hen I first sat down to think about the rise of the consumer in modern life, I thought I would bewriting how bad consumerism was for us as a planet, but the more I looked at myself, the more Irealised how much I was affected by it, and indeed, how much easier it had made my life. So justin case you think I’m going to spend this whole dialogue complaining that consumerism is a terrible evil,don’t worry, I’m not.
In fact, as I walked through an “upmarket” shopping complex yesterday, I have to say that it was actuallya nice experience. It was warm, well lit, with shiny floors, and soft music. There were many different shops,selling everything from jewellery to jeans; from dvd’s to televisions. All available to take away right thereand then. And as I sat down to drink my fair-trade soy latte, I looked around me, and thought to myself:“Even if you think ‘consumerism’ is bad you have to hand it to the human race. In a short time we havemanaged to create so much from nothing.”Thanks to our inventiveness, there is such a thing as a television, waterproof clothing, even food pre- packed and ready to eat. We have invented so many things, and at the same time made them available to themasses. Granted you need money to buy these things, but nonetheless, they are readily available. There may be a cost to all of this, but let us explore that in another topic. For now, let us just celebrate humanachievement.Before the industrial revolution, little more than 200 years ago, all of this would be unthinkable. Theability to go to nice looking shops, and buy everything you could possibly want, would have beenimpossible. Even the rich wouldn’t have been able to do it. Not because they didn’t have enough money, but because there were no means to make these products.Since the start of the industrial revolution, we have gradually been able to make more and more types of products, all invented by humans to make our lives better and easier. Some of the products have made our lives so much easier, such as the washing machine, which saves having to stand over a basin for hoursscrubbing clothes; so before we condemn the purchase of consumer products, let’s take a balanced view of this for a moment, and think what the consumer revolution has done for us.Think of the products you buy for personal hygiene, like shower gel, nail clippers, shampoo, soap, andtampons; and what about kitchenware products such as a cheese grater, or hand blender, pots, and pans? Notforgetting cleaning cloths, antibacterial sprays, washing powder, floor mops, and vacuum cleaners; and haveyou all forgotten the flushing toilet? That’s a consumer product too, you know! Beds, duvets, sleeping bags,tents, carpets, rugs, vases, tables, chairs, shoes... These are all consumer products, whether you like it or not.Even the “hippie,” who wants to live in nature, still has clothes, something to cook on, like a gas stove, pots, pans, knives, and forks; and sleeps in a man-made tent – all consumer products, made in factories, for the benefit of everyone else.**Let’s say you decided to go back to nature; that you decided to give up the life of the consumer; that youmade your own clothes out of wool you spun yourself; that you lived in a forest, and made your own shelter (and tools to make the shelter, if you please); that you grew all your own food, dug your own toilet, foundyour own water, and washed your clothes in a stream... Would you be happier? Would you feel free like theanimals and the birds, or would it just be a fairly miserable experience? If you lived in a warm tropicalcountry it may be quite nice, but you would definitely not enjoy it in a winter in russia!So for anyone considering a “back to nature” lifestyle, make sure you enjoy working. Hard. Every day. No holidays abroad, no restaurant meals, no going to the cinema, or appreciating the arts; just working tolive. Full stop. That is the life most people in the developing world experience, and I can assure you thatmost of them would swap their lives for ours. So before you think about living in nature, think about whatyou couldn’t be without. I am not talking about satellite television, bars, and computer games; I am talkingabout clean drinking water, after all, water is a consumer product, in the same way fridges (which stop foodfrom rotting), and work surfaces (which are easy to clean thereby stopping the spread of bacteria), areconsumer products – all products that make life better and more sanitary, thereby stopping the spread of disease.So consumerism is not just about flat screen tv’s, burgers, cola drinks, and fashion clothing; it’s about buying products and services which actively benefit the human race.
Today, I write this topic on a consumer laptop, wear consumer shoes, socks, boxer shorts, and t-shirt, sit in a