“You work in a job you hate, to buy stuff you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.” — Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Consumerism gone crazy
We live in a materialistic world. Has it always been this way? I don’t know. Maybe it has. Maybe to some degree it’s just human nature to desire and accumulate stuff. Then again, maybe it hasn’t. Maybe this consumerism craze we are witnessing today did not happen by accident but by design. I personally believe it’s the latter.
There’s a fantastic documentary on this by Adam Curtis. It’s called the Century of the Self. It recounts the story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. The following is a synopsis:
Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.
Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.
His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.
It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.
Don’t fall into the trap — it’s all marketing and mass manipulation
As we are in this festive period, look around you.
Christmas and New Year sales numbers are shocking, no matter whether the economy is good or bad. How many people have the temptation to buy things as long as they see the “Sale” or the “x% off” sign — regardless of whether they actually need those things?
Maybe you have too.
I know I have.
A quick look around my house and it doesn’t take long to find all the crap I have accumulated over the years — and that’s just the stuff lying around, the stuff I haven’t thrown out yet.
Fun fact. Did you know that 99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within 6 months. Imagine that, you buy all this stuff with your hard-earned money all for what? To just end up in the rubbish dump.
How is that possible? If it was something so worthless that I would throw it out in less than 6 months, then why did I buy it in the first place?
It’s all marketing and mass manipulation.
The global PR, Media and Marketing machine is a multi-billion dollar industry serving only one purpose—to ensure ever increasing profits by convincing you to want to buy more stuff regardless of whether you actually need it. It’s like a monstrous Death Star waiting for the next victim to aim its devastating Death Ray at.
After you’ve watched The Century of the Self, another piece of work I would recommend is Ryan Holiday’s bold exposé on the modern media ecosystem — Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.
The point of all this is it’s a battleground for attention.
Your attention is needed in order to indoctrinate you with messages. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes less subtle. But these messages have been pushed over and over again in every channel with billions if not trillions of dollars having been deployed on spreading them. Until finally you start to believe it — like Michael Jackson in Billie Jean once said, the lie becomes the truth…
Here are some of those messages. I’m sure you’ll recognize them.
The need to keep up with the “Joneses”
No matter how many material possessions we accumulate, there’s always the mysterious “Jones family” who has more than you.
If you have two houses, they have four. If you have three cars they have five. Plus they have bigger TVs, they go on more frequent vacations, and they send all their kids to a better private school…
And so on and on.
This of course is fictional.
But boy does it work. It’s one of the most effective marketing tactics companies use to boost sales. Playing on the human ego and fear of missing out.
Everyone is using the latest iPhone X so I need to get one as well lest I be “left behind.” Then you begin to convince yourself, “it’s not going to cost too much, I just need to take out a bit from my savings.”
Next is the appeal to ego.
Ego. The need to impress other people. As Tyler Durden in Fight Club put it — buying things you don’t need (on credit) to impress people you don’t even like.
Playing on your self-esteem and self-worth
That somehow we as humans are defined by the stuff we have.
For men, if you smoke or buy that new car you are somehow more attractive to women.
For women, if you buy that new dress / handbag / cosmetic / piece of jewellery you are somehow more attractive to the opposite sex.
Buy this or that — to make you feel cultured, important, special or unique. Pamper yourself.
You’ve heard them all.
Lies. These are all lies.
Worse still, lately I’ve even seen some insidious campaigns trying to convince us that our regard for others can be measured in terms of the stuff we give them. That somehow buying expensive gifts for a loved one demonstrates your love for them. That somehow the more expensive it is, the more you love them.
Absolute lies. Don’t for a moment believe it.
Stop buying shit you don’t need — if you’re selling time for money, money is time and time is your life
If you’re an employee and you work full time to make a living you’re exchanging time for money. Even if you’re freelancing on an hourly rate you’re still exchanging time for money. In fact if you’re in the same category of the vast majority of the world, you’re probably exchanging time for money. You’re in the Rat Race. This is probably going to be your life for the next 30-50 years unless you do something about it.
Since your life is just time on Earth and you’re exchanging time for money you’re effectively exchanging chunks of your life for money. So if you’re squandering your money on buying more worthless stuff, you’ve essentially traded chunks of your life for it.
So please think about what percentage of your salary goes towards buying things that you don’t really need. And ask yourself is it really worth it?
What’s more, if your goal is to free yourself from the Rat Race (or Time-Money-Servitude as I call it) every dollar spent on crap you don’t need is a dollar less to invest. Think of every additional dollar as a little “freedom fighter” that is contributing towards purchasing your eventual freedom.
Make this your 2018 Financial Resolution — Start small and make incremental changes
Step One: Stop buying s**t you don’t need
Be brutal and apply triage to every dollar you have. Do you really need that? Are there cheaper alternatives or can you make do without it altogether.
Step Two: Look around your house and sell things you don’t need
This serves several purposes. It helps you clear the clutter around your house. It helps you recoup some of the money you’ve spent in the past. More importantly it gives you the experience of selling for once instead of buying.
This will help you shift your mindset from always viewing the world from a consumer’s perspective to instead starting to think from a producer’s perspective.
Stop wasting your money, time and more importantly your life buying things that you don’t need (on credit) to impress people you don’t even like. It’s all marketing and mass manipulation. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you waste is a dollar less that you can invest or deploy towards gaining your financial freedom.