In the recent Catholic Times, a priest college sociology professor looks at our consumer society and leaves us with something to think about.
Today's markets are constantly stimulating consumption. Department store shelves, TVs, the Internet, home shopping present us with a vast amount of products. In this kind of society consumption is a 'virtue', consequently, we need to reflect deeply on the fundamental values and practical meaning of consumption.
In the present society, for some time the consumption of luxury goods is often an effort to show off one's dominance by owning imported expensive items that are not available to the average person. The scholar, Veblen, pointed out that this 'conspicuous consumption' is a part of the conspicuous luxury culture of the leisure classes. The writer has heard that some women's social gatherings are difficult to attend without carrying luxury bags. He also has read articles that some companies rent luxury bags for one day at a high cost. It's sad to see how hungry some people are to get attention with their external possession and how empty they must be inside.
On the other hand, we tend to follow fashion, even if it's not expensive. In the middle of winter, he was surprised at the uniformity of our culture when an entire class wears a certain brand of clothing rather than school uniforms. Georg Simmel says following of fashion results from relief that comes with being part of a group. When I wear different clothes alone, I don't have the inner strength and self-control to handle the “uncomfortable gaze” that comes from the outside, so I pursue the comfort of living following the collective.
According to Bourdieu, another sociologist, we are dealing with a strategy of distinguishment with the seeking of luxury and fashion. The upper class wants to show off their tastes and prestige with the best brands popular abroad, and the middle class gets pulled along.
Indeed, we live under the pressure of the market paradigm, which recognizes only the products that can be purchased with money in the market as 'consumption'. But consumption was originally a way of living, (modus vivendi)! Consumption is not just the narrow economic dimension of buying goods but the market expands our vision to greater social engagement and ethics.
For example, boycotts of Japanese imperialism, firms that are participating in immoral practices are ways consumers can influence the market. The same is true of 'good consumption', and the rejection of genetically modified foods or the purchase of eco-friendly products of sound companies that pursue social value.
However, this lifestyle is difficult—a life dedicated to the common good when no one appreciates what is happening. It requires 'consuming' our bodies, mind, time, and energy. These efforts can't be reduced to money— time and energy consumed for me, my family, neighbors, community and God so that we can live together in virtuous peaceful coexistence.
The Creator God is still laboring and striving for all of us today. God always gives His love to us. Too many of us have never noticed the gift of his love because of excessive greed for possessions. God spends his love generously and we waste and are often oblivious of this great gift.
We are all masterpieces of God's handiwork formed by his love. Even if it is far from what we would like it to be we are objects of God's love no matter how shabby in appearance and incomplete we may seem, we are God's masterpiece. Money may have little to with what we possess but what we have when we share it with our neighbors and the community, is it not “high-class consumption”? Where God's image and his love are fully dedicated to life.