“As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.” Noam Chomsky
I remember watching a news report dealing with the collapse of the Italian birthrate. Two young women were interviewed on the streets of Rome, and when asked about plans for the future they said that they preferred the pursuit of expensive shoes and handbags over having babies. Sadly, their attitude is not rare in the society of today; one in which many will sacrifice anything on the altar of consumerism…material gain the new “modern” idol.
In my books I try to integrate this ironic devotion to our society’s new religion as a sub plot. The main character in the “Freedom from Conscience” series has goals she will not bend on, but always the most important is family – to the point that she will literally kill anyone who threatens her loved ones. In fact, forth book of the series, “Freedom from Conscience – Descent into Darkness” she is willing to go to any length to defend those close to her from organized crime and corrupt police; in the fifth book, “Freedom from Conscience – the Price of Power,” despite being pulled into a secret society that promises her all she could ever want, she still fights to maintain her family as the cornerstone of her life.
Ironically, the character, though one people can identify with, possesses many characteristics of a psychopath. One is left to wonder if, despite all the negative aspects of such people – if the traits of pursuing a goal at all costs, and not caring in the least what other people think of them, could be an advantage in separating from and resisting a society that judges us on what we wear, what we buy and what degrees we have in our possession. True, people with psychopathic-associated traits often go after these symbols of success with a passion, but not because they desperately want to fit into society, rather they want to win – they see life as a game, a competition. Most people enter the race and play by the rules without thinking of the wisdom of those rules, or the origin of the game. Many of the people camped out in front of a store on “black Friday” do so because society programs them to do so. To them it is a proclamation of faith to the new religion of consumerism. They pride themselves for their outward manifestation of devotion in the same way some people engage in self-torture in public ceremonies of piety in their particular faith.
Of course we can rationalize and say our frenzied stampede to shopping malls and big box stores helps the economy, or that it is just innocent fun, but is it really? At least after one does express their faith in a ritual that involves sacrifice in a religion they come away feeling fulfilled in a deeper, often esoteric, sense. Do they gain that feeling after going to the mall and maxing out their line of credit? Do children whose parents give them expensive presents feel more love, more satisfaction with life, than those children who grow up in more modest environments, and in which every want is not immediately translated into a need that the parents will automatically satisfy?
Ultimately what is important in life is not designer clothes, exotic trips or the make and model of your car but rather your close relationships. Consumerism tends to minimize that and instead seeks to replace traditional connections that have provided humans with a sense of purpose and permanence for millennia with glittery substitutes, often with the deceptive promise that if you buy this, or gain such-and-such status, then you will have happiness. Ritual and tradition are replaced with the idea that what initiates you into the human family is what makes you feel better than other people – better looking, richer, more stylish, more social media bragging rights. Yet in the end, when one is past the age of glamour and glitz, will personal satisfaction be based on what designer clothes you wore decades earlier, or will connections to children and grandchildren be what matters most? For many that will be impossible to contemplate. We are already hearing of a new social phenomenon known as “elderly orphans” or people who have no family once they reach advanced ages…and who will care for them? It is a question that will have to be answered as the baby boom generation starts to retire, with many having decided not to raise families in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Yes, ancient religion required sacrifice: some employed animals, others fruits while still others asked for firstborns. Today’s new religion requires your time, talents and money, and while nobody is out there building golden calves one could say that modern western society is every bit as committed to the worship of trying to keep up with the dream that, even though they can never achieve the power and wealth of the 1%, they can pretend to through buying a lifestyle that mimics it. Russian intellectual Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Our envy of others devours us most of all.” Coveting was condemned in the 10 Commandments but today’s economic religion appears based on it; to the point of sacrificing everything that really matters in an impossible attempt to reach an unreachable goal that no one can even define.