Surbiton, UK -- (ReleaseWire) -- 04/02/2014 -- The research, which was published this morning by UK action group Christian Voice, warns that our experience as consumers is formative even when we are not actually buying since consumerism is shifting how we think of ourselves and each other.
“The net effect of a culture that prioritizes material prosperity above all else is that family relationships suffer, either directly through family breakdown, or indirectly from the array of pressures that prevent families from being properly ordered,” the organization warned.
Robin Phillips, who oversaw the research, commented that he wanted to look beyond simple family breakdown to explore the more subtle ways consumerism is harming families. “Normally when we talk about the breakdown of the family we have in mind things like divorce statistics” Phillips told the media in a statement this morning. “But we should also be attentive to the quality of family life. Our research suggests that the quality of family relationships has been a casualty of unrestrained consumerism. This runs against current thinking which tends to associate the good life with material prosperity.”
Phillips, whose book Saints and Scoundrels was published last year, added, “Although people have been warning about the effects of consumerism for years, what amazed us was the sheer scale of the problem. There are few areas of family life that have been left untouched by the ethic of unbridled consumerism. The impulses and metaphors of consumerism have exerted tentacles beyond the marketplace to affect nearly every area of life.”
In the summary of their findings, Christian Voice identified seven primary areas where consumerism is directly undermining the integrity of the family. The group warned that:
Products are replacing relationships, as parents are increasingly buying things for their children instead of spending time with them.
To sustain a profitable constituency of consumers, successful industries have enormous incentives to orient the public to prioritize transience over permanence. The ethic of disposability spills into other areas, even ordering how we view relationships.
Where advertisers used to focus on selling products, they now focus on creating consumers. Essentially, instead of producing products for consumers, they produce consumers for products. This is done by pandering to our notions of an idealized lifestyle that runs directly counter to the priorities needed for healthy family life.
The impulses and metaphors of consumerism now exercise a powerful effect on body-image, so that husbands and wives face new challenges relating to each other physically.
To compete in the new market of global consumerism, companies have had to embrace new methods of advertising in order to survive. Consumer-directed advertising gives us a matrix of what the well-lived life looks like that is often at odds with the values needed to sustain family-friendly communities.
Consumerism breeds a type of radical autonomy that encourages us to define ourselves without reference to others. As young people prize portable assets above marriage and family people are marrying later and have less social capital to draw on for their families.
The conjunction of consumerism with new communication media has resulted in virtual communities displacing the embodied communities where families thrive.
When asked if their finding yielded any surprises, Robin Phillips, told reporters what surprised them most was that the main effects of consumerism were not the areas which first come to mind. While greed, ambition and the accumulation of wealth do create great obstacles for healthy families, the primary harm consumerism does to families is more subtle, in so far as it orients family-members towards a false idea of what it means to be human. When joined with the powerful industry of advertising, the consumerist impulse breeds assumptions about personal autonomy and self-definition that make it hard to accept the fixities of marriage and family life.
Christian Voice, which has campaigned for many years against forces threatening to destroy the family, said it would be broadening its campaign to warn people against the temptations posed by unrestrained consumerism.
Robin Phillips, Press Secretary
PO Box 739A, Surbiton, KT6 5YA, UK