The Consumption Dogma

“And on the 8th day of creation, humans took over from God and created capitalism. 

And capitalism took over from humans and looked down at them and said: “you are mine now”. 

And humans looked down at their wallets, and they were full of money. 

And they bought everything they could buy, and killed everything in the Garden of Eden, packaged it in plastic and carried it into the supermarket. 

And on the 9th day of creation, the supermarket ran out of products.  The Earth was scorched, and the oceans were full of dead fish.  And humans turned to God, but God was nowhere to be found.”

No one knows exactly at which precise point in our history consumption became an ideology.  It seems that we always had the propensity inside of us to be greedy.  But at least in the beginning, people were just sticking to acquiring only the essentials, like bread and milk, or things that they cherished, and which meant something to them, like a pebble that they found or a semi-precious stone that they had exchanged with an artist from the tribe next door.  It was a natural behavior, and it felt rewarding and satisfying, unlike today’s “shopping therapy” which leaves you drained and empty: full of guilt and disappointment at the same time, oppressed by thoughts about all the additional things you “should have” , “could have bought”, and which of course you couldn’t afford.    But in the beginning, all that people needed was some food and a pretty pebble that they had found in the river.  It was enough, it felt more than enough. 

Fast forward a few thousand years, and a massive industrial machine churning consumer products day and night has been set up to cater for our voracious obsession with owning things.  Compared to our ancestors, you could argue that all modern humans do all day is either shop or think about what they need to own next.   It is beyond simple greed.  It is a mental disorder.

With time, the machine that made the products became so highly efficient, so vast, so hungry to sell, that it begun to have a brain of its own: calculating margins, predicting sales, adjusting bottom lines.  It became preoccupied day and night not with serving the humans with its products, but with ensuring that whatever useless crap it produced was sold one way or another, whether people needed it or not. 

This was the turning point.

It was the point when consumption became completely reversed: not driven anymore by the people and their needs, but by the machine’s need to sell.  Consumption itself had become a purpose, all on its own, as opposed to a means to an end.  It became part of what people referred to as “existence”

As it established itself, the machine became so hungry for money, so greedy, that it was now desperate to sell anything to anyone, whether it was of good quality or not.  The machine was literally having a nervous breakdown, an existential anxiety.  In order to sell increasingly inferior products, it had to invent a narrative, a “purpose” that can draw and hypnotize its audience.  The purpose was Ownership, and the religion that came with it was The Church of Consumption, supported by the propaganda of Marketing.  The Machine itself was God, the marketing campaigns were His sermon, and the products themselves were His blessing.  The temples of this new church were the shopping malls, their walls covered end-to-end with millions of adverts of price markdowns.  The more products people bought, the closer they would get to Salvation.  Through its power over peoples’ minds, The Machine, working alongside the Church of Consumption, was now effectively consuming the people.

Once people were sufficiently brainwashed by the church, they would buy all kinds of useless products that the machine made.  As long as they only realized their mistake after taking their shopping home, the machine had already defrauded the people, completed its transaction and made its profit, always offering a cut to the church.

The new religion was a massive success.  People kept flocking back to the shopping malls, even though they knew they felt even more empty since their last visit.  They believed in the new religion: they believed abstractly that “owning” something is “good”, whether it was useful to them or not, and that one day if they own enough things they will come closer to salvation.  They can also brag about their belongings to their friends and feel good about themselves.

But they felt empty inside.  Because ownership is abstract, it doesn’t actually mean something.  You can “own” a million things, it doesn’t mean anything if you are not truly connected to those things.  Humans began to own things mechanically, following the church’s dogma.  But they had no connection to the products. They began to feel empty.

But that was OK, because their emptiness could be cured by buying even more products, at least this was the official line of the Church of Consumption.  They wanted to believe it, so the continued to buy things in order to desperately convince themselves that salvation was real. 

The temples of the new church, the shopping malls, began to overflow with money.  The grander they became, the more pilgrims they attracted, the more funds they collected in order to build even more lavish temples.  It was a self-perpetuating myth, but long as the new religion managed to reinforce its dogma, the machine saw its transactions multiply and its profits increase exponentially.

As with all religions, after some time people became fanatical.  They idealized the machine and couldn’t see that it had manipulated them.  In their eyes, the machine was perfect.  The religion became the biggest one on the planet, merging and engulfing all others under its ideology:  Christianity, Islam and all major religions that had preached some level of self-restraint and modesty, succumbed to it.  Consumption, excess, economic growth, became powerful dogmas not to be challenged by anyone. 

Self-restraint became sacrilege:  it became an insult to the new church and to the machine itself.  Any concept of conservation of resources was seen as a direct attack on the system, and a threat to the existence of civilization itself.  Any drop in consumption or birth rates was seen as an immediate risk to everyone’s well-being, even though not too long ago, a settlement of 50-100,000 people was considered a mega city, usually the capital of an empire.

Society became one big junkie, overdosing on the resources it pillaged from a planet that had been all but been depleted.  Like with any junkie, there was no measure, no stopping point.  In a society of junkies, everyone became complicit to the destruction of the planet, literally as a matter of faith.   The success of the church, and human civilization as a whole, lied in being tremendously efficient in morally corrupting and at the same time subjugating every single individual by the time they had reached 18 years of age.  But everyone believed in the same religion, so it was OK.  It all felt “normal”.

Overconsumption, overpopulation felt normal, even though economic growth itself never lasts forever.  Even The Machine itself one day will run out of raw materials to make its products, it was rumored.  It would eventually be limited by the physical boundaries of the ecosystem it exploited.

The Church of Consumption was nothing else by greed, packaged, decorated and legitimized in the form of a church.  By succumbing to their own greed, humans had chosen the wrong religion to believe in, on a planet where there had only ever been one, ancient religion:  the religion of sharing and recycling.  Everything on Earth is borrowed anyway, but humans wanted ownership.  And while the planet has an incredible ability to absorb, recycle and reuse most of the toxic materials that humans produce, it also has the power and ability to absorb, recycle and reuse all of human civilization, however it sees fit.  This happens when its carrying and processing capacity are exceeded, much like a toilet that can’t take more shit and suddenly explodes.

The story of humans did not end well.  There was much squabbling over who owns what, and this led to a big war that brought humanity to an abrupt end, before climate change could even demonstrate its ability to do exactly the same.

It is estimated that within just 4 million years, and provided humans are completely extinct, biodiversity on the planet may recover fully from the 6th Mass Extinction.  Earth can, and will, continue without humans. Humans cannot continue without Earth.

(from the upcoming “Little Book of Doom”)

George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books

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