Consumerism – we are all part of it, though it is hard to describe. Consumerism is an ideology, a way of life and an economic order that is deeply rooted in our society. It makes us buy and consume products in ever-increasing amounts. Consumerism is connected to a variety of problems including climate change, ocean pollution, habitat destruction and – last but not least – declining happiness. In this article, I will illustrate how consumerism influences individual and societal happiness and how the 2018 Coast Mountain Academy (CMA) class has taken steps to creating a healthier consumer culture.
In class we read Rebecca Solnit’s “The Silence of the Lambswool Cardigans”, a short essay that illuminates societies disconnect between consumerism and happiness. Nowadays, the products that most of us consume are alienated from the natural and human processes that form them. Primarily, this is the result of our consumerist economy and widespread neoliberalism. Each time we go to the mall and mindlessly buy something we are a participant in this system. For example when purchasing a T-shirt, do you usually pay attention to where it comes from? Do you know the person who picked the cotton? What about the factory worker who sewed it? If you are in the majority, then you don´t.
Because if you did, you would see more than a cheap shirt. You would see exploited workers in Malaysia struggling to feed their families and huge areas of soil becoming infertile because of monoculture. You would feel guilty. And who wants that? The way products are presented nowadays encourages us to look away and treat products as if they just arrived out of nowhere onto store shelves. Does the blindness that allows consumerism to thrive enable us to be happy? According to the essay, the clear answer is no. Human beings are “nourished by stories and connections” (Solnit). Without them, our world becomes “meaningless” and we become unhappy.
How can we consume in more fulfilling and meaningful ways? Generally, there needs to be a change in our consumer culture that allows us to listen to the stories of products and be filled with joy not guilt. In order to achieve this, I believe that we can benefit from reflecting on the past. More specifically through the lens of a life in accordance with nature. This knowledge is not new, human beings have lived with nature as a guiding force for thousands of years and continue to persist in many contemporary First Nation worldviews. In CMA, each one of us has the chance to carve a canoe paddle using the traditional designs and techniques of Westcoast First Nations people. For me, this project is a profound experience. It is driving me to the realization that realigning our consumer habits with aboriginal values can help us to become a healthier society. Traditional carving promotes a culture which gives value and attention to the process behind the product. If you carve a paddle, you don´t just get to know the process, you are actively part of a beautiful story. This is a great feeling, on you will not buy from shopping at the mall.