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By Zygmunt Bauman
In fact, if it is reduced to its archetypal form as a metabolic cycle of intake, digestion and excretion, consumption is a permanent and immovable condition of life and an inalienable aspect of it, and is tied neither to time nor to age. the history. From that point of view, it is an essential function for biological survival that we, human beings, share with the rest of living beings, and its roots are as old as life itself.
It has been suggested (and this suggestion is discussed in the rest of this chapter) that thousands of years later there was a turning point that would deserve the name of “revolution consumerist”, With the shift from consumption to“ consumerism ”, when consumption, as Colin Campbell points out, becomes“ particularly important if not central ”in most people,“ the very purpose of their existence ”, a moment in that “our ability to want, from to wish, and of long, and especially our ability to experience those
emotions repeatedly, is the foundation of the entire economy ”of human relationships.
It can be said that "consumerism" is a type of social agreement that results from the reconversion of human desires, desires or desires (if one wants "neutral" with respect to the system) in the main driving force and operating force of the company, a force that coordinates systemic reproduction, social integration, and the formation of the human individual, as well as plays a preponderant role in individual and group processes of self-identification, and in the selection and achievement of individual life policies. “Consumerism” comes when consumption displaces work from that axial role that it played in the producer society.
Mary Douglas insists: "as long as we do not know why and why people need luxuries [that is, goods beyond those essential for survival] we are not treating the problems of inequality remotely seriously."
Unlike consumption, which is fundamentally a trait and occupation of the human individual, the consumerism is an attribute of the society. For a society to be worthy of this attribute, the essentially individual capacity to want, desire and yearn must be separated (“alienated”) from the individuals (as was the work capacity in the producer society) and must be recycled / reified as an external force capable of setting the “consumer society” in motion and maintaining its course as a specific form of the human community, while establishing the specific parameters of specific life strategies and thus manipulating probabilities in another way
of individual choices and behaviors.
All of this still doesn't say much about the content of the “consumerist revolution”. We must focus our attention on that that we "want", "desire" and "yearn for", and in how the essence of our desire, our desires and aspirations is changing as a result of the passage towards consumerism.
It is often thought, although perhaps incorrectly, that what men and women molded by a consumerist way of life desire and yearn with greater intensity is the appropriation, possession and accumulation of objects, whose value lies in the comfort or the esteem that, according to it is hoped, they will provide their owners.
The appropriation Y possession of goods that ensure (or at least promise) comfort and esteem may well have been the main motive behind the desires and aspirations in the society of producers, a society doomed to the cause of the stability of the insurance and the security of the stable, and that it entrusted its reproduction to individual behavior patterns designed for those purposes.
In fact, the producer society, the main corporate example of the “solid” phase of modernity, was fundamentally oriented towards obtaining security. The search for security bet on the inherently human yearning for a safe and time-resistant framework, a framework that is reliable, orderly, regular and transparent and therefore durable. This desire was an excellent raw material for the construction of life strategies and indispensable behavior patterns in that era of "quantity is power" and "what
great is beautiful ”. At that time, an enormous volume of solid, large, heavy and immovable possessions ensured a promising future and an inexhaustible source of comfort, power and personal esteem.
Obviously all this made sense in the modern solid society of the producers. A society, I allow myself to repeat, that bet on prudence and circumspection, durability and security, and above all long-term security. But the human desire for security and its dreams of an ultimate "steady state" do not serve the purposes of a society of consumers.
On the path that leads to consumer society, the human desire for stability ceases to be a fundamental systemic advantage to become a potentially fatal flaw for the system itself, a cause of disruption and malfunction. It could not be otherwise, since consumerism, in direct opposition to previous ways of life, does not associate happiness with happiness so much. gratification desires (as the "transcription is official" imply) but as a permanent increase in volume and intensity desires, which in turn triggers the immediate replacement of objects intended to satisfy them and for which satisfaction is expected. As Don Slater so aptly puts it, it combines insatiable desires with the urge to "always seek to satisfy them with products."
New needs require new products. New products require new wants and needs. The advent of consumerism heralds an era of factory-shipped products with “obsolescence built in,” an era marked by the exponential growth of the waste disposal industry.
Source: Zygmunt Bauman, Consumer life, Trad. de M. Rosenberg and J. Arrambide, FCE, México, 2007, pp.44-51.
Zygmunt Bauman (born November 19 in Poznan, Poland) is currently Emeritus Professor at the University of Leeds and has taught sociology at universities
from countries like Israel, the United States and Canada. He is recognized as "one of the main references in contemporary socio-political debate and one of the most audacious and provocative thinkers." Of his most recent bibliographic production, there are: Wasted lives. Modernity and its outcasts (2005), Liquid life (2006) and Consumer life (2007). To the latter correspond the fragments that are reproduced here .