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Consumption society is this new form of civilization born in the XXth C which nolonger bases its economy on the production of necessary goods but on that of the superfluous. It is said to be a progress.
 From the necessary to the superfluous
From the beginning, man as indeed all living beings, has been concerned by four essential things in his life :
- ensure some sort of transcendance to his existence to feel at one with himself and nature. This has disappeared in our consumption society,
- provide for his subsistence (looking for or producing food),
- the perpetuation of the species (bear on new generations and protect himself from predators and enemies),
- provide for his well being.
The various civilizations that have existed in the history of man have all predominantly centered their organization on these nodal priorities, whatever the circumstances.
This has of course had consequences, sometimes positive ones, sometimes awfully tragic ones. Among the several kinds of progress, we can consider that the birth of agriculture has been the real starting point of what we call civilization. Among the disastrous evolutions, wars and warcraft are the worst examples.
Man has lived through periods of war and prosperity, discovering new means and techniques to improve his daly way of life. Suffice it to recall our history lessons and we remember the most ancient civilizations date back to 15 000 years, with Homo sapiens arriving 200 000 years ago. Obviously, mankind has lived through the ages without cars, electricity, without the Internet, type writers or sewing machines...
No doubt their life used to be harder than it is in our modern western societies , but plenty of people still know this primeval way of life, in the Amazonian forest for instance.
So the effects of the XXth C continuing and being dramatically amplified in the XXIst C represent a radical change in the history of humanity. It's true though that man has always had an inclination for the superfluous, through art or rich garments that prove the value and refinement of a civilization, the importance it gives to transcendance, a longing to feel at one with the universe. This eagerness for transcendance has been a motor and man's aim in life.
The upheaval brought about by the XXth C and that had already started with the XIXth C industrial revolution has implied a total reversal of values : the superfluous was becoming more and more unavoidable while transcendance was losing its importance.
 Time dedicated to meals
In all civilizations, meals have always been a friendly moment of reunion and social cohesion. This becomes obvious when we realize how all civilizations have developed codes, rites and rules when it comes to having and sharing meals. Religions too have used such moments as times for sacred rites with sacrifices and taboos, sacred or forbidden foods, lents or libations... This shows the importance of eating as a particular moment, thus family meals are an occasion for the various generations to meet.
Consumption society has utterly destroyed all this ! Our modern society has given us a new vision, a new way of life that suits our modern structures better : the large family house has been replaced by the small flats available in council housing buildings where ther's simply no room for such reunions. What's more, consumption society means we're incited to consume more and more, a single salary can't do so women get to work and no one is left to indulge time in cooking a real meal.
Consuption society has brought an answer of its own, with variants such as takeaways, ready-cooked dishes (appertiezd or frozen), home-delivered pizzas and of course slow food (mainly pizzas and burgers).
Thus the XXth C is marked by a new relation between man and food : a meal becomes a waste of time, especially lunch which must be quickly done and eaten. Eating is no longer a pleasure or a friendly moment but a mere necessity that can be compared to filling the tank. The moments when we still take time to eat are those when food becomes an excuse and is not at the heart of the matter, as with business meals.
Our working time has evolved too with only a short time for lunch. Eating so quickly is not without any consequence on our health : ulcers, digestion troubles, extra weight, not to mention the bad quality of industrial food.
To put it in a nutshell, our modern consumption society has led men and women to work more and enjoy less leisure time, most of it being spent to buy services such as industrial food in order to spare time cooking while, come to think of it, the sytem is pure nonsense.
 From consumption to waste
Along the XXth C, consumption has become much less of a necessity (buying and eating) but rather a way of life, a behaviour and a culture. The all-important consumption creed has taken on with people because it has become a cultural trait. Flyers and printed ads have hugely contributed to this fact, the radio, then television have been and still are the main instruments for propaganda to lure people into adhering to this civilization of waste.
This does not means we must turn our back on progress ! Thanks to the industrial revolution, we can make affordable household appliances that really bring comfort to our lives and ease our daily chores, eg vaccum cleaners, smoothing irons, washing machines. As Martin Luther King, Jr. would have it : "All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."
 The US raised as a model for Europeans
Though it already existed in the XXth C., it's only since 1945, after WWII, that consumption society really developed. It spread throughout Europe owing to the positive image the victorious Americans that had freed us left. At that time no one is aware of the looming horrors : Northern America appears as a leading model of progress. Unfortunately, some people still think so today and believe in the upcoming "miracle".
True it is that they invented this model of a consumption society in all its most mercantile and worst aspect ; thus, eg, the supermarket in 1930, we can also mention the beginning of massproduction with Ford In Britain it won't come about before the late 50's.
The customer was but too happy to buy at a lower price, as this was the original aim of supermarkets. The snag is buying cheaper creates an urge to buy more, and eventually to waste away things, (even if wasting was not the norm in the 30's). In fact, it's not so much that the consumer wastes but that the system drives people to waste.
At first this was of course an opportunity for abuse : manufacturing appliances of very poor quality purposefully. Consumer foundations were created and disreputable manufacturers or shopkeepers were sued so that governments started passing laws to impose warrants. Today, retailers must guarantee the item they sell conforms with its intended use. The 2005 General Product safety regulations protects consumers against latent defects. Sometimes sellers will propose complementary commercial guarantees, which is a means to make more profit but they cannot in any way affect the consumer's rights.
So today, we find ourselves in a tricky and stupid situation with redondant warrants while the law provides a free guarantee ; and anyway, no guarantee goes beyond 5 years ; so if your appliance is not out of order before this time, you simply add to the company's profits! Modern appliances are more and more reliable, customer services are less and less needed and we get more and more service contracts.
 Waste and waste and waste
We've just seen how we're lured into buying short-lived items by our waste society, but there's more to it : that's not enough in this horrid system that's become a vicious circle, there's never enough to meet the needs of productivity ; a new form of perversion of the system came about in the 70's : if producing the useful is not enough, then produce the superfluous!
Business people soon realized how easy it was to make consumers craze for a trendy product and have learnt to bombard slogans to entice people to feel they nedd their fashion gizmos. The media have of course played a great part in this marketing, plenty of programmes dedicated to a rampant consumerism : homeshopping channels, TV game shows, all these tend to give the idea that consuming is key to happiness.
Ironically, the most trivial gadgets are often the most expensive. Fashion victims blindly go for the newest craves and spend carelessly. This need to do like everybody, to be in style and lose one's free will and common sense sounds almost like pathological mass hysteria.
That's like a drug : the offer generates the demand and vice versa, as if there were a tacit complicity between the dealer and the consumer.
Modern man has become addicted : to TV, DVDs, GSM mobile phones, sophisticated electronic gizmos, de GPS, TV recorders, photoscopes or digital cameras, computers. And a full market to feed the system and continue to propose innovative techniques and create a feeling of frustration.
It's all a pure rage with manufacturers creating new items and consumers who are obsessed by the newest trends : launching one new item every 6 months for the formers and keeping up-to-date for the latters...
 From waste to pollution
A golden rule we must always bear in mind :
This our consumption-waste society keeps producing huge amounts of wastes. In the western industrialized countries, the annual average amount of garbage per head is about half a tonne. True, some of these are organic but less than 40% are really recycled.
These wastes are not only what we dump at home but appliances and items that can't be easily disposed of : PCs, TV sets, bed bases and the like...
We all know those breaker's yards, rusted metal parts that could be recycled. And there are plenty of such yards for various types of bulky garbage, some of which containing polluting substances. No real policy exists to tackle this growing issue, no proper statistics, only esmates but they seem to represent about 100 millions of tonnes.
Saddly, the fact is we intentionnally produce short-lived items that are meant to be disposable or quickly thrown away, the quicker, the better for manufacturers and sellers.
In the past, things were meant to last, the craftman's son would inherit his father's tools. The houses and the furniture were made of sustainable and long lasting raw materials and were passed on from to the next generation. Today, everything is disposable or temporary, as if we were only to rent things for a while.
 From pollution to ecological action
How can we escape from this vivious circle ? Several solutions are available, and may be complementary.
The system our consumption society relies on implies earning a living to be able to spend and consume endlessly ; even death is a business.
Voluntary simplicity, or simple living means we get back hold or our lives instead of letting ourselves be washed away by the system. It's a real personal reflexion that can be shared with our kins to try and make out what our needs are exactly and to list our prorities.
Here are basic daily questions :
- What do I really need to live ?
- What do I really need to be happy ?
- What does happiness mean to me ?
- Why should I always feel frustrated ?
By annihilating the emotional we used to have with objects, this society has perverted our notion of the true nature of things. We must totally rethink our lives and our environment starting from our basic needs. It's the only means to realize how enslaved we have become to gizmos that litterally haunt our thoughts.
Modern man has become a conditioned victim who now sees these preoccupations as normal. Yet, psychology proves the devastating effects of this way of livuing : anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, depression, fatigue, cancers, cardiovascular pathologies... All these sufferings are largely due to our modern way of eating (fast food, surimi, chemical additives, junk food, snacking...).
Voluntary simplicity obviously means we will consume less things we don't reasonably need. We can easily do without such or such a buzz gadget.
When everyone around us thrills and makes a fuss about buying an "new trendy" item, we can simply ignore them and pause to wonder :
- Do I really need it ?
What if others buy it ? Do I feel frustrated and looked down upon ? What do I care ? I lead the life that suits me and won't be conditioned and behave like a simpleton. I'm quite happy not to let myself be fooled into emptying my pockets to fill theirs!
 Degrowth/Ungrowth : consuming less, consuming better products, consuming with appropriateness
Voluntary simplicity is the first step towards degrowth : you only consume what you need. The good things is : when you consume less, you save money and you can start fancying investing on useful improvements. For example, instead of buying conventional chemical fruits and vegetables, opt for organic vegies, maybe a little dearer, but environment-friendly. Organic agriculture bans pesticides and chemicals to use natural techniques.
Careful not to be cheated : do not choose biofuel as an alternative as they're made from oil, ie from oils and fats produced intensively. They're even worse for the environment. Their production implies monoculture and using land to produce edibles that will never feed anyone.
Eat less meat and animal products as breeding is a polluting activity. Even if you're not a veg, though this is the best solution for our health as well as for the environment, a drastic decrease of consumption will make a huge difference : less pollution, less wastes and less suffering.
Boycot advertized items. Always remember that when a brand advertizes for a product, you'll bear the cost it adds. Publicity, marketing or designing are expensive, looking for new outlets, paying their shares to stockholders, intermediaries' profits all add to the cost compared to that of the product itself.
Another good environment-friendly gesture is to boycot brands, especially big ones, to help degrowth. A branded item is always more expensive than a similar one with no brand. It's not necessarily true that an expensive item is of better quality than a similar but cheaper one, only if the difference is significant can there be a sign of liability. As for the common items we use daily, don't believe dishonest mottos that say a soap or a toothpaste will wash your shirt or your teeth whiter than white.
Most of the time, the products are made in the same factories but sold under different brand names. Let's opt for green biodegradable artisanal ones whenever possible!
 One keyword : do it yourself !
Opting for organic food is fine, craft and local trade are just as fine. But we can do even better : do it yourself, take hold of your life.
More often than not we buy things unaware that, with a little imagination, we could make our own tools, starting either from raw materials or from used salvage items.
Needing a chair ? Just make it ! People will throw away chairs everyday, maybe a foot is broken or the seat worn out , there's a probability you can make a new one from two old ones.
DIY is a way of life : man has always learnt from experience and transmitted his know how to improve his skills. The industrial revolution has abruptly brought a halt to individual inventiveness and our consumption-waste society tries to attract us, playing on our laziness : why indeed should we bother to make something when we can get it ready-made ?
This is the heart of the matter ; it is a way of life and a social choice. DIY is freedom, if you lack skills, you can learn, this will enrich your life and you'll feel more free and more independant.
 A society of the trivial
Let's try and make a brief list of trivial useless things we have got accustomed to :
- overpackaging (biscuits wrapped seperately within a box that is itself overwrapped)
- mobile phones (not to mention the cost and health hazards)
- GPS (a gadget that simply tells you where you are)
- electronic watches (the batteries being more expensive than the watch itself)
- Television (used to be enjoyable leisure and culture but has become a tool for promotion and publicity)
- electronic consoles to exercise or for supposedly sport activities.
 See also
- ↑ Waste by opposition to save, that is misuse, not garbage, though this point will be breached below
- ↑ : History of the supermarket
- ↑ Ford and Taylorism
- ↑ General Product safety regulations
- ↑ Uk statistics
- ↑ Not or poorly controlled wastes, spreadsheet