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.