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Consumerism + Capitalism = ??

If you follow my blog in any capacity, you know I love to talk about politics and finance relative to the average individual’s life. So many of us think that what politicians, corporations and high-level financiers discuss and eventually base decisions upon, doesn’t affect us at the individual level. How incredibly wrong and deluded we are if we think that is true!! Everything we do is influenced by these sectors of the population, from the food we eat to the cars we drive. Everything we read, listen to, interact with — especially social media — is monitored and steered for utilization by entities far up the totem pole of power.

Privacy? Non-existent. Freedom? Dwindling by the minute. The American Dream? Something from a 50s TV show. Chance to get rich? Short of winning the lotto – zero. And even that isn’t secure. Nothing is sacred anymore, so let’s get off our high horse and deal with facts.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the point in the subject line. Wait for it… wait for it….

We have all become slaves to a society — mostly unwillingly and unknowingly — that wants us to do what we are told, mindlessly go about our lives spending money because the media says it’ll make you happier, get into more debt as a result of sating our need for instant gratification and be beholden to the almighty dollar and those that regulate those industries. A mouthful, yes, but true.

One of my big goals is to be debt-free and this week I made some major steps toward that goal. I paid off an old debt and the balance on my existing credit card. What’s left is my student loans. I think many people have become hip to the need to not have loads of debt hovering over you. If anything the mortgage and lending crisis taught us is that the market is not secure and in fact, can stumble into instability in short order. Today’s sensible route is really to do the following:

1) Get rid of your debt, particularly revolving credit debt. Along with this, keep your credit report clean by paying your bills on time and make sure all accounts on there are actually YOURS. You’d be surprised by how many people still don’t check their credit report. There’s only a handful of companies maintaining this critical information that can make or break financial futures, especially if identity theft is involved; this is something that should not be left to chance!

2) Set up an emergency fund. Jobs are hard to come by in the USA unless you have specific skill sets that are in demand. Companies are doing mostly profit-taking right now and are generally not hiring for new positions. This is likely going to be the ongoing trend, so it’s important to save up enough to secure you and your family for longer periods of time without work. Don’t rely on unemployment should that occur. Be smart about it! I know many that are stocking up on precious metals like gold or silver as an alternative to the valueless dollar.

3) Curtail spending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you don’t need it, don’t buy it! Numbers 1 and 2 above are impacted heavily by the trend of consumerism in the United States — and in truth, around the world — and the cooperative efforts between big business and the media are to blame for this one. The American identity is closely entwined with what possessions we have, it is intricately woven with the media’s ability to convince us that life will be better if we have MORE. It doesn’t really matter what MORE is, as long as we spend money and fatten the coffers, that’s all that matters. The problem is that when we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have the means to spend money any more (job loss, major illness, etc), the desire to spend and get MORE doesn’t go away. Instead, it is replaced with frustration and increased opportunity to delve into debt. Most of us are unable to change our lifestyles to reflect the reality of our situations because we have been so indelibly imprinted with this need to get “things” to help along our oblivious happiness.

Maybe at some point in the past, the United States was a democracy, by and for the people. However, what we’ve become is an amalgamation of consumerism and capitalism. Consumerism supports and sustains capitalism. Debt sits as the foundation of capitalism. Corporations, government and media are all in bed together doing unmentionable, disgusting things that endanger us on a daily basis… and the need for profits supersedes all else.

I just posted a quote about debt that Andrew Jackson said way back when. There are plenty more quotes from prominent leaders, usually made AFTER they were out of their position of power. Their influence had waned and they then felt free to say what they really felt. Fact is, what we think is our government, the choices we make in terms of leaders — hell, the choices we make in food even — are not ours to make. They have been influenced heavily by outside factors and the general public is simply not aware enough to know when they are being manipulated. Awareness is the first key to realizing that we are being controlled. It is like every book ever written about power over the masses – Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World (these are classics, so I’ll assume you’ve read them) … you name it.

We need to exhibit more control over our choices and how we secure ourselves. It seems extreme, but the more aware we are of how we are influenced, the better decisions we can make. It’s foolish to believe that use of things like mobile phones or credit cards are not being monitored and used against us, to further market to us and get us to spend more. We cannot continue to be oblivious of our daily interactions and how those in power will use it against us. If we choose wisely, we can limit our exposure and secure ourselves.

How can we do this?

1) Choose purchases wisely. Again, don’t get what you don’t need. Where feasible, use cash (see my post on this). Credit cards use gives marketing data on our spending habits and what kind of items we purchase. Know where your items come from and support local businesses by purchasing from them instead of the big corporations.

2) Limit online exposure. For some of us, this is almost impossible as it is a catch-22. We keep in contact with friends and family online, make purchases, promote ourselves. But in truth, the less we are on “the grid”, the less information that will be available. Think of the whole “cloud” concept — it is INSTANT accessibility of all your information. THINK about it.

3) Don’t play dumb. Assume that everywhere you go, you are being watched and monitored. Paranoia, yes. Will we see an increase in the need to “protect” citizens (i.e., Patriot Act)? Indeed we will. Better to know than be oblivious about our continual loss of privacy.

4) Think for yourself. Question EVERYTHING. Do the research. I very rarely watch TV these days. It is full of BS that is meant to mold our minds to believe in something that isn’t inherently ours.

5) Stop spending money on crap. I know, I sound like a broken record. But this is so key to hitting corporations in their wallets. You don’t buy it, they won’t sell it anymore. Think about how far reaching that kind of consumer power can be. Don’t buy into the hype of something that’s “immeasurably awesome”. Always ask yourself if you NEED it — REALLY need it. Learn the difference between “need” and “want”.

6) Teach our children about their role in society and the reality of today’s world. They are ill-equipped to navigate today’s consumer/capitalist state, mostly because schools and parents aren’t equipped to teach them. They too are caught in the insanity — how can THEY possibly steer children in the right direction and show them to think for themselves? By the time most realize this, it is so far gone and time has been wasted.

So there you have it, my friends. I do feel rather strongly about this, and while I see some people making changes, I also see many falling back into the bad habits that serve us poorly. We need to control ourselves, our choices and our impetus to spend more and look at the bigger picture of how our cumulative decisions impact the nation and our lives.