Workshop on right based approach to social change in Kolar and Davangere – Date will be announced shortly >
“Justice, peace, freedom and human dignity are the core principles that the Palestinians long for. The occupation of the Palestine lands by Israel using its military might should end.”
If we recall the hippy movement in the west then we will understand this movement as a movement against the society of their time. What were their grouses with the society of their time? They found society to be very fast. The transport was fast, the work schedule was fast and everyone was rushing from one point to another. They would cry out “hold on! Stop! I want to get off from the system that goes at supersonic speed! They found every one very formal guided by some rigid norms of so called civilised society. It was reflected not only in their dress but also in the way they related and interacted with each other. The Hippies moved out of the city centres to the less crowded places. They came to countries like India where life was slow; where informality and casualness was the whole mark of the social life. They dressed up in a shabby way. This was a react against the formal way people dressed. They considered wearing suite, tie and shoes with neatly combed hair sham. Hippy movement was a kind of revolt against the fast growing capitalist society. Among many things hippies were against the consumerism that capitalist society promoted.
The hippy movement of seventies is long over. It has also fizzled out by making some mark on the history. The issues they raised at that time have not disappeared from the face of the capitalist society. Consumerism has grown in leaps and bounds and everything in the society encourages and supports consumerism.
In India there is a boom in the information technology, in banking and insurance companies. These sectors employ large number of young professionals. These professionals and managers constitute what is called middle class of India. It has been acknowledge that this middle class section of our society is growing very rapidly. They draw high salaries. High salaries make it possible for them to buy luxury goods available in the market. The middle class youth between the age group of 30 and 45 seem to own luxury apartments, luxury cars and almost every consumer durable items. The middle class has become the epitome of consumerism. If one wants to understand the depth of consumerism that has seeped into our society one needs to visit the houses of these middle class persons.
Our country’s economy grew at 8% and 10% in the current decade. We were second most fastest growing country in the world. This growth of our economy and the rise of middle class and whopping rise in consumerism seem to go hand and hand. The growth in our economy is represented mainly by the rise in auto industry. It grew at 26% and more. The second item to follow was consumer durable goods. Construction has also grown at a very fast rate.
In the capitalist society there is a minority who own the productive wealth and the vast majority, almost 90% of the population do not own productive assets. They are forced to work for the owners and earn only wages. The producers produce commodities for sale. If a capitalist does not make any profit then there will be no production. If these sales do not bring them profit then they will not produce. Hence the producers are in the business of producing profit for themselves. The usefulness of the commodities they produce is only secondary. The 90% of the people work for the owners. These people are called labourers or workers. They sell their time to the owner of the means of production, say from 9.00 to 5.00, which mean the most vital part of their lives. All they get is wages from day to day.
The wage labourers constitute the bulk of consumers of the commodities produced by the owners of the means of production. The consumers have no influence on the producers. Since the owning class commission production only for profit they will produce only those things that will bring them maximum profit. Most important part of the story is only when the owning class sell their product do they realize or earn their profits. In the pre-capitalist societies the producers and the consumers were the same people. They had control on the means of production; they directly produced for their own needs. These producers did not need to sell their product in the market. If they happen to sell anything then it was what would be surplus product. They did not have profit as their motive to sell what might happen to the surplus product.
In the capitalist society (or what we now a days call, the market economy) production is carried out for market, to sell and make profit. The more profit capitalists make the more they grow and expand their production. The other side of the story is that the more people buy the product produced by the capitalist the more profit the capitalists make and expand their production. This means the capitalists would want people to consume more and more. The capitalists employ different means to promote consumption by the people. They advertise their product in such a way that they manage to influence people to make them buy more and more. One can analyse any advertisement to understand this. In order to continue their production they try to destroy their own product which is in the hands of the people. You buy a washing machine. For one year they will give guarantee against manufacturing defect. After that they will take annual maintenance contract (AMC). After five years they will tell you that they cannot maintain your machine as spare parts would be not available. The manufacturer would have introduced changes in the new machine and stop producing the earlier model and even the spare parts. Five years after you have bought a washing machine, though it would be in an immaculate condition you will be forced to junk this machine and buy a new one. This is true about motor cycles, cars and any other consumer durable product. To make more profit, produce more and more; sell more and more. And junk more and more. In this manner consumerism has brought in what is called a culture of throwaway society. The practice of reuse has almost disappeared from our civilization. The plates in which we eat or the tumblers in which we drink are meant to be thrown away after use. We are instructed to crush drinking water bottles after we have finished water. Such practices have given boost to expand production. This kind of practice throw away has contributed in a big way for environmental degradation.
The cry “reduce, reuse and recycle” is frowned up on by the modern generation. Once while I was walking on a street late in the evening I noticed a woman along with some helpers bringing a cooking range and leaving near the garbage bin. I thought that was a brand new cooking range. I asked the lady if she was planning to take it to a repair shop. She said, “no! This is a new cooking range, I bought it just three months ago. But now it does not fit into the new colour and arrangement I have made in my kitchen.” She even advised me to take it for myself if I so wished. In the era of mobile phones we see different and more sophisticated smart mobile phones come in the market. Ever new and advanced phones make people change their phones every year. These phones cost huge amount of money, up to Rs. 30,000/ and more.The capitalists introduce very many creative means to make people buy their product. They sell their product and ask you to pay in monthly instalments (EMI). They are willing to give even interest free loans to make it easy for you to acquire their product. The banks are willing to give the consumer loans to buy every new product. There are credit cards available which can be used to buy things without ready cash. Today, if a person has about rupees five thousand, enough to buy a cycle, he thinks of buying a brand new high end motorcycle, costing above Rupees fifty thousand. Similarly if a person has about rupees fifty thousand he can buy a car. There are offers where you can give your old car and buy a new car. The capitalist society will make people buy things they do not need so that they will need what they cannot buy and for this they will come up with loan schemes.
This leads to a distortion in production of goods and services. There is greater emphasis on production of luxury goods, consumer durables at the neglect of essential commodities such as food items, simple clothing for common people and production of medicine, especially life saving drugs. Consumerism can be defined as continual expansion of one’s wants and needs.
Consumerism is not a vice of the people. The philosophy of consumerism has been promoted by the capitalism. It has got a massive boost in the present era of neo liberal economy.
There is one fundamental aberration that has taken place in the human life. People belonging to the non owning class or people who are working class, irrespective of where they are employed and how much salary they receive their sole aim in life is to work to earn and consume. Work is a means to earn. If they can work less and earn more they are a happy lot. They look forward to Sundays and holidays so that they can stop working and enjoy life by consuming commodities available in the market. The Sundays and holydays are the best part of their lives. They long to shoot off for holidays to resorts and places of tourist interest. Holidays, tourism become source of liberation for people. They want to get away from the drudgery of work. This kind of life and attitude could be summarized as alienation of human being from their real life.
It is important to reflect on what happens to us human beings when we become victim of consumerism. We are not negating the need to consume in order to survive. We need shelter, clothing, food and comfort in life. We also would like to champion the need to ever improve the comfort of life which will be realized by investing and using ever new and sophisticated products. We have experienced the advancement in medical science. Such advance has reduced mortality rate. We are now able to cure even cancer which was some time ago considered as incurable. The most sophisticated methods of surgery have saved innumerable lives. Modern medicine has brought people from throes of death to a very healthy life. There are vast areas where scientific and technological progress has changed the way we live. This is not to be confused with consumerism that we have been speaking above.
Consumerism has robbed human being of their dignity and purpose of life. Work is a life activity of human being. It is the expression of human being. In the process of work human beings become themselves. Work is not only a means to an end – the product – but an end in itself – a meaningful expression of oneself and therefore an enjoyable engagement. A painter or a sculptor pours his heart and soul in his work and produces something that represents his personal being. In the bygone days every craftsman worked to express himself or herself through her/his work. They way they looked at their work, evaluated their work and derived immense pleasure from their work represented the real meaning of work and labour. The goldsmith who made the papal ring of Pope Benedict XVI regretted that the ring he had crafted with such a great delight and expression of great history and value should go under a hammer to prevent its abuse in the officialdom of the Church. All people were labouring to create this world into a paradise where all can feel loved and all can feel the joy of living. Human labour is meant to transform this earth so that human being can live in comfort and joy. Human labour can not only produce for their livelihood but to make the earth perfect. Through the labour the human being reach a higher level of existence. A silk worm in the process of spinning silk becomes a butterfly. Much more should we say that human being in their labour process or work should reach a higher level of existence. But the worker, the labourer dies as a labourer and leaves his children to struggle to find work to earn their livelihood.
Labour is a power of human being to transform nature, one’s own state of life and create history. But today human beings do not have the ownership and control on their labouring capacity. This has been handed over to the owners of the means of production and what human beings produce becomes property of these people. These products do not appear to them as product of skill, creation of human genius, fulfilment of their dreams but as some thing that can be sold in the market to earn. Human beings are not creators of their world and their destiny. They are consumers.