Democracy to Consumerism

Sigmund Freud

A brilliant British documentary about capitalism is The Century of the Self by filmmaker Adam Curtis. It is about the twentieth century conflation of three concepts: the positive attributes of democracy; the less positive attributes of capitalism; and the zero positive attributes of consumerism.

Democracy has become synonymous with consumerism, and it has become our constitutional right to get more stuff whenever we want to get more stuff. Throughout the four-part miniseries, which covers 100 years of psychologically deceptive marketing, it is difficult to avoid feeling used, abused and manipulated as the work of Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud and self-proclaimed originator of “public relations”) is reviewed and analyzed (Curtis 2002).

Using psychotherapy techniques, Bernays’ marketing campaigns conflated democracy with the desire to acquire. Purposefully stroking egos and playing upon feelings of entitlement, he positioned wanting as more important than needing. Over the past century, democracy has been transformed from a concept promoting freedom of choice and self-determination into a self-centered competition for winning approval through the accumulation of assets.

Neoliberal capitalism is based on financial accountability. Governments and businesses attempt to follow a strict code of austerity, restraint, privatization, cutbacks and balanced budgets. This would be fine except that cuts typically affect lower/middle class jobs and happen on the front line where service provider support is most valued and most needed (i.e. teachers, administrators, laborers, etc.). Restraint is focused on returning shareholder value, and rarely addresses excessive management salaries or bloated bureaucratic infrastructures. The Market (as God) rewards the rich and commodifies everything else.

Democracy was conflated with consumerism through the aggressive promotion of capitalism, specifically neoliberal capitalism, now a well-established principle found at all levels of society and government (Rx Music 2020).