What is the global system of free-market capitalism ultimately for? Essentially, it’s for the satisfaction of the ‘infinite demands’ of the worlds’ population. These infinite demands are for products, from cars to music. As far as capitalism is concerned, if one has plentiful material goods then the system has worked. To ensure that endless greed (that humans are assumed to have)for material goods is sustained, it is necessary that in modern society the narcissistic mindset of consumerism is encouraged, or at least protected- because how else would a system based on endless growth work, if it weren’t for the insatiable demand for more and more goods. There’s no such thing as enough.
Modern society is saturated with consumerist tendencies. Town or city centres are always filled with shopping streets or centres, whilst the peripheries contain hypermarkets and further shopping streets. Where ever there is space, billboards scream messages of irrational, pointless consumption-often containing bizarre insinuations and abstractions; “This shampoo will make you beautiful and get you a boyfriend”, “This car will give you a sense of adventure and turn you into a tropical explorer” or “This toothpaste turn your teeth white and thus make you successful”. You’d be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that modern society has discovered the meaning of life: buying lots of stuff you don’t need. Consumption is not a means to an end; it is marketed as an end in itself.
Adverts, of course, aren’t limited to billboards, they now permeate the typical person’s home; throughout the day it is entirely normal to be exposed to at least several hundred adverts- on television, radio, in newspapers or on the internet. Being constantly bombarded by advertisements
–what is essentially well-designed corporate propaganda –is now an accepted part of daily life. Sometimes mass advertisements –and the global brands that are created from them –are treated as a part of Western popular culture itself; some people might now associate Father Christmas with a particular brand of brown sugar water from years of nauseating Coca-cola Christmas adverts; films and TV series often include copious levels of product placement- further blurring the line between culture and commerce.
The rapacious, free-market capitalism that our generation has grown up with has already taken its toll on the environment and of course far is worse is still to come. But in the face of almost apocalyptic climate change predictions from scientists, collective delusion in the belief that the status quo is any way sustainable seems to have devoured the global establishment. The world continues its fossil fuel binge whilst an out of control financial system seems determined to re-live the last economic crisis.
Effectively combating climate change and environmental catastrophe is completely incongruent with a continuation of the status quo- for example the International Energy Agency has estimated that for the ‘Two degree limit’ of warming (the threshold above which runaway climate change is
highly likely) to be avoided, around 2/3rds of the worlds proven fossil fuel reserves must remain underground. For this to happen current levels of mass-consumption must permanently be reversed and society must be re-designed. The alternative is humanities complicity in the 6thevent in the past 540 million years of Earth’s history. But it’s not a paradigm shift to be scared of. Any move away from a system which promotes a vacuous lifestyle of utterly needless consumption is surely a positive change.