babies

Today I heard this:

“Infants are like consumers.”

It got me thinking. I’m probably going to make some assumptions here and use lots of faulty logic to make some points.  Please forgive me and read this anyway.

Now I recognize that even if this is true, it is not a given that there is any truth in the corollary “Consumers are like infants.”  One doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, even if we want it to.  And I really want it to.

Instead, I’m forced to think it through and make the case all by myself.  I’ll attempt to do so by harnessing the the three energies that make infants so incredibly remarkable.

Eat. Sleep. Poop.

I propose that consumers, like babies, are defined by these three core competencies.

1) Eat

All babies have to eat.  For our purposes, it is the most obvious parallel to consumption.  They eat. Consumers consume.  It doesn’t take an incredible amont of mental prowess to make this connection.

To take it farther though, babies are voracious eaters.  It is almost as if they’re desperate for nourishment, that if they don’t eat at exactly this moment, they will disintegrate into a puff of baby powder.  And it is no secret when they’re ready to eat because they’re incredibly vocal (did I mean to write obnoxious?) about letting you know.

They need to eat.

Consumers consume voraciously too.  In a way, our economy depends on it, but we don’t spend money as a act of patriotism.  We buy things because we have some real or fabricated need to have those things.  We buy things because to deny ourselves would be to risk disintegrating into a puff of moola.  And it is no secret when we’ve procured something new because we’re incredibly vocal (same question) about letting you know.

We need to consume.

2) Sleep

Babies sleep a lot.  Sure they need to, but they can only do so when their other needs are met.  Babies won’t sleep if they need to eat. They have priorities.  Assuming that their bellies are full, and they’re in a safe, quiet environment where they don’t have any other concerns sleep is most likely what you’ll find them doing.

Consumers also seem to sleep well at night.  We surround ourselves with safe surroundings that block out all of the noise outside.  Not just the sounds of passing cars and sirens and trains.  The noise of those whose voice has been compromised.  Those living in poverty whose voice isn’t loud enough to be noticed.  Those having to endure dangerous circumstances because we have drowned them out.

Like babies, we sleep well at night.  I wonder: those times when we wake up at 3:00am because we thought we heard something, did we actually hear something?

3) Poop

Our consumption comes stinky, revolting waste – the kind that we’ve seen in our children’s diapers.  We try to find ways to make it manageable in the same way that humankind has been inspired by the disposable diaper.

Amazingly, it seems uncontrollable.  For consumers AND babies.  There’s just a lot of waste that goes along with being a kid.

So, I wonder what all this means for consumerism.  Are the biggest consumers among us less advanced, less grown up than those that are less bourgeois?  Is it a less advanced state to be obsessed with acquisitions?

If this is in fact true, how does the comparison hold up when we make the observation that no one wants (or chooses, for that matter) to remain a baby for their entire lives?  If the natural thing to do is to become more advanced, to learn more, to progress, to “grow up”, what does that mean for our consumer culture, and our individual materialism?

As important (and fun) as eating, sleeping, and pooping is, there comes a time when we all have to grow up.

3 comments

  1. Good post once again. I would argue that frugality is what we’ve lost. Our parents and grandparents generations were much more about this. I remember my mom canning tons of vegetables and storing them. I remember keeping cars until they fell apart (which they did must faster back then). We used to heat our house with wood that we cut and stacked and fed into the furnace with our own sweat. Those generations were against debt far more than we are today. They tended to save for their future far more than we do.

    Consumerism in itself isn’t bad. After all, it makes jobs for all those people making those products we buy – and that’s a good thing. Labor is good. Labor creates wealth. Consumerism takes a bad turn when we overdo it, stop saving, stop being frugal, stop planning for the future, stop being responsible with our finances.

    As with everything in life, consumerism is a good thing, but any good thing taken to an extreme is bad.

  2. Thanks. I mostly agree. Though, I’d push back a little bit on “consumerism is a good thing.” Consumerism is a thing – neither good nor bad – with it’s value judged subjectively from various perspectives.

    Consumerism ISN’T bad in itself. Neither is it good. In the same way that it creates acceptable labor, it creates unacceptable forms of labor labor (child labor, sweat shops, organized crime) which may in turn create wealth for the immoral at the expense of the weak, defenseless, etc.

    This post, of course, was meant to bring out what happens when we blindly consume with no conscious thought about what we’re doing.

  3. Yes, I agree. Consumerism is a thing. And like any thing it can be good or bad depending on how it’s used. My worry it that I see our society demonizing it and because they can point out a few bad things here and there they lump the entire thing into something that is bad. It’s not. For example, western consumerism has made the poverty level in China plummet from 85% to 15% in just a short 30 years or so.

    I’d say that is a good thing.

    Yes, we need to root out the bad things that occur and bring justice to those individual and specific perpetrators. But we must be careful not to “collectivize” it and, while trying to correct the injustices, also destroy the good.

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