Does consumerism impact our inventiveness?

BBC Panorama reporter John Ware’s programme The Death of Respect was particularly thought-provoking earlier this week in how he scrutinised the rise of individualism over the idea of personal responsibility and obligations to one’s community and wider society.

Many of the issues he raised are as relevant to Ireland as they are to Britain, and one or two perhaps have a broader significance.

He looked at how disenfranchised we are as citizens and how unlikely it is that we might personally know a local councillor or political representative.

 The programme also examined how consumerism has polluted our political system so that we are seen as customers that make consumer choices rather than citizens who need public services.

Consumerism is also affecting how we relate to the world around us he argues, which distorts our view of reality. We look to the police or politicians to solve social problems, for example.

This was contrasted to an example of a group of fire fighters in Moss Side in Manchester whose fire station doubles as a boxing club helping to keep local youths off the streets and setting them on the straight and narrow.

Interestingly, a similar scenario was featured in the cult US TV drama The Wire, where a former prisoner set up a boxing club in an attempt to steer youngsters away from crime and drug dealing.

Like The Wire, Ware’s programme also looked at the education system, focusing on a school whose headmistress threw away the National Curriculum guidelines to tailor her school to the needs of its pupils, with resounding success that has provided a model that others hope to replicate.

Again, we should bear this in mind in Ireland, not only in light of the cuts proposed by An Bord Snip, but also as we attempt to reskill or upskill the workforce and encourage greater numbers of people to start their own businesses.

However, another aspect of consumerism that may be significant relates to our business enterprise culture.

If we increasingly see ourselves as consumers seeking to satisfy our material needs in a world of an overwhelming number of choices, then how does this affect our inventiveness?

If we encounter a problem, does our consumerist mindset mean we look to someone else to solve it, or look for a solution that we can purchase, rather than setting about inventing a solution ourselves?

Of course, our increasing desire for instant gratification arguably is a factor in this as well. It may take time to think up and develop a solution, time which we may be unwilling to invest for an unknown result or reward. So we revert to thinking someone else will do so, or we pay someone who already has.   

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