Well, in reality even non-consumers are consumers. My husband and I consume food- both groceries and restaurant food, entertainment- in the form of movies, plays, concerts, and so forth, used goods from ebay, craigslist, Goodwill, yard sales, freecycle, etc. But we’re not big consumers of brand-new, cheaply made, throwaway STUFF. As a member of The Compact, I’ve pledged to Buy Nothing New, and for the most part I don’t.
But even though I’m still kind of a consumer, it’s really starting to tick me off to constantly hear news stories that refer to people like me as a “consumer.” There are the businesses, and then there are the consumers. I could be referred to as a lot of things- a worker, a voter, a neighbor, not to mention a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, niece, and granddaughter. Even a “customer,” which defines me as someone who is giving business to someone who’s doing a service for me. But consumer entirely defines me by a transaction, as someone who’s buying STUFF from someone else, because if I’m not the one doing the selling, I must be the one doing the buying.
What I’d rather be called is a citizen. That defines me by my role in the community and the world, by what I do rather than what I buy. To me, a citizen implies the roles of neighbor, voter, taxpayer, and person who doesn’t avoid jury duty. It’s more active and less passive. More about changing things when you can and accepting them when you can’t, less about filling your house with junk and your brain with trivia. It’s about taking an active part in the culture, rather than being a passive observer. It’s about being more conscious and less susceptible to advertising.
I think part of the problem comes from equating democracy with capitalism. One is a political system and one is an economic system, but I feel like the two are blurred and confused all the time. And sometimes any criticism of capitalism is perceived as an attack on democracy.
I think it would make a good bumper sticker: I’M A CITIZEN, NOT A CONSUMER! What do you think? Of course, we’re all some combination of citizens and consumers, but how would things change if we identified more with our participatory role as citizens?
Please share your thoughts and opinions on the matter in the Comments section.
Elizabeth B says
This is such a great post–it's really given me food for thought. We're all consumers in that we have to consume food/energy/etc. in order to live. But yeah, hearing about "consumers" all the time does set up a connection between capitalism and democracy that I don't like. Let's all be citizens instead.
Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life says
Ultimately, I just like the idea of being a voter with your dollars. Where I spend my money largely reflects the world I support and my values: family farms, thrift/consignment/charitable shops, independent/mom & pop shops and restaurants, companies like Trader Joe's, main street, cruelty-free (non animal-tested) products. No one's perfect (I don't buy organic everything, and do patronize some chains, i.e., Super Cuts). But overall, my bumper sticker would read, "I vote daily with my dollars."
Mrs. Money says
I HATE consumerism. I love that you are doing the compact. I am going through and getting rid of tons of stuff lately! It feels so good!!
I am tired of "the consumer as savior of our economy". I think we should be encouraging people to save and become a little more self-reliant rather than spend beyond their means to save poorly managed businesses.
I'd love one of those bumper stickers!
As a mostly non-consumer for at least this year, I'd like to think I was still somebody!
And citizen seems to imply you're part of a community, interacting with people, not just things.
Forest Parks says
It's hard to tell people you are giving up buying new stuff or trying not to feed the consumerism that is epidemic without people thinking you want to be a crazy hermit!!
Sharing of services and selling goods in itself isn't bad in my eyes but we have to make sure we reuse and recycle, be carful about not buying stuff we don't need and get away from the mentality of needing all this stuff…. It's killing us!
Like you say even us non-consumers are being targeted as consumers now and in some cases it works to bring non-consumers back to buying.
I totally agree, and have been protesting this for years. It has done absolutely no good at all but hey, maybe I'm responsible for more people noticing and resenting it. Ya think!!!!
I noticed you're from Buckeye, AZ- do you raise the chickens and eggs to sell, or just for yourself? We have relatives there who would be interested in that. Write to me at my gmail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm curious if you happen to know our niece. Probably not, but sometimes it's a small world!
Ever since I read this post, I have noticed the use of "consumers" everywhere! I really enjoyed this post.