Discussion: Consumerism as a Product of Spiritual Loss

I think we have all done our fair share of over-consuming. (Welcome to the NHK!)

Collecting figures, or anything in general, has never really appealed to me before, and the concept of purchasing obscene amounts of merchandise still remains a mystery to me. Yeah, I know. How dare I call myself an anime or a video game fan. However, in one of my environmental science classes we discussed a theory that humans inherently suffer from our separation from nature, causing us to experience a sort of spiritual loss. It’s thought that this suppression of the natural world has even subdued our very own emotions. This could explain the appeal of “getting in touch with nature,” by hiking, camping, or even going to the zoo. If a civilization based around the belief of something like animism (in which every aspect of nature had spiritual sentience) had survived, it’s arguable that we wouldn’t have ended up being such a consumer-driven society. Of course, civilization as we know it would not exist without technology, and technology is impossible without dominance over nature. This drives our emotional loss as we subconsciously live out our addictive and consumer habits, so that we may futilely fill the emptiness that we as a species experience. This is a largely subjective way of thinking, and I believe that it’s difficult to prove its validity to be either right or wrong. Still, it makes for a very compelling argument: that all humans feel the innate need to consume and have a hunger for more than they already have in order to replace the void caused by our separation from the Earth. This theory can be applied to almost anything, from buying groceries, collecting merchandise, or even compulsively checking Facebook every five minutes.

We’ve also all had those “I’ve gotta have this right now!” moments.

With this logic, the appeal for collectors to collect makes a bit more sense. “But what about impoverished individuals who do not have the ability to consume like we do?” you may ask. Well, I believe that given the opportunity, they would consume just as you and I do. The appeal and thrill would just be too great, and our innate addiction to consuming would take over. In biological terms, buying stuff – and other such compulsive behaviour – activates reward systems in the brain, releasing endorphins and such, and gives us a sense of satisfaction. From a regular standpoint, merchandise is typically just plain cool, and I can definitely respect the fact that people can buy for the sake of buying or simply for the sake of looking at them.

On the other hand, there can be evidence against humanity’s consumerist addiction, which is a possible addiction to production. As seen in the doujin community, there are many talented and dedicated people who get satisfaction from producing their own merchandise, which I think is very impressive. Musicians, novelists, and other such artists are other examples of individuals who can derive happiness from creating something. This provides a counterargument for the idea that humans will always consume to “fulfill an innate loss.” It shows that people can get similar satisfaction from creation and that we are not condemned to lives of addictive consumption.

The theory discussed in this article is taken from Al Gore’s 1992 book: Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.


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