away from their families and traditional ways of life. Humans have and never will stay same for ever. As conditions change, we have no choice by the dictates of nature to change our thinking and adapt as we go along. For every generation, the next generation presents challenges and these days of rapid change more dramatic ones. For the current generation, it is sensible to foresee the current of changes and adjust our expectations accordingly. Past is always glorified and sweet but the future promising and challenging. Future has to be better than present otherwise there will be no progress. Of course, the perceptions vary from culture to culture as to how it must be shaped. There are plenty of examples to observe and follow in the world where the gains of consumerism have improved the lives sharply. We simply can not be dead set against change. It is a reality of live and must be accepted and respected.
Sahil May 04, 2013 05:33pm
As long as consumerism is within the means, it is not a problem. If you get addicted to consumerism and try to live beyond your means, you get in trouble.
K G Surendran May 04, 2013 08:19am
Consumerism per se is not bad for any economy, it is a growth engine, it is excessive consumerism which is self defeating and that unfortunately is a by product of the western world.