Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Alienated Consumption

Carmen Maria Machado, who works at a mall outside Philadelphia, wrote in the New Yorker that watching absurdly wealthy shoppers casually purchase luxury goods has had a negative psychological impact on her, leaving her depressed, antisocial and disinterested in other people.
The writer explains: 'The mingling of my financial status and my customers' abundant wealth results in a kind of daily culture shock to which I have yet to adapt.'

Explaining that she earns about ten dollars an hour, Ms Machado writes: 'Every day, I park my run-down car among BMWs and hybrids. The mall rats who hover around the doors smoking cigarettes wear brands of designer jeans I've only ever heard about in songs.'
On an average day she watches wealthy shoppers of all ages casually spend more money than she could ever dream of. One such customer was an eleven-year-old girl who came into the store and nonchalantly purchased $50 worth of high-end moisturizers. Another was a man in his twenties who bought a pair of shoes that cost more than her own monthly rent. And the most memorable customer of all was a woman who purchased every single product Ms Machado recommended without checking a single price tag. 'She had just walked in, just because,' explains the writer. 'And she didn't look at the price of anything, not for a second. It just looked so easy.'

After coming home from a day of work at the mall, Ms Machado reports feeling depressed, anxious, dissociated and 'utterly immune to it all'.
What's more, she finds herself feeling antisocial and indifferent about others and their needs. The above symptoms are not unique to Ms Machado; according to recent research, this type of emotional numbness is experienced by countless others who are constantly exposed to money.

A 2006 Science Magazine study called The Psychological Consequences of Money found that overly exposing people to money has the effect of making them 'disinterested' in others.
'Reminders of money, relative to nonmoney reminders, led to reduced requests for help and reduced helpfulness toward others,' reads the study. It continues: 'Participants primed with money preferred to play alone, work alone, and put more physical distance between themselves and a new acquaintance.' Not only does witnessing others' wealth make people depressed and disinterested, but comparing others' wealth to our own may also affect a person's happiness.

A 2011 study published in Psychological Science found that Americans are happier when 'national wealth is distributed more evenly than when it is distributed unevenly'. This is because increased financial inequality makes us less trustworthy and less convinced that we live in a fair society, according to the research. For the wealthiest 20per cent, however, levels of income equality was not found to affect their happiness.

While the economy may be in recovery, research has found that the wealthy have reaped the benefits of the recovery much more than the poor and middle-income. As a retail worker, Ms Machado is an extreme case of someone witnessing firsthand the financial disparity between the rich and the not-so-rich,

'There is something shocking about working in a place like this, especially around the holidays,' she writes. 'It is the presence of money - lots of it, more than I have ever seen in one place before - and the ease with which it moves around me.'

This gives a great insight into the alienation and destruction of the human psyche which corporate consumer capitalism wreaks. Something George Monbiot also writes about in the Guardian:-

“Buying more stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It is socially destructive and self-destructive...Buying more stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It is socially destructive and self-destructiveThere has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. For example, a series of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in July showed that as people become more materialistic, their wellbeing (good relationships, autonomy, sense of purpose and the rest) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises....Materialism forces us into comparison with the possessions of others, a race both cruelly illustrated and crudely propelled by that toxic website. There is no end to it. If you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment. The material pursuit of self-esteem reduces your self-esteem....”This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.

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