Today's Toxic Consumer Culture:
While scrolling through any form of social media, or watching a show online today there is no doubt that you are going to witness many ads. In this day and age it has become a major part of anyone’s online experience. We see ads or promotions tailored to our likes and interests because these sites see and save where we have clicked or what kind of content we have liked. These social media platforms then find content in the form of suggested ads or promotions that fits in those categories to pop up on our feed and influence us to buy these products. Buying things has never been easier or cheaper. If I am scrolling through Instagram and see an ad for $1.00 leggings, all I have to do is click the link that is tagged in the picture, auto generate my credit card, billing, and mailing information through google pay and/or my chrome account and click “ship”. And just like that, only five minutes after seeing a post for something I previously didn’t even know existed, it is on its way to my mailbox. Without thinking twice, I’ve just succumbed to America’s toxic capitalist mentality.
So what's the Issue with this?
As beneficial as this new market is for both consumers and producers, it lends itself to creating major issues environmentally and in the mentality of Americans today. America is one of the top global economic leaders (America’s Global Economic Leadership). We buy mostly from outsourced places so that our products are cheaper. However, this leads to lower quality that is ethically and environmentally problematic. In today’s capitalistic market American consumers are constantly convinced that we need these products due to how inexpensive they are along with how well they are advertised. We live in a society where we are constantly told that the way we are is not good enough. If certain celebrities, or successful, influential people use these products, then we need to as well in order to achieve confidence and success. It is my belief that America’s toxic capitalistic ideals are ruining the health of its people and the health of our planet by encouraging overconsumption.
America's Toxic Capitalist Mentality: History
In no way am I against free markets or capitalism as a whole. I believe the problem is with America’s current implementation of capitalism and the toxicity it creates. This problem can be simply explained by dissecting America’s toxic capitalistic mentality. America became successful through capitalism and we have stayed fiercely loyal to its beliefs and values for as long as we have been an independent country (Bryer 516). After World War II, American markets and the government became so protective of capitalism they made the general public fear this new idea of Marxism that had taken over in Russia (518). Thus, the Cold War began, and the fear of communism that the U.S. government instilled in the American people for its entirety made us cling on to our fierce capitalist ideals even more. The American government has never ceased to promote free markets, hard work, and the idea that if your business did not succeed it was your fault (Kasser, Tim, et al. 4). Since the end of this ‘Red Scare’ the U.S. population has remained too afraid to change our economic ways out fear that any deviation would lead to the start of communism in America (Bryer 519). It is because of these fear tactics that major U.S. companies have gone so many years unchecked, leading to toxic capitalist American ideals that lacks compassion for the well-being of people or the well-being of the planet.
History's Affect on Today
This history explains why America deviates heavily from the current mentality towards climate change that the more socialist European countries hold. For example, U.S.-based oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron have constantly lobbied against mandatory emission controls arguing that the potential costs are too high to control greenhouse gases (Levy and Kolk 275). In comparison, BP and Shell, the two largest European companies, have accepted the science and even shown support for the governmental laws controlling emissions. This shows why this mentality has become so toxic. It has led to America’s innaction against climate change.
The Influence of Advertising
Another issue with our capitalist ideals is how they have influenced companies to use advertising methods that promote overconsumption. Diving deeper into advertising methods, it is important to show how negatively this manipulative approach to selling products has impacted the American public. It affects how we consume. We buy things that will be inevitably thrown out. We also buy things that generate a lot of waste.
“Consumerism promotes a materialistic culture where too many services and goods ‘are being designed, produced, advertised, sold, and discarded’ thereby leading to habits that are often wasteful and environmentally destructive” (Fayemi 259). We think less when buying products, falling for advertising simply because we want these items and become convinced we need them in our lives. The accessibility of the internet to those of all ages has made it so consumerism affects the lives of younger audiences in a more impactful way than advertising has before (Isaksen and Roper 647).
More Influence on a Younger Generation
Just think about how when you were younger and how easily you would fall victim to the toy and cheap makeup ads that played in between your favorite shows. I remember begging my parents to buy me a certain product that we had passed while shopping one week, simply because I had seen an ad for it on T.V. Well now, all kids and teens have to do is click the link to the online store and beg their parents to buy said product from the comfort of their homes. This new corporate strategy works by selling products to naive and insecure, young consumers playing on their low-self esteem and helping to make it worse. It convinces us to buy for aesthetic enjoyment and sells us these ideals in a dehumanizing manner (Fayemi 260).
It also encourages overconsumption on all levels that helps perpetuate this entire vicious cycle of health issues for any American consumer wanting recognition and validation (Isaksen and Roper 647). Both of which are a main part of today’s social media and advertisement driven culture.
The Affects of Overconsumption
The concept of overconsumption plays a major role in the market’s environmental effects as well. With overconsumption comes food waste, pollution, and a rise in trash production (UNAI Food Security and Climate Change series). The United States, a richer and larger country, has a bigger environmental impact. The U.S. is the overall worst polluter, with the most greenhouse gas emissions of any country with 18.6 tonnes of harmful CO2 emissions (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). We are leading the globe economically, however we are stepping back when it comes to taking action environmentally. Our government refused to join other leading global economies in monitoring and cutting back on our greenhouse gas emissions via The Paris Agreement (UNFCCC Authors). American corporations are so unwilling to convert to eco-friendly methods that they even deliberately distort the public’s understanding of climate change by delegitimizing the science through the media (Brulle 692). These corporations spend a lot of their money to specifically back false science to distort true scientific claims about climate change. Through their connections in the media these false studies are promoted, thus distorting public understanding and delegitimizing the truth.
As an American citizen it is disgraceful to witness my country be so stubborn and arrogant. All of this innaction and purposeful opposition just pushes the entire planet to the point of no return in the damage we are doing to it.
Toxic Capitalist Mentality
The problem comes down to our toxic capitalist mentality. Companies must use any means to sell a product with no care for the irreversible repercussions. As a result, we as a society, are too focused on quick fixes. We overlook potential future damage we are doing to ourselves or our environment. This needs to end immediately to benefit our entire global population now and forever. There is no quick solution to this massive issue and therefore the problem has become ignored because of our fast response and quick fix mentality. The mentality that has been created and is constantly supported by these companies and leading brands in our market today. Simply because they don’t want to risk loss of money in order to change for the better. The cut throat ideals of American capitalism has resulted in CEOs purely focused on profits and gains rather than irreversible negative repercussions. It should never have come to the point where our government looks out for and protects big companies like this more than the general safety of the public (McCright and Dunlap 364).
So what can we, as individuals do about it?
We need to start making environmentally conscious purchases.
Let’s go back to the quick Instagram purchase of leggings I gave as an example in the beginning. Ordering that product online at such a low price means it is probably manufactured overseas in a country like Thailand or China where they are experiencing mass pollution by using low-grade fabrics and harmful chemicals just to cater to our cheap needs (Shah, “Exporting Pollution”). Afterwards it would be placed in one to two layers of wasteful plastic packaging surrounded by more useless packaging inside a box that won’t need to be as big as it is to fit a simple pair of leggings. Nonetheless, the extra cardboard is still wasted. Lastly, this entire package is flown from wherever it is made and packaged to whatever address I put down in America. It has been estimated that one mile of air travel uses five gallons of jet fuel, therefore this journey would burn around 44,500 gallons of the non-reusable source, heavily polluting the air with deadly exhaust the process (Bland)(Inman). This shows how much of a negative environmental impact just one purchase can have.
It’s easy to say that this is just a drop in the bucket and that one or two people doing less of this will not affect the environment at all, however, that’s simply not true. Overall research shows that, “60-80 per cent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well” (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).
Our consumption is all that we can change and we impact the planet greatly. We can be more conscious about how much waste we generate. Try to keep track of your trash and reuse items whenever you can. Don’t generate any food waste and buy from local, small markets whenever possible. Try not to buy items from online stores. Before swiping that credit card or clicking “add to cart” think about how much you really need this product. Practicing this will help to determine the difference between want and need. However, there are still ways you can treat yourself. Buy from small businesses that guarantee sustainability or that practice upcycling. A quick google search will give you sources for clothing, jewelry, and all kinds of products that are made in an environmentally friendly way. Use the system to your advantage. Once you start looking for those specifications online and on social media, like I said in the very beginning, the featured ads and promotions on your accounts will change and cater to this as well. If everyone starts consuming this way, corporations will have no other choice then to follow the money and convert as well. This evolution will benefit all. Converting to sustainable methods ensure sustainable jobs with longevity. This is something that cannot be said for those who have jobs in today’s destructive markets.
Force a Change!
Consumers need to take control again and dictate what is being produced and how. It is time for consumers to stop giving companies the attention they don’t deserve. If corporations won’t make the proper changes then we, as consumers, need to force them to change the narrative. We need to make it more profitable for corporations to change their ways. This is the only way we can ensure a healthy future. End America’s toxic capitalist mentality once and for all. Promote a lifestyle where buying products makes you feel good about yourself while also feeling good about doing your part to help out our earth.
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