Consumerism, Violence, and Dehumanization: The Vicious Dynamic Circle

Consumerism, Violence, and Dehumanization: The Vicious Dynamic Circle

Carole J. Lambert
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6120-0.ch011
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This chapter proposes that some consumers risk becoming dehumanized by the current onslaught of marketing approaches. As these buyers are bombarded by advertisements from numerous media, they become shaped in ways that make them more vulnerable to the powers behind the marketing. This ultimately creates a vicious dynamic circle which must be exited if an authentic self is to emerge and survive in this dehumanizing, violent environment. This essay explores not only the reality of this “vicious dynamic circle,” which often begins in childhood, but also some means of escaping from it: (1) recognition of the dehumanizing process occurring, (2) recollection of Western culture's two foundational metanarratives—Greco-Roman rationality and Judeo-Christian spirituality, (3) understanding what is needed to experience an authentic self, not one shaped by marketers' strategies, and (4) willingness to live according to self-chosen values culled from deep thinking about what is most authentic and precious in life.
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This chapter will explore the roots of consumerism and how it violates human dignity and agency, resulting in dehumanization. This ongoing process—consumerism, violence, and dehumanization—establishes a vicious dynamic circle out of which the wise and rational consumer must exit. Means for doing so are suggested below as well as ways to live life without obeying the injunction that one is obligated to consume products mindlessly.

An Explanation of Key Terms: Consumerism, Violence, and Dehumanization

In order to better understand the evolution of ideas resulting in consumerism’s current influence over individuals and society, one must define the terms relevant to this vicious dynamic circle. Gregory R. Beabout and Eduardo J. Echeverria (2002) define consumerism as “a preoccupation with the consumption of goods and services” (p. 362). Consume signifies destroying or using up; thus potential violence may be a part of the destruction brought about by consumption, destruction of the objects being consumed, to be sure, but maybe also of those persons consuming these items. Marketers selling the objects to be consumed prey on consumers’ weaknesses—their irrational, instinctual, and “appetitive” desires which influence them to yield to ploys in advertisements and other media. This results in dehumanization, which suggests a decreasing or depriving of human qualities or attributes because all that makes one human, especially relationships and rationality, is not being actualized during this seductive process. Dehumanization occurs when consumers become objectified, literally turned from human beings into objects useful to marketers and the corporations who employ them. Further, consumers may be blind to reality when marketers affirm that buying an item cultivates the purchaser’s individuality; in reality, this consumer is being divested of individuality as he or she follows the unthinking crowd, thus becoming dehumanized. This consumerism/violence/dehumanization dynamic is at work in American society today, but it can be overcome, if readers choose to break out of this vicious dynamic circle.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Secular: That which is not sacred: the mundane, routine, and typical.

Agency: The individual’s choice to exert his or her personal power in thoughts, words, and actions.

Dehumanization: A decreasing or depriving of human qualities or attributes.

Consumerism: A preoccupation with the consumption of goods and services.

Violence: Intentionally and forcefully injuring, dishonoring, outraging, or violating someone or something.

Sacred: Holy, sanctified, or set apart from the normal usage or routine habits.

Objectifying: Mentally turning human beings into objects to be acted upon.

Metanarrative: An influential, pervasive, and ongoing story that explains occurrences in a culture and governs people’s thoughts and actions. Examples of metanarratives in Western culture are the Judeo-Christian beliefs and the Greco-Roman emphasis on rationalism.

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