No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Selves as Objects of Consumption

Consumption and Society

Consumerism is a fundamental aspect of modern life, where everyone and everything consumes continuously. Public policies and human politics revolve around this idea. Although humans have an inherent moral impulse and responsibility, fulfilling these completely is challenging. Society is necessary to make the coexistence of moral beings feasible by providing a framework of defined duties and obligations. People inherently feel they could do more for others, indicating an internal moral compass.

What Consumerism does to Relations

Consumerism affects social dynamics and shapes how individuals respond to societal challenges. Consumer culture colonizes the desirability of human experiences. While optimists believe this world is the best possible, pessimists seek improvements. Bauman identifies as a pessimist, aiming to highlight issues that need attention. Consumerism has transformed human relations into commodified experiences, losing depth and long-term perspectives. Relationships have become episodic and fragmentary, focusing more on superficial interactions rather than meaningful connections. Consumerism distracts from genuine human responsibilities and moral duties. It provides a way to escape feelings of guilt and inadequacy through material compensation rather than meaningful engagement. Guilt is a kind of pain that signals something is wrong. Just as pain prompts medical attention, guilt should prompt moral reflection and action. Consumer culture often numbs this guilt through superficial means. The commercialization of Christmas exemplifies how consumerism overrides the original religious and cultural significance of events, focusing instead on gift-giving as a form of self-sacrifice. The commodification of human experiences and relationships leads to a loss of genuine responsibility and connection, with consumerism providing a false sense of fulfillment and masking deeper societal issues.

Consumption and Sustainability

To raise global consumption to Western levels would require multiple planets' worth of resources, which is unsustainable. Despite awareness of the need to protect the environment, there is often a disconnect between people's stated intentions and their daily practices, which continue to harm the planet. Relying on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of economic health does not accurately reflect human happiness or well-being. Economic growth often comes at the expense of environmental sustainability. Early economists believed that human needs were finite and that economic growth would eventually lead to their satisfaction. Modern consumerism creates endless desires, driving continuous economic growth and environmental degradation. Marketing strategies have shifted from satisfying existing desires to creating new ones. This perpetual cycle of creating and fulfilling desires fuels consumerism, leading to overconsumption and environmental harm.

Shopping malls are designed to encourage impulse buying, not just fulfilling needs. People often purchase items they did not intend to buy, driven by the designed environment and marketing tactics. They feel they have to work harder in order to get more money to buy better gifts. Social media provides endless possibilities for identification, making it an ongoing process. You can be yourself and someone else simultaneously. In consumer culture, the pattern of care is reversed: "you deserve it!" You need possessions to justify your hedonism. However, consumerism has collateral damage. If you don’t like the product you bought, you send it back and replace it with another.

Consuming Relationships

When this consumerist pattern is applied to human relations, it leads to trouble. There's a significant decrease in family interactions, with fewer families eating together compared to 30 years ago. This change reflects a broader trend where familial bonds are weakened by consumer culture and technological distractions. Parents feel guilty for not spending enough time with their children, often trying to compensate with expensive gifts. These gifts serve as moral painkillers, providing temporary relief from the guilt but failing to address the underlying issues. In relationships, long-term thinking is important; willingness to negotiate and compromise increases when people consider a long-term perspective. In contrast, relationships based on short-term, experimental interactions often fail. Living together and resolving everyday conflicts is difficult and often leads to heightened tensions and frustrations, which can undermine the relationship.

Liquid modernity

Bauman suggests that modernity is not a uniform experience but varies across different cultures and societies. He discusses the shift from solid modernity, characterized by stable structures and predictable patterns, to liquid modernity, where everything is more fluid and flexible. This shift places more responsibility on individuals to adapt and be innovative. In liquid modernity, individuals are expected to be self-reliant, managing their own lives as if they were governments or parliaments unto themselves. This includes adapting to changing social and economic conditions.

Sociology and the role of intellectuals

Sociological research has historically provided information to maintain order in society, akin to how armies maintain discipline and factories ensure worker compliance. Intellectuals have a responsibility to provide insights and information that help individuals navigate the complexities of modern life. They have the leisure to study and understand societal trends, which others may not have due to their daily obligations.