As I continued digging into various resources for my initial research question “do people believe that consumerism can lead to dystopia?”, I now have an answer: yes, consumerism is a dangerous and strong force that can transform a capitalist society into dystopia. The evidence I found can be categorized into three divisions: the environmental, social and political impact of consumerism. Considering the limited scope of this research project, I will focus only on the social aspect, therefore raising a more specific question: how can consumerism cause a dystopia to form from a social perspective?
I will address the question from three levels of social analysis: from the most micro level—how consumerism affect individuals in a society, to the ways in which people interact, finally to large scale socio-economic classes that comprise the whole society. Details from the dystopian society in M. T. Anderson’s Feed corresponding to each level of society will be presented and parallels will be drawn to present capitalist societies using sociological analysis.
On the level of individuals, consumption is addictive. In a consumerist society where consumption is promoted as the foremost necessity, consuming easily becomes an impulsive behavior as individuals are never satisfied with what they already own. This turns into a vicious cycle of personal insecurity and consumption, which likely gives rise to mental problems and anti-social behavior. When using social media to show off the products one buys, individuals are also branding and selling themselves as commodities. Such trading of personal identity defined by consumer goods homogenizes people and culture, thus dehumanizing people by forcing them to lose their true identity and uniqueness and shaping them into a uniform and supposedly ideal “one”.
In evaluating interpersonal interactions in a consumeristic society, such connections are severely undermined. In such a society where instant gratification and interest of self are valued, people participate less and less in public life and community values are corroded. Although people tend to socialize more through social media or entertainment activities, such as parties, they approach others with a utilitarian view, creating shallow relationships, which leads to increasing relational crisis in families and between “friends.” With businesses targeting consumers’ emotions in advertisements, people become more driven by emotion rather than logic. Such lack of rationale is also detrimental to personal relations.
From the highest level, gap between social classes are enlarged and the whole society easily turns into a power system. From basic economic analysis, it is fairly straightforward to conclude that consumerism causes accumulation of wealth in the upper class while exploiting cheap labor from lower class. Such rich-poor disparity only increases with time, leading to complete division of people, which is usually one of the basis of dystopia. Another characteristic of highly developed free market economies is the concentration of power, which ultimately turns into authoritarianism. As it may be counterintuitive to imagine how free economies, “utopia of freedom”, can turn into authoritarian societies (typical of dystopia), I am confident that you will find the reasoning very logical and convincing as it will be presented in my research paper “Evolution of Consumeristic Society to Dystopia——A Sociological Analysis.”