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The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Why do we tend to identify ourselves by our consumption?

Asked by The_Compassionate_Heretic (14626points) May 24th, 2009

At least in the west, people are so often characterized by what they buy.
Phones, computers, music, food, alcohol, clothes, cars… invariably people are judged to an extent by what they spend their money on. Is that any measure of what makes a person, a person?

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15 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

It is a measure of how much money they have, not their value.

nikipedia's avatar

Where you choose to spend your money seems like a pretty good indicator of your priorities and values. For instance, Erasmus was quoted as once saying, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

Consider also the monetary investment some activities require. I had to buy a glove to play softball, new shoes to run, a round of beer to play trivia every week… :)

YARNLADY's avatar

Your blanket statement is so sweeping as to be rendered ridiculous. “We identify ourselves”? “invariably”? This is so far off base in my experience that I can barely comment on it. I identify myself by who and what I am, and others are free to identify me by whatever criteria they feel comfortable with. Most people just call me Grandma.

tinyfaery's avatar

I wouldn’t say I define myself by my possessions, which is essentially what you’re saying. But I do think that many people do tend to do this, especially towards others. It’s easy to judge others for their consumption, but people rarely look at their own spending habits.

whatthefluther's avatar

To clarify. it measures their values, not their value to society or others. Geez…did that clarify things,,,,it might sound like double talk, but I hope it is clear…wtf

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@YARNLADY People will judge you by the things you buy even if you don’t judge yourself by such superficial standards. It’s not a ridiculous notion because it happens every day, but I appreciate your perspective.

rooeytoo's avatar

@whatthefluther – well said, that is true.

I do often notice though how many people are running around with shirts that have the little polo symbol on it. I know they are expensive, unless you buy at an outlet and I wonder why people spend the extra money. I don’t think the quality is that much better than an LL Bean for half the price.

So I think it does say something about the person wearing or buying. I am just not sure what???

YARNLADY's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic then your wording is backwards. P.S. I am one of the most frugal people I know, and I was raised that way. People who judge would have to say “there she goes, the stingiest lady in town”.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I meant we and ourselves as a collective, not that we look in the mirror and say “you know, I’m a Ford sort of person”. People do truly refer to each other in such ways though. If you’re frugal, good for you, but I won’t let that become a judgment of your overall character.

YARNLADY's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic I see, I thought you meant we as in each of us defines ourselves. Many people do actually define their self by their consumer desires and habits. I’ve seen people brag about how “trendy” they are and refer to people as so “last year” based on what they wear, or how they fix their hair.

Darwin's avatar

I’m with Erasmus. For me money spent on books is always a priority.

As to having labels on the outside of my clothing, I think that is just silly. If it fits, is comfortable and a nice color, that’s all I want from my garments. Of course, I still wear my hair the way I did in high school many decades ago, so I am definitely so last century.

I find that often those who feel who they are is represented by the stuff they own are people who are either insecure or never have gotten out of high school mentally. That would include all of Hollywood and the “journalists” who document who wears what to which event.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

As an American, just about everything outside of the home attached to identity is geared to consumption from the time of childhood. What lunchbox you get sent to school with, what kind of car your parents drive you in, everything. I believe since America is made up of so many diverse people, culturally, ethnically, etc. that how we consume brings us unity. Not all consumption is negative or purely selfish though.

Darwin's avatar

I was an abused American child. I didn’t have a lunch box. I had a brown paper sack.

wundayatta's avatar

People judge everyone by the way they manipulate symbols. Words are symbols, and so are clothes and cars and schools your children go to, and hell, political views are symbols. Everything means something else besides what it means on the surface.

What you make of the symbols depends on what “language” you speak. If you speak creativity, then consumption symbols will be annoying. If you speak money, consumption symbols count for a log. Often times, those “without” will pooh-pooh the symbols of those “with.” They might change their tune when they become “with.” This is called “selling out.”

We’re tribal animals; social animals; and status is extremely important in our lives. We use all kinds of cues to sort ourselves out in the pecking order, but it is a shifting landscape and everyone has a different point of view.

If the people you hang out with assess each other based on ability to consume, that’s the way it is. I’m sure you know that that’s not the only way it is. For example, where I come from, there are a lot of people who are wealthy, but do their best to be very quiet about it. They even demean themselves, and humble themselves with their spending habits, because they might not believe it’s nice to rub your status in the face of someone with less status. There are even very wealthy people who live in poverty, and when they die, everyone is surprised that they’ve left millions to this or that organization.

I would caution anyone to make assumptions about what consumption symbols actually mean. They might mean you are dealing with a shallow person. Or a greedy person. Or a braggart. They don’t necessarily indicate a person who understands and appreciates quality. Similarly, shabby clothes and a car with 150K miles on it don’t necessarily indicate poverty or a lack of education.

Cars and money are the measure of some people. Some people value these things. For others, they measure little of importance about a person. If you are sick of people who measure themselves this way, then look around. There are millions of places where people who have other values hang out.

dannyc's avatar

I agree. I think it is the competitive streak in some. But one day it all sort of clicks in, that what you have, own or cherish will be gone insofar as materiality. What you consume becomes far less important than what you had thought, and you start to see family, friends and health as the real gifts and more sought after than any jewels, or dead man’s shoes.

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