Like Halloween before it, I’ve been rolling my eyes watching Australian retailers and e-commerce stores push another American cultural phenomena on to unsuspecting and distracted Aussie consumers– Black Friday. Surely importing a sales tradition sharing the same name as one of Australia’s deadliest fires (killed 71 people) from a country that ranks second in global greenhouse gas emissions (and pulling out of the Paris Agreement) isn’t exactly the wisest thing to do? In this hyperconnected and globalised world, we are no longer protected from capitalism’s diseases by our nation’s borders and physical distance.
Now some sustainable businesses understandably want to ‘compete’ in this sales vortex and have become ultra creative about their participation in Black Friday. Some conscious businesses in the UK have even started calling it Fair Friday. Some are touting this entire period Green Weekend. All this mental and ‘creative’ energy and we haven’t even got to Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday yet. Or Christmas and Boxing Day for that matter.
This is the modern world we now live in, where businesses using advertising and marketing tactics encourage us to buy things we didn’t even know we wanted. It’s common now to buy our identities, buy our values, buy our way to happiness and for some, even try to buy their way into politics. This is truly the world that neoliberalism built.
Now while I firmly believe that (most) individuals have agency –the ability to make independent decisions and make their own free choices– there is no doubt that this sense of agency is constrained and influenced by social norms, systems and structures; such as Black Friday et al advertising and promotions. What does this race to the price bottom mean for the planet, the people in the supply chain and our societies? What does it mean for business owners and companies? Who exactly pockets the profits and who pays the true cost?
These are questions individuals should aim to explore and answer, particularly those who identify as ‘conscious’. Unfortunately, in the sales frenzy, we know this is unlikely to happen. The psychology of discount sales is complex and individuals experience a raft of emotions; from feeling good about ‘saving’ money and perceiving the discounted item more valuable as a result, right through to the irrational fear of missing out which encourages impulse shopping.
So we hope this list of 32 quotes on consumerism and materialism helps to offset all the sales propaganda (Black Friday, Green Weekend and Cyber Monday emails, social media posts and ads, ‘25% off for Black Friday’, ‘Black Friday sale now on – up to 40% off!’) and encourages you to be conscious and mindful in these times of hyper-materialism.
Now as I made mention in our post about sustainability quotes, to the untrained mind, some of these quotes may seem unrelated to the topic at hand, but when you view the broader picture you will begin to see the quote’s relevance.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the quotes!
— Jen, Editor-in-Chief xx
1. “…too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” — Former US President Jimmy Carter, “Malaise Speech” also known as “Crisis of Confidence” speech delivered 15 July 1979
2. “Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers.” — Seth Godin, writing on his blog
3. “Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” — Unknown
4. “It is even more foolish to buy an unnecessary thing on credit.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana
5. “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” — Noam Chomsky
6. “The typical person saw over 5,000 advertisements yesterday telling them to buy something new. Here’s one with the opposite message: Buy Less.” — Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist
7. “Consumerism is not bad, but reckless and mindless consumerism is not just bad, but downright injurious to the health of not just the individual, but of the entire society.” — Abhijit Naskar
8. “The people I know who are rebelling meaningfully, you know, don’t buy a lot of stuff and don’t get their view of the world from television and are willing to spend four, five hours researching an election rather than going by commercials.” –– David Foster Wallace, David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations
9. “Competition for status is built into the human experience at the biological level. Poor people compete with resources. The middle class competes with selection. The wealthy compete with possessions. You sold out long ago in one way or another. The specifics of who you sell to and how much you make—those are only details.” — David McRaney in his book ‘You Are Not So Smart‘
10. “The debt burden of private households is enormous. But I would not hold the individual responsible. This consumerism is based on the fact that we are a society dominated by business interests. There is massive propaganda for everyone to consume. Consumption is good for profits and consumption is good for the political establishment.” — Noam Chomsky in an interview with Spiegel Online
11. “I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” — Emile Gauvreau
12. “What if we started by slowing down and not consuming so much stuff, just because it’s there and cheap and available. It’s amazing how that process makes sense financially, it makes sense ethically, it makes sense environmentally.” — Andrew Morgan, filmmaker and director of ‘The True Cost’, The Guardian 2015
13. “Black Friday, in reality, is a symptom of the plight that 30 years of Reaganomics has brought to working people in America. Right along with the frenzied rise of shoppers willing to fight each other at retail outlets across America, we’ve been steadily, for the last 30 years, watching the destruction of organized labor … of decent pay and wages and conditions for working people. … We have Black Friday today because the wealthy elite have strangled their workers for 32 years, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election.” — Thom Hartmann
14. “We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent — people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save.” — Erich Fromm in his book To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche
15. “Some people see Black Friday as a much-needed break for their wallet. I see it as retail outlets showing the customers the full weight of their contempt. The frenzy to buy cheap crap from China, the human downgrade of people fighting with each other over items they can probably live without, to me, is an insult.” — Henry Rollins
16. “Black Friday is a media trap, an orchestrated mass hallucination based on herd dynamics and the media cycle.” –– Seth Godin
17. “Whenever we buy something we do not need, we waste not only money but also time.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana
18. “This market way of life promotes addictions to stimulation and obsessions with comfort and convenience.” — Cornel West in his book ‘Race Matters‘
19. “As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.” — Emma Watson
20. “We have been told a story that casts us in the role of consumers, people who merely take in products that were made far away. The reality is that as human beings we make choices, and the choices we make around what we wear are having profound implications for our planet as well as for some of our most vulnerable fellow human beings.” — Andrew Morgan, filmmaker and director of ‘The True Cost’ from Safia Minney’s book ‘Slow Fashion: aesthetic meets ethics‘
21. “What keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work. The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more and keep buying and consuming.” — Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
22. “In our consumer culture, we always want the next best thing: the latest, the newest, the youngest. Failing that, we at least want more: more intensity, more variety, more stimulation. We seek instant gratification and are increasingly intolerant of any frustration. Nowhere are we encouraged to be satisfied with what we have, to think, “This is good. This is enough.”
— Esther Perel in her book ‘Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic‘
23. “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” — Vivienne Westwood, The Guardian Live Interview 2014
24. “This is the typical fallacy on which all of CONSUMER AMERICA is based. Some piece of useless crap will make people like you.” — Blake Nelson in his book ‘Destroy All Cars‘
25. “Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle. In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these attitudes cause. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.” —Pope John Paul II
26. “The conversation of most middle-class Americans, we are told, revolves around consumption: what to buy, what was just bought, where to eat, the price of the neighbor’s house, what’s on sale this week, our clothes or someone else’s, the best car on the market this year, where to spend a vacation. Apparently we can’t stop eating, shopping, or consuming. Success is measured not in terms of love, wisdom, and maturity but by the size of one’s pile of possessions.” –– Brennan Manning
27. “You know when you look in the mirror and you think, ‘Oh, I’m so fat, I’m so old, I’m so ugly.’ Don’t you know, that’s not your authentic self? But that is billions upon billions of dollars of advertising, magazines, movies, billboards, all geared to make you feel [awful] about yourself so that you will take your hard-earned money and spend it at the mall on some turn-around cream that doesn’t turn around [anything].” –– Margaret Cho
28. “That happiness is to be attained through limitless material acquisition is denied by every religion and philosophy known to mankind, but is preached incessantly by every American television set.” –– Robert Neelly Bellah
29. “Overconsumption is the mother of all environmental problems. For the first time in the history of capitalism, consumption itself has become controversial.” –– Kalle Lasn
30. “If you’ve ever taken an economics course you know that markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices. I don’t have to tell you, that’s not what’s done. If advertisers lived by market principles then some enterprise, say, General Motors, would put on a brief announcement of their products and their properties, along with comments by Consumer Reports magazine so you could make a judgment about it.
That’s not what an ad for a car is—an ad for a car is a football hero, an actress, the car doing some crazy thing like going up a mountain or something. If you’ve ever turned on your television set, you know that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to try to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices—that’s what advertising is.”
— Noam Chomsky in his book ‘Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power’
31. “Whenever I have the chance, I talk about our inner values. We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind.” –– His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks on the culture of compassion, delivered on September 9, 2013
32. “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” –– Fight Club, the movie
33. “Consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods. This dissatisfaction is what produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new.” –– William T. Cavanaugh
34. “Advertising tries to stimulate our sensuous desires, converting luxuries into necessities, but it only intensifies man’s inner misery. The business world is bent on creating hungers which its wares never satisfy, and thus it adds to the frustrations and broken minds of our times. ” –– Fulton J. Sheen
35. “The folly of endless consumerism sends us on a wild goose-chase for happiness through materialism.” –– Bryant H. McGill
- Give Black Friday The Middle Finger with These 11 Anti-Consumerism Songs
- How to Challenge Neoliberalism’s Mantra of Consumerism and Infinite Growth to Save the Planet
- 14 Eco Tips to Help You Escape Excessive Consumerism this Christmas
- 4 Must-See Short Online Films on The Topic of Fast Fashion
- What Fashion Bloggers Can Teach You About Consumerism
- Modern-Day Parenting: Stop Blaming Instagram, It Isn’t the Problem
Feature image via Pexels.