This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Consumerism

Through the confusion of quantity with quality, the production and consumption of economic goods comes to be seen as an end in itself. This leads to consumerism, a mentality in which it is assumed that “economic growth,” by whatever means and without respect to the quality or kind of goods being produced, and without concern for the kind of appeals being made to the public, is always beneficial. Although this is rooted in a healthy desire to improve man’s worldly situation, it quickly transforms into something else:

A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities…It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being’, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.[1]

Pope Francis has emphasized this point time and time again,[2] with particular focus on what he calls the “throw away culture.”[3]

[1] CA, 36.

[2] LS, 34, 50, 184, 203, 209, 210, 215, 219, 232.

[3] LS, 16, 22, 43; EG, 53.

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