How often have you felt that sinking in your gut of feeling dissatisfied? Have you ever found yourself feeling deep dissatisfaction with your life even when you’ve got everything anyone could possibly want? How often have you gotten something you worked really hard for, like a car or house or an iPhone and a day or two later you began feeling depressed?
That feeling of dissatisfaction you are feeling is, I’m sad to say, capitalism at work. Could there be other reasons for this feeling? Yes, of course, but before you give up on this article as just another wacko left-wing diatribe, consider that the entire capitalist system of free enterprise doesn’t need a communist conspiracy to bring it down. Capitalism would come crushing down the minute everyone became happy with their lives. Capitalism is an economic system built upon creating a culture of feeling dissatisfied. Take a moment to seriously consider this: Once all your needs are met and you no longer need to buy anything else except the essentials like food and clothing and fuel, you have essentially defeated all those CEOs making 100 million dollars a year while handing over millions to Congressmen urging them to vote down a raise in the minimum wage to a staggering eight or ten or fifteen or twenty dollars an hour. If you decided to stick with DVDs and CDs and five year old computers and never upgrade anything ever again, you would be able to accomplish what the Soviet Union never could.
Capitalism feeds on our dissatisfaction with life. How many parents out there have children who live in a room stuffed with toys and games and 150 channels of TV and the internet and ten or twenty times a week your children come to you say they are bored? Boredom is simultaneously the greatest enemy of capitalism and its greatest weapon. If you don’t get bored with what you own, you won’t find the need to search for happiness inside a store. Capitalism not only depends upon, but cannot survive without your boredom with what you’ve recently purchased. It depends, of course, upon your boredom with what you purchased long ago, but by now those purchases have probably become obsolete.
Depression is big business in America. I’ll wager that just about every single person in America is either taking antidepressants, is closely related to someone taking them, or is working with someone who is taking them. I don’t know what the figures are for sales of depression-related medication, but I think we can safely assume the figures are astounding. Big business pharmaceutical companies desperately want you to be depressed because they can then sell you these products.
Oh, what a tangled web they weave. You can’t find happiness in buying things. I know this for a fact. Do you know how I know this? Not because I’ve bought a crapload of stuff and am depressed. I know this because I see people like Elon Musk and other monumentally rich businessmen who make more money than the gross national product of some COUNTRIES. These people are rich beyond belief. There is literally nothing that they can’t buy. And yet, they don’t retire and live happily. They continue working, coming up with new crappy products to sell us and earn them even more money. You know why? Because they still aren’t happy. They still think if they make just a little more money they will have enough to allow them to buy or do whatever it takes to make them happy.
People are depressed. People are unhappy. People are feeling dissatisfied like never before in history despite the fact that even those who are living criminally below the poverty line own Blu-Ray players and streaming devices and computers and Xboxes. We keep buying, we keep expecting that the latest gadget or the latest pair of shoes or the biggest television set is going to finally make us satisfied with our lives. But it doesn’t. Why? Because the television doesn’t do everything we expected? Because those shoes don’t lift your butt high enough off the ground to attract that guy who caught your eye? Maybe so. I mean, really, did CDs sound all that much better than records? Do today’s computers run any faster than older computers in comparison to the programs you are using? Let’s face it: a new computer might run a 1995 version of Word faster than your 1995 computer did, but I’ll bet you still had to wait just as long for the 2005 programs you really want to run as you did for Word back then or the programs you want to run in whatever year you are reading this. Heck, I’ll bet you have to wait longer. In fact, I’ll bet you spend more time waiting for programs to load and run now than you did in 1995 because the programs are so big and hefty.
It goes without saying that obsolescence is built into every product made. That’s pretty much been the case since time began. But for capitalism to work, obsolescence isn’t enough. Especially in today’s tech-dominated lifestyle. Frankly, things are developing so quickly that companies just can’t wait for a product to become obsolete. Therefore the development of something even better. Instead of waiting for their product to become obsolete, they build a new “improved” version every year or two. And then the advertising blitz bent on making you feel as if you are being left out of all the fun in the world if you don’t upgrade. Not only are you supposed to feel left out, but you’re also supposed to feel, heaven forfend, out of touch. Uncool. Real melvin. In other words, if you don’t own a cell phone that takes pictures and videos and lets you download actual songs as your ringtones and lets you even watch videos then you’re just as outdated as your grandmother who still has, ohmigod, a rotary phone that you actually have to dial!
I never had an iPod or similar product. I love music. LOVE IT. I consider music the soundtrack of my life, something so vital to my personality and view of life that I honestly can’t imagine living without it. The radio stations in my hometown suck so I don’t listen to them; I tried satellite radio but grew tired of losing the signal fifty times a day. I’m not going to buy an iPod or iPhone or whatever replaces them down the line. I know something better will come along two or three years from now, but I won’t buy that either. Until something comes along that is significantly better, I’ll stick with it with stereos equipped with CD players and the ability to play MP3 tracks recorded over to a travel drive.
I want to stick it to big business. I want to bring this cynical, exploitative system of capitalism down. I’m tired of television commercials trying to convince me I need something in order to be happy when I don’t even want it. I’m sick of going to the movies and sitting through five minutes of freaking commercials! Most of all, I’m stick of feeling dissatisfied five minutes after buying something.
There is a growing anticonsumer movement in America and the rest of the world. Some of these activists are growing famous – some would say infamous, but in today’s world I don’t think there’s any signficant difference – with their violent protests outside G-8 and WTO meetings. Frankly, I find it difficult to judge these people harshly when I know some of the tactics that big business take to push their products down our throats. But you don’t need to take to the streets with rocks and molotov cocktails to effect change. Capitalism, as I said, cannot exist without your becoming bored and dissatisfied with everything you buy. It must continually reproduce itself by generating new “needs” and desires for all of us. Hence, bringing down that system doesn’t require violence, or indeed any activist measures whatever.
Bringing down capitalism and holding these companies accountable; ending the million dollar birthday parties that CEOs throw for their wives; shutting down corporate criminals like those who ran Enron and WorldCom doesn’t require troops or spies or nukes. Overturning this enormously unfair and corrupt system requires only one thing: Quit buying stuff you don’t need. And I mean NEED. Next time you are in the process of making a purchase, just take a moment to decide if your life would really be significantly improved by purchasing it. And then judge whether your satisfaction with life would really increase if you bought it. And then remember back to the last time you bought something you didn’t really need but were convinced you couldn’t live without.
Do you still even use it? If the answer is no, then you probably don’t need to buy that new thing either. Become a real revolutionary without putting your life in danger. Stop buying stuff and stick it to the man. You might just be able to give a CEO a salary cut next year so that instead of making 100 million dollars he or she will only make 75 million. And then the next year only 50 million. And hey, who knows, maybe by the time they are down to 25 million dollars they might just start getting the message.
But putting a dent in the salary of someone like the Walton children or, say, Ivanka Trump, is just gravy. The real pleasure that comes from scaling back is something you may have thought impossible. Decreasing your feelings of dissatisfaction.