You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ''It happened overnight.'' But of course it didn't. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can't remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people's other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.
If nonsatiety were the natural state of human nature then aggressive want-stimulating advertising would not be necessary, nor would the barrage of novelty aimed at promoting dissatisfaction with last year's model. The system attempts to remake people to fit its own presuppositions. If people's wants are not naturally insatiable we must make them so, in order to keep the system going.
So much about life in a global economy feels as though it has passed beyond the individual's control--what happens to our jobs, to the prices at the gas station, to the vote in the legislature. But somehow food still feels a little different. We can still decide, every day, what we're going to put into our bodies, what sort of food chain we want to participate in. We can, in other words, reject the industrial omelet on offer and decide to eat another.
The child tends to be stripped of all social influences but those of the market place, all sense of place, function and class is weakened, the characteristics of region and clan, neighborhood or kindred are attenuated. The individual is denuded of everything but appetities, desires and tastes, wrenched from any context of human obligation or commitment. It is a process of mutilation; and once this has been achieved, we are offered the consolation of reconstituting the abbreviated humanity out of the things and the goods around us, and the fantasies and vapors which they emit. A culture becomes the main determinant upon morality, beliefs and purposes, usurping more and more territory that formerly belonged to parents, teachers, community, priests and politics alike.
Perhaps if we could popularise through the techniques of branding and consumerism, a different idea, a different narrative, perhaps the world can change. After all it changes constantly and incessantly, it's just the perceptions that we have are governed by people with self-interest and are not inalignment with the health and safety of us as individuals or as a planet.
We typically misunderstand what's wrong about consumerism. It's not that it makes us love material things too much. To be a good consumer, you have to desire to get lots of things, but you must not love any of them too much once you have them. Consumerism needs children who do not stay attached to their toys for very long and learn to expect the next round of presents as soon as possible. When consumerism succeeds, our attachments are shallow, easily broken, so we can move on to the next thing we're supposed to get. Being a good consumer means desiring new things, not cherishing old ones. And the new things you're supposed to desire are not always material things. Spirituality is now a consumerist enterprise, too.