Out-Growing Consumerism 3:
A Self-Determined Life
The consumer culture has an easy path which leads us to behave like dependent juveniles for our entire lives.
The alternate path—more difficult but very worthwhile—leads to increasing self-determination and self-reliance, which is very bad for the growth economy.
That’s why no profit-focused corporation will ever fund government policies to encourage the public to behave like this.
This article continues on from “Out-Growing Consumerism 2: An Act of Subversion.”
Arriving at “grown up”
In our consumer culture we’ve lost the carefully conducted rites of passage that indigenous cultures use to help their young people shed childhood and step into responsibility and personal power as they enter adulthood.
The initiation into adulthood … could involve months [or years] of teaching about how to behave as a man, [responsibilities,] and where to find strength and direction.
The ceremonies we … hear about were ... marker events. Some … were harsh and frightening (and we would not want to return to these) but they were done with purpose and care and were spoken of with great appreciation by those who had passed through them.
Traditional societies depended for their survival on raising competent and responsible young men. It was … never left to chance. They developed very proactive programs … and the process involved the whole community in concerted effort.”
Steve Biddulph, Raising Boys
In a culture that lacks deliberately crafted rites of passage1, many of us “arrive” at adulthood where we’re handed a driver’s license and the right to drink alcohol and to vote without having had sufficient opportunities to develop the personal power and discernment that should accompany adult rights and responsibilities.
Regardless of how we do it and what happens along the way, we all arrive at some kind of "grown up.” And, childhood having more or less happened to us, it’s now up to us to decide what happens next.
From the passenger seat to the driver seat
Although early childhood is by far the most impressionable time of your life, your brain and nervous system remain malleable throughout your life 2. Physical growth may have stopped but in terms of mental, emotional, and spiritual development, you can keep growing indefinitely if you want to.
Peer examples, socially accepted norms, programming from the various media sources that surround us: all continue to mold us (or keep us very much the same) all our lives – with or without our conscious involvement.
The most challenging form of influence we face appeared on the distant horizon a short time ago and has rapidly over-taken us: the vast digital systems that are now a part of our environment and that influence us with such subtlety and cleverness.
There’s a critical difference between the way all these forces molded you as a child, and the way they’re working on you now.
As a child, you were in the passenger seat.
As an adult, whether or not you have a plan for where you are going, you are in the driver seat.
Now that you’re a grown-up, you get to choose between consciously and deliberately focusing on what will serve your growth and your capacity to live a purposeful, meaningful life – or letting your attention drift.
If you let your attention drift, the consumer culture will be only too happy to step in and fill the gap.
A life that happens to you, or a self-determined life
As an adult you have the discernment and the power, if you practice and exercise them, to screen out influences that are not supportive of the direction you want to grow in.
The choices you make about what you allow to influence your thinking and how you respond to the world around you are entirely yours. They basically fall into two options.
The default option
Option 1 – the default option – is to choose not to examine your thinking patterns and habits or the ongoing influences that continue to shape you.
In default mode, your focus will be drawn toward the entertainments and distractions that surround you. Your life trajectory will increasingly be dictated by the consumer culture, rather than by you.
Living such a life, you won’t feel empowered to be able to make much of a difference to anything.
I call this "victimhood." Another word for it is "consumerism."
The self-determining option
Option 2 – the self-determining option – is to focus on the one thing you have complete control over. That one thing is your personal responses to life.
Out of your personal responses, one small choice at a time, arises your personal power.
Choosing self-determination requires that you take up where your parents left off in examining the influences that are shaping you, and selecting carefully which to keep and which to usher out of your life.
In doing so, you become the "programmer", not just the programmed. You become a person who acts on life from the inside out, rather than having life act on you3.
A path that leads to no-where
Growing up to become the kind of self-determined, fully actualized adult I’m talking about is not easy in our culture. In fact, we’re actively discouraged from this kind of growth, and nudged back toward the easy path.
The easy path has two phases, and they go something like this:
In phase one, we're sent to school (a topic that we’ll come back to in Part 4 of this Series).
At school most of us lose the capacity to think for ourselves or to even know what we want to think about, since school, via testing and grading, trains us to focus on earning external approval from authority figures.
This interferes with the growth of the “internal compass,” the intuition, wisdom, and discernment that an individual should be developing during these years.
When we get out of school, in phase two, parental figures in the form of government institutions (well-meaning but ineffective) and the profit-focused corporations that fund the governments (and depend on our being good consumers) serve to keep us behaving like dependent juveniles–focused primarily on our shortest-term wants—for the rest of our lives.
The consumer treadmill
Good consumers, when they leave school, follow this path that never leads out of dependency and mindless consumption.
If you’re a good consumer, you worked hard to earn good grades at school so you could go to a good college, then get a good job, a mortgage and a car loan. And now, you’re spending large chunks of your life doing work you may or may not like, to pay off the loans.
Next, you upgrade the car, the house, and the contents of the house, so you’ll have more loans to pay off.
It’s a life of jogging along on the treadmill of debt and repayment that feeds the consumer economy, endlessly pursuing the next dopamine hit that accompanies the next thing, the newer, bigger, shinier, faster widget that will surely, at last, bring peace of mind and happiness.
Every evening, good consumers collapse in front some form of digital entertainment to dull the pain of their existence. The content provided on the screen serves the growth economy well – it keeps the consumer programed for victimhood.
Growing out of consumerism, into something more wholesome
If you do, you may also choose to place more value on things like meaning, purpose, and connection, and less value on the right car, the right house, and more screens.
You’d be better able to create your own entertainment in your family and community, rather than relying on addictive digital technology to entertain you.
You may choose to grow some of your own food and medicine.
You may engage in trade within your local community for many of the other things you need.
All of this would be very bad news for the growth economy, which is why no profit-focused corporation will ever fund government policies to encourage the public to behave like this.
Growth in our economy, besides relying on a never-ending supply of cheap energy, also relies on dependent consumers who are too busy consuming to spend much time thinking and doing for themselves.
Coming up next
This was part 2 of a Series. Next up is Part 3, "School, Screens, and Our Kids."
Looking for a subscribe button?
- Some plausible ideas for modern rites of passage can be found here: Fred’s Modern Rite of Passage. See also The Function of Adrenalin in Boys Rites of Passage.
- “The brain changes itself according to our thoughts and actions.” Attention, Technology, and the Brain, by Lucy Jo Palladino
- For a deep dive into taking personal responsibility for living a self-determined life, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey is an excellent resource.