“You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f’n khakis” (Palanhiuk. Fight Club)
Why do we accumulate ‘stuff’?
One side of the argument is that we have intrinsic identities that we build upon using various cultural and social factors, the other – that we already know what kind of identity we want to take on (we have an image in mind, an image usually supplied by popular culture and mass media) and we are constantly pursuing it. We can acquire it through consumption, personal development, education, culture, career, community, and assorted lifestyle choices – which all carry a label so that we can be more easily ‘defined’ by the rest of the society.
But does this continuous consumption, then, become a method of substitute for the genuine development of self or, on the contrary, is consumption used to reinforce cultural traits, thus making it more difficult for instinctual/ intrinsic desires, if any indeed do exist, to find acceptable outlets?
In this day and age, our spending habits dictate our lifestyle choices, which are in no way simply based on survival and necessity any longer.
Shoppers argue that objects they buy provide them with some form of pleasure – they derive emotional value from it, and so they surround themselves with these objects, taking great pride in their possessions and arguing that their happiness and joy are generated from these belongings.
There are differences in how and what we consume, and those differences are manifested in polarity between the tastes of luxury or freedom, and the tastes of necessity, that is to say, our greed. The meaning and the primary function of consumption – to satisfy a need or an urge – is lost when we purchase products. What is gained is simply the ability to compete with peers based on our choice of products, contributing to our rank, status, and reputation in the society. And it’s an endless competition.
Often we associate products with a certain style – style signifying a manner of behaviour or a particular movement. Style has become the official representation of the marketplace, as much as the marketplace is symbolised by the variety of styles or choices.
To stand out from the rest of the society, to attract attention and regard, to be recognised and accepted – are some of the major incentives for shaping a certain image associated with whatever identity one pursues. Exactly pursues, not develops (a consumer pursues, a non-consumer develops/ draws from within).
Furthermore, style has become a significant element of power, inextricably woven into the fabric of social, political, and economic life, blurring the lines between them, just as it is blurring the lines between consumerist identity and personal identity.
So, then, how is this identity formed?
Do we acquire it through tastes, choices, preferences, and experiences?
Part of a series on consumerism and identity and conscious consumption, inspired by UNEP’s World Environment Day campaign.
In developed and developing countries, people are acquiring much more than what they actually need and therefore producing an enormous amount of waste.
Orient your action for World Environment Day this year to an activity that promotes sustainable consumption and be the one to reshape our future!