Monday, September 28, 2009

On Calling Oneself a Consumer

We're consumers, right? That's just the reality of it. Is there anything inherently wrong with thinking of ourselves as consumers? Maybe there is, if the self-assessment ends there.

Episode 34 of the Humanist Network News podcast features an interview with Gurinder Singh Azad, a humanist activist in India who works as a telemarketer to Americans. At about minute 54 in the podcast, the activist talks about how the rising economic success of call center employees has given them a thirst for material luxuries. The interviewer, Duncan Crary, comments that consumerism is like a drug being exported from America to India.

Mr. Azad disagrees with this, saying that Indians have developed consumerist attitudes on their own. Other countries are not to blame if Indians are increasingly embracing wealth over health.

Mr. Crary then observes: "People refer to themselves, a lot of times, as consumers. It's a very unhealthy thing to refer to oneself as a consumer. Because a consumer has no responsibility to do anything but consume."

On that, the two agree, as do I. When I'm merely a consumer, I only care about whether that new product--whether it's a hamburger, game console, or car--fulfills its function and serves my private needs. I don't think about how that product might be affecting me beyond its intended purpose. I don't think about the costs borne in its manufacture or its disposal.

We should think of ourselves as more than consumers or end-users. Our willingness to buy stuff is the reason stuff exists. We're the effectors. Imagine playing a "god game" sim, moving that hand around to dig the ore, put it in a factory, create products, and move those products to stores. That's the consumer's Hand of God doing the work, changing the landscape and perhaps bringing on disasters.

It's great when companies give us ways to reduce our environmental impact, such as digital distribution and "green" household products. We might find it easy to dismiss these options as having minuscule effect or as mere marketing ploys. But they're a start and, as people who are much more than just consumers, we should take advantage of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment