Editor's Note: Paradoxically, consumerism is cheapening yet costly. It cheapens us by reducing our worth to what we accumulate. It's costly to the environment, our relationships, our integrity, and our sense of self-worth. These quotes point to the problem but also probe possible solutions.
"Americans remain the waste champions, producing 51 percent more waste per person than any other industrialized nation. Certain product waste streams are growing at an astonishing rate, especially electronic waste. By 2005 the global collection of used cell phones may top 500 million, most destined for landfills."
— Stephanie Kaza in Hooked!
An Attack of the Gimmies
" ‘An attack of the gimmies' -- you know, give me this and give me that!"
— Alice O. Howell in The Beejum Book
"Human beings are primarily focused on themselves. Capitalism, probably the most successful economic system the world has ever known, is built on that understanding. For what motivates us more than anything else is the desire to do better and to earn more so that we can have more. And it works."
— Terry Bookman in A Soul’s Journey
"Consumerism is today's version of gluttony and needs to be confronted by creating an economic system that works for all peoples and all earth's creatures."
— Matthew Fox in A New Reformation
A Challenge to the Conscience
"In an age that preaches the gospel of rugged individualism and 'free-market' capitalism, monastic spirituality is a gift thrown again at the feet of a society made poor for the sake of the oligarchy of the wealthy. Benedictine humility stands with simplicity in the face of greed, conspicuous consumption, and the gorging of two-thirds of the resources of the world by one-third of the people of the world, Europeans and North Americans. The simple fact is that none of us can in conscience consume what belongs by human right to another."
— Joan A. Chittister in In the Heart of the Temple
"One of the most cheapening aspects of contemporary American culture, and one that I believe acts to the detriment of families, is the commercial narrative that dominates our public life. . . . It defines us first and foremost as consumers and that locates ultimate meaning in the material things we are able to accumulate and display."
— Wendy M. Wright in Seasons of a Family's Life
"Consumerism is Confucianism-in-reverse. It is also a set of values, but it emphasizes youth over age, career over family, and pleasure over community. Its god is economic growth; its priests are politicians and economists who understand growth and promise access to it; its evangelists are advertisers who display the products of growth and insist that people cannot be happy without them; and its church is the shopping mall. It promises salvation, not by grace through faith as Christians claim or by a dropping away of the ego as Buddhists claim, but by appearance, affluence, and achievement."
— Jay McDaniel in Gandhi's Hope
Corrected by Generosity
"The practice of generosity can serve as a corrective to addictive consumerism. Generosity enacts the quality of nongreed; it is a willingness to give, to share, to let go. It may be the giving of time, energy, resources, love, and even in rare cases, one's own life for the benefit and welfare of others. Generosity weakens the tendency of attachment and grasping and is intimately connected with the feeling of lovingkindness. People who experience the power and joy of generosity will also experience its effect on consuming. The cultivation of generosity offers a very strong antidote to the wanting mind and would be a powerful corrective if taken up in a widespread way across our culture."
— Joseph Goldstein in Hooked! by Stephanie Kaza, editor
"While consumerism preys on the alienated ego of modernity, generosity (dana) offers a way of loosening the grip of egoism on the heart. By practicing dana genuinely, we undermine the psychological structure of consumerism as we liberate ourselves from its selfishness."
— Santikaro in Hooked! by Stephanie Kaza, editor
"The price we pay for a busy, affluent lifestyle is measured not only in dollars. The cost sometimes includes compromised health, strained relationships, and negative impacts on the natural environment."
— Richard Mahler in Stillness
"In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves, the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy."
— Ivan Illich in Becoming Fully Human by Joan Chittister
An Environmental Threat
"Consumerism is threatening the community of All Life by destroying species, consuming resources, and altering the climate that sustains life on Earth."
— Mark Burch in Stepping Lightly
"Consumerism is our idolatry, the heart of our illusions of power, security, and self-sufficiency, which translate into rape of the environment."
— Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk
"The consumer culture of North America is spent, even though it continues to amass record profits. It never was socially sustainable. Now it is proving to be environmentally unsustainable, even toxic."
— Mark Burch in Stepping Lightly
Even in Spiritual Cravings
"Genuine spiritual longings can become the most sophisticated form of craving for more. Look at the thriving business in things spiritual: music, books, incense, aromas, and crystals. It is so easy to capitalize on these spiritual longings for more, for a better life, a deeper life, that certain forms of spirituality in North America reflect and even reinforce the consumer culture."
— Mary Jo Leddy in Radical Gratitude
A Forfeiting of Awe
"Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your reverence and the universe becomes a marketplace."
— Abraham Joshua Heschel in No Enemies Within
Fueled by Three Desires
"Human history has been propelled in great part by the pursuit of three basic desires: the desire to possess, the desire to know, and the desire for thrill and sustained pleasure. Each of these plays a significant role in today's runaway consumeristic culture."
— Ruben L. F. Habito in Hooked! by Stephanie Kaza, editor
The Highest Pitch of Artificial Tension
"We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios."
—Thomas Merton in Seeds
An Illusion of Final Ownership
"In its simplest form, the art of renunciation is giving up the illusion of final ownership and knowing when enough is enough."
— Paul Pearsall in Toxic Success
Indicative of the Need to See Beauty Everywhere
"The remedy for possessiveness is to widen our aesthetic range. If we can see beauty at every street corner, we will be far less concerned with ownership, because we will know that beauty is a nonmaterial and renewable good, ever ready to appear and surprise us in daily life."
— Piero Ferrucci in Beauty and the Soul
Living at the Expense of Others
"Those whose minds are at peace and who are free from passions do not desire to live at the expense of others."
— Lacharanga Sutra in Peace to All Beings by Judy Carman
A Mentality that Can Be Changed
"So whether our consumer mentality functions in the shopping mall or the meditation mall, I propose that we try to catch it when it arises and bring our minds back to what is truly important: compassion and wisdom. Let's revive appreciation for the traditional model of a practitioner — a renounced being who lives a life of simplicity and humility, sincerity and endeavor, kindness and compassion. Let's choose teachers with these qualities and cultivate these qualities in ourselves."
— Thubten Chodron in Hooked! by Stephanie Kaza, editor
"We would rather live from wisdom, compassion, and freedom than from appearance, affluence, and achievement, and we believe that religions at their best help induce wisdom, compassion, and freedom. Accordingly, we seek not an end to religion but a transformation of religion so that it can provide a meaningful alternative to consumer-driven values and thus better serve a world in need."
— Jay McDaniel in Gandhi's Hope
"Consumerism fuels ingratitude. ... Gratitude can serve as a firewall of protection against some of the effects of these insidious advertising messages."
— Robert Emmons in Thanks!
"When you stop chasing more of what you don't need, you free up tremendous energy to do more with what you have, and what you have grows."
— Lynne Twist in Happiness: How to Find It and Keep It by Joan Duncan Oliver
A Reason for Compassion
"A Buddhist perspective on consumption offers understanding of oneself. The quotidian ways in which we rob the earth are pathways to genuine insight. And in the awareness of self arises compassion for others, especially those who are weighed down so heavily by material desire. It is fair to say that people are overwhelmed by this world we share and live in. Alleviating people's sense of isolation and fear can do more than any recycling program. As Buddhist teachers so aptly point out, we can reduce our and others' desires by being generous and kind. It is hard to be grasping when we are reaching out."
— Paul Hawken in Hooked! by Stephanie Kaza, editor
"Even now, we see the poor with not enough food and no access to clean drinking water; we see ethnic and religious prejudice that would extinguish those who are different; we see the sick and the infirm who have no medicine or care; we see rampant exploitation of the many for the pleasure and comfort of the few. . . . Fueling this suffering is the relentless consumerism which pervades our society and the world."
— Judith Simmer-Brow in Mindfulness in the Marketplace by Allan Badiner
"The message of the [twenty-third] psalm would seem to be that, if you don't have something, no matter how much you crave it you don't really need it. ... It reminds me of a sign in the window of a general store in a small town I once lived in: 'If we don't have it, you're better off without it.' It would be saying to people, You have been so seduced by advertising and the consumer culture that you have learned to crave things for which you really have no need. That attitude leaves you in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction, acquisitiveness, and envy of your neighbors."
— Harold S. Kushner in The Lord Is My Shepherd
Skillful Promotion of Mirages
"Las Vegas is a caricatured symbol for a culture that is full of mirages. It's what modern advertising is all about — the skillful promotion of mirages. Desert mirages appear to be water, which is desperately needed but they are an illusion — a trick of sun, heat, and sand. When you see a mirage, you head toward it, moving faster and faster, until finally, you plunge headlong right into it! But all you get is a mouthful of sand. ... Advertising is the false spirituality of materialism, promising what it can never deliver."
— Jim Wallis in The Soul of Politics
"The American dream of a consumerist way of life has become a dangerous illusion that no longer fits the reality of the world and our human potentials. By allowing a commercialized view of the world to become our primary way of defining reality, we are becoming a schizophrenic society. As commercial television spreads throughout the world, with it grows a deep conflict within our collective psyche."
— Duane Elgin in Promise Ahead
The Slender Sadness
"We should ask, 'By consuming this, am I enlightening myself?' Be aware that whatever we consume entails loss and suffering. The Japanese call this: mono non aware, 'the slender sadness,' which means that by living we can cause suffering and death to other beings. Look deeply at your vegetarian food. Many beings died for us to enjoy a carrot."
— Joan Halifax in Mindfulness in the Marketplace by Allan Badiner
"Many young adults live with the feeling that someone somewhere may be suffering because of the way that their coffee, shoes, clothes, or computers are produced, but many in the middle class are too busy, tired, or already have enough of their own 'issues,' as they say, to even begin to do anything about it."
— Tom Beaudoin in Consuming Faith
So Much Stuff
"People of my heritage don't understand when I explain to them that I have many 'things,' that I have material objects. One time I took pictures of all the things in my apartment and brought them home for people to look at. They just shook their heads in confusion. They don't understand why I would surround myself with so much 'stuff.' "
— Sobonfu Some in Welcoming Spirit Home
A System that Produces Amorality
"The commodification of human life is the moral framework upon which our materialistic system has been built. It is the whole system that inevitably produces the amorality we now suffer."
— Jim Wallis in The Soul of Politics
A Toxic and Blinding Disease
"Living in this consumer world with a physical body and many options, we are infected by what some call 'affluenza,' a really toxic and blinding disease which makes it even more difficult for us to break through to the center. Our skin-encapsulated egos are the only self that most of us know, and where we usually get trapped."
— Richard Rohr in Everything Belongs
"Much of what you consume is poisoning you. The amount of calories you eat; the quantities of violence you absorb; the weight of your possessions; the overwhelming amount of data that inundates you daily — all of this and more is burying you alive. You are drowning in a sea of choice that gives no guidelines for choosing wisely. You no longer know how to tell the difference between truth and well-packaged lies.
"The prophet knows how to transform what you consume. He adds a bit of flour, the staff of life; the truth of justice, kindness and humility; and you can eat and be satisfied."
— Rami Shapiro in The Hebrew Prophets
Trying to Become Better Off
"The world would be better off
if people tried to become better,
and people would become better
if they stopped trying to become better off.
nobody is better off.
But when everyone tries to become better
everyone is better off."
— Peter Maurin in Seasons of a Family's Life by Wendy M. Wright
"The average American family of four metabolizes four million pounds of material every year to support their lifestyle. That's 11,000 lbs. a day, 7.5 lbs. a minute. This keeps us busy, yet we are heedless, because we don't see most of that consumption. It is offshore, and in mines, stockyards, slag heaps, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. Billowing gases migrate to the stratosphere and double glaze the planet on behalf of us all. This constant expansion of desire and material goods forms our current definition of a healthy economy."
— Paul Hawken in Hooked! By Stephanie Kaza, editor
"We tend to be so busy wanting things and acquiring new possessions that we don't give the objects a chance to influence us."
— Shaun McNiff in Earth Angels
Usurping Our Civic Life
"Citizenship itself has been replaced by consumption. Shopping has become our great collective activity, and consumerism has invaded and even usurped our civic life. People feel they no longer have the power to change their communities or their nation, only to make choices among products."
— Jim Wallis in The Soul of Politics
A Vitality Thief
"Materialism robs us of our vitality and saps the will to change."
— Gary Kowalski in Science and The Search for God