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Born to Shop – M. Starkey

October 12, 2016

btsTesco ergo sum – and it’s got a lot worse since this book was written back in 1989.


In full page adverts in the national press they launched a broadside at British Air­ways and local government offices for banning smoking. The advert criticising BA is entitled, ‘May a Minority of 17 Million Say a Word?’ British Airways are presented as enemies of freedom and the tobacco industry (whom many would iden­tify as the real guilty party) as defenders of liberty.

The Labour politician Aneurin Bevan described advertising as an ‘evil ser­vice’, and Pope John Paul II has said that young people are threatened by ‘the evil use of advertising techniques’. Raymond Chandler, the crime novelist, said ads were just ‘a waste of talent’. Dorothy L. Sayers, another crime writer who worked for several years in an advertising agency, has written: A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded upon trash and waste, and such a society is a house built on sand.”

The moral overtones of encouraging somebody to become addicted to something which may well kill them pre­maturely are serious. The media reliance on tobacco advertis­ing revenue inhibits them from dealing in a balanced way with tobacco as a health issue. If a publication says anything damn­ing about the weecl, revenue is likely to be withdrawn.

Analysis of advertising could fit neatly into the school cur­riciulum, from primary school upwards. In secondary education it could take place in Personal Development lessons, economics, General Studies or even religious studies (since ads embody a whole world-view and philosophy, as we shall Nee). Nottinghamshire Education Authority has produced a Consumer Education Pack for schools (available on request), which contains materials on understanding advertising…

It is not a great step of logic to say that advertising is therefore a symbol of the free world itself. Advertising equals freedom in the battle against totalitarianism and oppressio Advertising equals human rights.

However, this argument has two major flaws. It is true th advertising is a part of the landscape of the democratic Wes But it is wrong to say that in itself advertising represen genuine freedom of choice, even in goods. As we have alrea noticed, advertising is used most often to give a spurious ‘personality’ to essentially identical goods. Where is the freedo to choose between 30 identical cigarettes, lagers, pairs jeans or floor cleaners? And many of the stores which offer genuine alternative to the countless hosts of mass-produce items don’t advertise. The Body Shop chain, with its focus o high-quality, cruelty-free and environmentally safe goods, an obvious example.

The second, and more important, flaw in the `ads/freedo equation is that freedom to choose between consumer prt ducts is only one sort of freedom, and in fact probably one its least important forms. It completely ignores — in fact denies — the freedom to opt out of the consumer system, to choose way of life which is not overshadowed by the need to acquit goods and prove one’s worth through purchases.

An icon is a form of art which embodies something of the dreams and ideals of the age and the artist which produced it. In medieval Europe icons of the Virgin and Child inspired the faithful to devotion, meditation and prayer. The icons were a statement about the shared faith of the age.

Likewise, ‘primitive’ cultures produce their own icons ­masks, wall paintings, totem poles — which embody a shared faith. An icon is a way of interpreting reality, of understand­ing the world around you. An icon helps to give meaning to life.

The advert is the icon of our culture. Or, in the words of the media critic Raymond Williams, advertising is ‘the official art of modern capitalist society’. It is society having its day­dreams, it is its romantic art. It reflects, glamourises and jus­tifies its basic ideals. In this sense, advertising is for the West what the propagandistic wall-poster is for the Eastern bloc.

The message of our icons is that consumption is the answer to a range of basic human questions. What is the point of life? It is to make money, live in a comfortable house and experience the ‘good life’ provided by the time-saving devices and luxury goods shown in the ads. What is happiness? You will be happy if you can get your hands on this product. What is free­dom? It is the ability to choose between the maximum number of consumer goods. What is success? It is having a better car, a better equipped kitchen, a higher income, smarter clothes than the next person.

The values of consumerism are those of individualism, per­sonal fulfilment and material prosperity. My human energies are to be channelled towards attaining a higher standard o living for myself and looking after my own needs and desires. At the economic level, the outlook is justified by the notion that as each person pursues their own prosperity, the total happiness of society as a whole will rise. The icons know nothing of fulfilment through channelling my energies toward others’ needs, care for the environment, fostering deep human relationships or working for relief of suffering or pov­erty. Consumer advertising channels all our desires for a bet­ter world towards a striving for consumer goods and persona prosperity.

Real issues such as freedom not to be poor or suffer injus­tice or to have an unpolluted earth, or not to be in debt, or to have one day set aside for rest and relationships, are just no on the agenda. We are not given the information on which t base truly informed choices.

One of the latest toys for the business executive is the artificial car-phone. The box housing the hollow plastic object boasts that you too can boost your image and status, for a mere £3.99.

My identity is rooted in my purchases. I shop therefore I am.

According to the publicity of one major missionary organisation, there are more Avon Ladies selling cosmetics in the USA than there are full-time mis­sionaries in the whole world. Not surprisingly, much of the Islamic opposition to the Western way of life is over the atheistic consumerism so many of us unquestioningly espouse. Some modern Christian theologians have helped the process along by collapsing the faith from within. In the name of relevance or rationality they have ditched anything which smacks of the supernatural, often ending up with an odd Santa Claus in the sky who prefers to keep himself to himself.

Man is a speck on a lump of rock in a corner of the universe. He feels tiny,
insig­ficant and uncertain of his identity. He no longer relates ‘up­wards’ to a higher power, but downwards to the earth. Man­kind is not essentially different from the animals, there is no objective moral law given from outside which you need to conform yourself to. You’re on your own, buddy.

If we are amputees, suffering the loss of family, faith, values, vocation and community as earth in which to root our identity, what is left? The answer is me and my need for personal fulfilment.

teenagers grow into adulthood, the initiation rites to being seen as grown-up have an oddly consumerist ring to them: owning your own bike, drinking beer, smoking, a stereo, a car, a house.

For every ad featuring only women there were three featuring only men.

Of all the ads analysed, only six per cent used a female r voice-over. A male voice was used on 87 per cent. The remainder used one male and one female.

Of all ads using females, 75 per cent were for kitchen or bathroom products.

Of the females in the ads, 38 per cent were situated in the home, compared to only 14 per cent of the males.

Twice as many women as men were shown with children.’

The commercials showed women being ‘marginalised’. They were seen and heard less often than men, so being female was abnormal in the world conjured up in TV adverts. Women were silent and passive, men active and visible. And women were marginalised in that the world of paid work was presented as a male preserve. Woman equalled children, kitchen and bathroom. The adverts were doubtless reflecting a wider attitude to gender roles in 1970s America, but it is like the chicken and the egg. Perhaps one of the main reasons we have such stereotypes is because we see them reinforced so often in commercials.

And for people at any level of society, giving expensive gifts can be a substitute for giving time and affection and giving of yourself. It has become something of a movie cliché to see the Wealthy husband who is so caught up in his business affairs that he neglects his wife, and is surprised when she rejects his costly gifts. The hackneyed Hollywood drama of the situation should not blind us to its reality in the lives of many in the modern world. When we are no longer able to give of our­selves we can still give presents. Let us check ourselves, that (as we say during a church offertory) our gifts are simply an aspect or symbol of our self-giving, not a substitute for it.

Fashion is good when it accurately says something about the way I see myself and when it is a joyful experimenting in colours and shapes. It is bad when it exploits slave labour in Asian (or British) sweatshops or when an unwarranted percentage of our income goes on clothes (such as forty jumpers). Or when we try to buy into an image to compensate for a lack of a sec­ure sense of identity or a lack of discernment.

Family can be source of strength and belonging (and in an individualistic consumer society, can be a subversive unit which affirms the importance of relationships) or it can become tense and restricting. We can have good or bad val­ues. We can be so obsessed with work that we shut off whole areas of life, or a vocation can be an upbuilding expression of talent and potential. We can deepen our sprituality in a way which explores the astonishing mind of the Creator or warp our spirituality so we try to find truth in horoscopes or the occult sections of bookshops, and we can become so spiritual in an ‘other-worldly’ sense that we neglect the God-given dimensions of relationships, aesthetics, nature, and so on. We can shop for goods which help Third World economies or ones which exploit them, use detergents which are kind to the envi­ronment or ones which pollute. Exercise can keep us trim and alert or it can become an obsession with our biceps which con­sumes all our energies and leaves no time for other activities. The ‘direction’ in which we push each of the aspects of our identity is crucial.

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren submitted his plans for rebuilding London, including the design of the now famous St Paul’s Cathedral. But at the centre of this new city stood, not the imposing classical dome of St Paul’s, but the Bank of England and the Stock Exchange. Had the Fire taken place two hundred years earlier this would have been unthinkable. During the whole of the Middle Ages European life and architecture had been domi­nated by the church. The physical presence of the churches and cathedrals was a constant reminder of the church’s influ­ence in society. The church dominated not only your life but also the skyline of the city. By Wren’s day something had changed….. By Wren’s day the ‘religious’ buildings of the city were no longer the churches. They were the banks. In post-Reforma­tion England it was the banks which reflected more accurately the ideals of the new capitalism sweeping Europe. Today too a visitor to the West could learn a great deal about the values we hold dearest by looking at the buildings which dominate our landscapes: the shopping megacentres and commercial tower blocks, temples of a consumer culture whose highest values are individualism, the creation and use of wealth and immediate gratification.

The grandeur of the ziggurat was wrapped around by a set of myths and gave dignity and awe to the culture’s shared beliefs and social structure: at the same time it focused religi­ous awe and bolstered the position of the ruler in society. He alone was allowed to enter the shrine. The ziggurat was a pow­erful symbol. In ancient wars the overthrow of the temple was taken as a symbol of destroying the very spirit of the people. Hence the significance of the biblical Tower of Babel, itself a form of ziggurat. As it is told in Genesis 11, the Tower is seen not simply as an exercise in building, but an act of self-glorifi­cation by its builders. The builders were not making a tower, they were making a statement.

The churches, like other forms of art, were an expression of the shared core of people’s faith, not a pleasant extra to be tacked on in times of affluence. And the churches embodied the one light in the drudgery of labour, one glimpse of a better way. Who would have sacrificed this for an extra crust on the table? And in any case the building of cathedrals was a source of major job creation, for workers ranging from unskilled labourers to skilled craftsmen, engineers and mathematicians.

The British, less given to flamboyant gestures, allowed their churches to remain churches. But the same shift in ideas was taking place, and the shift found expression in architec­ture, seen most clearly in the vast building erected to house Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition of 1851 — the Crystal Palace. The Exhibition was the largest gathering together of industrial and scientific achievements the world had ever seen, and a building was needed to reflect the vastness of the undertaking. The Crystal Palace was a huge structure of iron and glass, and at 1,1851 feet long it was large enough to hold nine cathedrals the size of Chartres. It housed 100,000 objects from 14,000 exhibitors around the world. Built in less than one year, its speed of construction and the overwhelming effect of seeing it were taken as symbols of the progress of Western culture and the conquering power of technology.

A passionate believer in progress through technology, Prince Albert saw the dawning of a new world, with England at the head. In his speech he referred to ‘England’s mission, duty and interest to put herself at the head of the diffusion of civilization and the attainment of liberty.’

A visit to the Crystal Palace became a pilgrimage for people from all levels of society, joining together in a common celeb­ration. It was the closest that citizens of a rapidly secularising society could come to the pilgrimage of Chaucer’s day. They came to stand in awe and wonder at the noblest ideals of their civilisation, embodied in iron and glass. It was a pilgrimage of self-discovery, a glimpse into their own true identities and the faith of the age: they were part of humanity, with the role of subduing the earth and achieving universal brotherhood through progress. They were English, with the task of bring­ing enlightenment to the peoples of all races.

The railway boom of the mid-nineteenth century fulfilled a similar role. Trains, far from just being a quick way to get from Manchester to London, became symbols of the age of progress.

The railway symbolised progress. It was a foretaste of a unified humanity, bonded through science.

In 1960 the average visit to shopping centre lasted around twenty minutes. Today’s pilimage to the shopping mall takes no less than an average of iur hours.” And the concept of the mall is already well estab­lished in the UK and is set to increase rapidly over the coming years. Like the consumer culture itself, with its ideology for-in ulated in America and exported round the globe, so too the shrines of the culture are being erected in its honour. Look around you.

A whole generation of American teenagers is growing up describing themselves as ‘Mall-Rats’. It is a generation whose life revolves around the malls. The mall provides the setting for leisure activities, relaxation, meeting friends, shopping and window-shopping. America’s young pop stars, such as ‘Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, play most of their concerts in the malls, knowing that not only will the youth be there in droves, but also the retail outlets for ‘shifting product’.

Old people too sit and pass the time of day in the malls. The mall, like the church in previous ages, has become the focus of life. Once the church was the central point, claiming rights over time, energies and creativity, and the market was a tem­porary, flimsy structure which came and went and was neces­sary for the most basic sustenance. Now the situation is

reversed. The shopping centre is the permanent magnet, drawing all forms of human life to participate. The church, conversely, appears on the scene to draw brief haloes over life’s moments: birth, marriage, death.

Amusingly, the owners of the Metro Centre are the Church of England Commissioners, supposed bastions of another moral order.

The social implications of megacentres are also serious particularly for family life, the elderly and the houseboun Less than 40 per cent of women in Britain are car drivers a less than that have regular daytime access to a car. But trans port is essential to reach the out-of-town sheds. So more more women (who, statistically, do most of the family sho ping) have to go at weekends when a car — and driver — are available. This eats into family time. Family life is becoming increasingly centred around the megacentres and there is less time for other family-based leisure activities. Shopping becomes your leisure activity whether you want it to or not.

Similarly, megacentres penalise the elderly and house­bound. Once a village shopkeeper or the local grocer might have delivered to the old lady down the road and taken orders. They still do in the village near where I live. But the megacentre is distant — both geographically and humanly. The key word is no longer relationship but anonymity. Efficiency is all — pile up the goods and shift ’em quick!

Because of the focus on efficiency, service and the personal touch suffer. Most megacentres have the same, limited range of national chains, almost all catering for the under-forties, style- conscious consumer. The smaller, regional family stores are gradually being squeezed out of business. The UK already has the smallest percentage of small businesses in Europe ­and that seems set to carry on declining as the big boys gobble up the smaller ones. At the time of writing, all except one of the national jewellery chains are owned by a single company.

Instead of Mr Robinson advising you on what fitting or screw to buy, you wander through alleyways of baffling odd­ments, unsure which to choose. Little provision of baby-changing areas, of loos or even seats for weary shoppers. No more personal counsel; instead, the blank stare of a checkout person, trained only to ask if you want to open a ‘personal’ account, unaware of the irony of the request. The word ‘personal’ is rapidly becoming meaningless as a result of over­use by retailers who use it to market the impersonal, just as 1 he word natural is used to market the unnatural.

Many retailers and politicians are calling for government controls to balance the furious development of out-of-town shopping centres with the needs of existing town centres, in danger of disappearing under the ‘doughnut effect’ of stores abandoning the town centre and moving out to the edges. Perhaps we also need an official body to keep a watchful eye on the design and social consequences of the developments, a body which might dare stand in the way of retail ‘progress’ for the sake of a different set of ideals.

we work to earn money to go shopping, we spend our leisure time shopping, we find our fun shopping, we silence our loneliness by shop­ping, we find our identity in our shopping purchases. We have less time for family and friends, culture, spirituality.

A major national study of credit and debt carried out in Money Advice Centres during 1987 by the charity Familybase showed that the average debt — of individuals who had sought money advice — was around £4,500, not including house mortgages. This figure tallies almost exactly with the figure given by the National Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, who are in the forefront of debt counselling. Familybase calculated that for these people, the average time it would take to repay the debts (at an optimistic estimate) is 10 years. It would take an unemployed person no less than 30 years to pay off all his or her debts.’

People ended up in debt just to stay alive. Now, we see large numbers of people getting into debt not because they have no choice, but because they want luxury goods which they see in shops and in advertising. A figure alreaady quoted, but which bears repetition, is that between 1975 and 1986 consumer debt in the UK rose fivefold.

It is not a coincidence that the dramatic rise in debt has gone hand in hand with the rise of the credit culture, the culture which treats it as normal and acceptable that you are con­stantly exhorted to ‘buy now, pay later’. It is a culture oiled by-regular use of credit and store cards. Many of us still remember a day when buying on the never-never was frowned on. Now people who shun credit are aliens in the Never-Never Land we call the UK.

According to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, the clearing banks’ credit card operations are the most profit­able part of their operations. More credit shifted, higher pro­fits.

The biblical word sometimes translated ‘usury’ or ‘exces­sive interest’ simply refers to all interest. For more than the first millenium of its history the church too banned usury, see­ing it as a destroyer of relationships and an act of oppression, particularly of the poor. The Roman Catholic church offi­cially opposed interest until as recently as 1854. Even when Calvin stated that he saw no reason why interest in itself was bad, he was still at pains to stress that it was wrong to take interest from the poor or neglect their needs. In the words of Dr Hartropp, ‘Transactions must be for the common good not simply for the individuals involved. Calvin saw the impor­tance of government intervention without which economic harmony could not reign.’

If people were not asked simply, ‘Would you like to pay less tax?’ but, ‘Would you like to pay less tax if it meant hospitals were understaffed, the mentally handicapped were not cared for and our nation was left undefended?’ the response would be very different. That is no more a biased question than the earlier one. If you have a tax cut it will mean less money is available for public spending.

Similarly, if people were asked ‘Would you like Sunday trading, if it meant you lost a day of rest, prices went up, your local shop went out of business, tension and stress in society increased, religious freedom was restricted and family and community life were damaged?’ I suspect people might not be so keen to say yes! All of these are entirely justifiable fore­casts of what would happen if Sunday trading was to be introduced.

 Letters to Home Secretary Douglas Hurd on the subject of Sunday trad­ing were running at 650-1 against the Government during the Shops Bill debate. A majority in favour of Sunday trading? Come off it!

So will you and I buy more lawn-mowers to cover these extra costs? Of course not! Grass will still grow at the same late, Sunday trading won’t create any more grass to be mown. II makes economic sense: either the shopkeeper will have to put his prices up, he will have to pay his staff less, or — eventu­ally — he will go out of business because he can’t cope with the Fewer profit-margins. None of them very attractive options for a shopkeeper.

Then, couldn’t he simply remain closed on Sunday? Nobody is forcing him to open. It’s not that simple. If his corn­i)c t dor is open on Sunday, he can’t afford not to open as well. Otherwise, customers will go to the competitor and he will lose market-share. So, although he knows that in the long run, he and his competitor might lose out, he will have to open.

For this reason, the list of retailers and retail groups solidly opposed to Sunday trading is a formidable one: John Lewis Partnership, C&A, Marks & Spencer, Co-op, National Chamber of Trade, Alliance of Independent Retailers, British Hardware Federation, National Federation of Meat Traders, National Pharmaceutical Association, Drapers Chamber of Trade, Multiple Shoe Retailers Association, and countless others, including large multiples with commercial reasons for not wanting to be publicly identified with either side in the Sunday debate.

When the trade magazine Retail Week carried out a survey of retailers, in conjunction with computer giant ICL, it found that the majority did not want to open on Sunday, and that only 13 per cent said they would be prepared to invest in a campaign. It also found that 78 per cent of independent DIY stores are against Sunday trading.’

The real pressure for Sunday trade comes, then, not from the majority of traders but from a minority who see them­selves as taking a sizeable market share from smaller traders if Sunday trading comes in. These are mainly the large, out-of-town DIY stores.

But there the freedom of choice argument stops. As smaller stores are squeezed out of business because of the added over­heads of seven-day opening, the freedom of where you can shop will gradually diminish. Particularly at risk will be the small, local stores, frequently used by the elderly and less mobile. Freedom of choice for the mobile and able-bodied will mean a reduction of freedom for the less advantaged. Also, it is unlikely that a full public transport system — such as buses — would operate on Sundays, so people who rely on this form of transport, particularly the less well off and the elderly, would be further penalised.

If any prices rise as a result of Sunday trading, consumers will be denied freedom to buy goods at the lowest possible price. When the pub opening hours were deregulated in 1981 the prices of drinks went up in some pubs by as much as 8p, each. The reason given was that it was to cover the cost of the longer opening hours. Freedom of choice not to open will be taken away from the shopkeepers.

 the greatest Conservative Prime Minister of this century, Winston Churchill, believed Sunday should be kept special. In The Daily Telegraph of 27 December 1933, he explained why. It is worth quoting from the article since the arguments are all still relevant: There is need of immediate action in respect to the growing evil of Sunday trading…. (Sunday) is the necessary pause in the national life and activity; it is essentially the day of emancipation from the compulsion and strain of daily work; it is the birthright of every British subject, a day of personal, social and spiritual oppor­tunities, and, above all, our great heritage, and one it is our duty to hand on to posterity unsullied by the commercialisation which is making its mark today…

The rising flood of Sunday trading, which results in forcing thousands to work against their inclination, must be stemmed.

Margaret Thatcher, would-be M for Finchley back in 1970, in which she reassured a constituent: Thank you for your letter. My position does indeed remain as previously reported. I am very much against work, racing and gambling on Sundays.

At the time of the Shops Bill vote, no less than 72 Conserva­t ive MPs rebelled against a Three-Line Whip (a kind of par­liamentary gun to the head to ensure MPs vote with the party line), and voted with the opposition parties against the Shops Bill. In so doing they ensured the Bill was defeated and Mrs Thatcher suffered her only major defeat in office. Clearly, such a large crowd of MPs would not risk embarrassing their Party in this way unless they felt it was a matter of key impor­tance.

In essence, the continental Sunday of unlimited shopping is a myth. In each country surveyed (all our major EEC partners), through one means or another, restrictions are placed on Sunday shopping. In West Germany and Holland the legislation is more stringent. Nowhere is it noticeably more liberal. A high premium is placed on keeping Sunday a different day.

Is it not appropriate, in all respects, that we drive on (say) the left and respect traffic signals at crossroads? And, in passing, is it not vastly more efficient that we should do so — that we should accept regulation — rather than shunning rules and supposing that a sys­tem of ‘free competition’ is in every instance more productive?’

in Germany there is a general push to tighten up the Sunday laws. Even the German conserva­tives, the Christian Democrats, are entirely happy that the special character of Sunday should be preserved. According to Christian Democrat Member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok: In Germany our view is that Sundays should be kept special to preserve family life, and that opening shops on Sundays will lead to higher prices for the consumer.’

Shopworkers are the section of society who would be worst hit by Sunday trading. For this reason, some of the most dedi­cated campaigners for keeping Sunday special are the shop-workers’ union, USDAW. According to the Union’s Deputy General Secretary, John Flood, a ‘conscience clause’ is simply a red herring to get total deregulation through. He described the current Shops Act, which restricts Sunday trading, as ‘the last bastion of protection for shopworkers’.

Of the 2.3 million shopworkers in British retailing (around a tenth of the total workforce in the UK), around half are mar­ried women. The effects of Sunday trading on their family life would be shattering. No more day spent at home with the fam­ily, no more day to travel to visit Granny and the wider family. An alternative day off — say a Wednesday — would be no com­pensation. On a Wednesday kids would be at school and a husband at work.

Some new shopping centres already make employees sign a contract which includes a clause promising to work on Sundays if the law were to be changed. So much for freedom to choose to say no

Everyone is familar with the unpleasant aspects of this response: the tension, the fear, the butterflies in the stomach.

Less obvious are the pleasurable side effects. Cortisol, for example, has remarkable properties, suppressing pain, fatigue and allergic reactions and making us excited to the point of euphoria. In other words, it has all the hallmarks of an addictive drug.”

The best way to break the hold of stress hormones over our lives is to award ourselves regular rest days in which we positively encourage those hormone levels to fall and so allow our bodies to recover from their effects… Sunday is traditionally the ideal rest day because most offices and shops are closed, partners are at hand to share domestic responsibilities, and the whole of British life is geared to a slower pace.”

.The Acropolis at Athens has suffered more structural damage in the last 20 years, as a result of environmental pollution, than it had in the previous 2,000. Our cities have become refuse tips which leak toxic wastes into the earth, our lakes and rivers are dying. Many of our trees and forest areas are dead already.

One reason for the pollution is the sheer quantity of waste which citizens of the consumer culture are producing. According to the World Conservation Strategy, produced by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural resources, one Swiss person consumes the same amount of food, goods and raw materials as 40 Somalis. Similar figures could be quoted for the UK and North America.’

When a product is invented which performs the function better, with no more adverse side-effects than the item it replaces, obsolescence of function is a good thing.

If the point of life is to generate more goods and more profits, permanence and durability of goods can be a sin.

We must accelerate obsolescence…. It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have…. We must make them so unhappy that their husbands can find no happiness or peace in their exces­sive savings.’

It will be argued that if fads were not created, people would buy less, and that jobs would be lost. But this is really a non‑ argument. It is as much as saying we should not have done away with hanging because it put hangmen out of work, or we should have retained thumbscrews because they kept a good manufacturing workforce in employment. Decisions about and the kind of society we want must come first, and will be created accordingly.

The idea that newest is best is a symptom of a wider attitude in our culture, which C.S. Lewis referred to as ‘chronological snobbism’. This is the view which says that in all areas of life, that which follows must be an improvement on that which went before. It is a kind of popularised evolutionary theory which assumes that things are always improving. Hence, Jakob Bronowski wrote a book entitled The Ascent of Man, the very title implying mankind’s progress is necessarily onward and upward to greater things. Whilst many today would object to the sexism of the title, few would query the assumption that mankind’s journey has been an ascent. It is an idea fixed in the popular mind.

Dominion, which has been interpreted as ‘domination’, in fact means a kind of responsible stewardship, which tends and cares. Adam and Eve were gardeners, not Vikings set loose to pillage. A tree is not an inanimate object, but a fellow-creature bearing the imprint of the same creator. St Paul, in his letter to Rome, reminds us that nature gives people an insight into the very character of God.8 Mankind is not owner, but steward, who will one day be called to account for the quality of his stewardship.

The dualistic interpretation of Christianity is based on Greek philopsophy rather than on the Bible.

Enough is enough. If everyone in the world consumed at the rate of the Americans, this would use up to twelve times the current amount of natural resources being consumed glob­ally. The earth’s oil supplies would run out in just seven years. And if the world consumed at the rate of the British, the oil would last around fourteen years. The politics of con­sumerism simply don’t work because they assume that unli­mited growth and prosperity are not only desirable but poss­ible. We desperately need to explore — to use the ecologists’ term — more sustainable development.

After the 1960 televised debate between presidential candidates Kennedy and Nixon the radio audience, who had heard and evaluated all the arguments, judged that Nixon had come out on top. At the same time the 70 million strong TV audi­ence, seeing the image of Nixon’s sweating face next to Ken­nedy’s boyish good looks, concluded that Kennedy had won hands down. Similarly, during the 1980 debate between Car­ter and Reagan, Carter’s rhetoric and content was judged by the audience in the hall to be superior to Reagan’s. But that isn’t how it appeared on TV. Reagan was two inches taller than Carter and this was the overriding image which remained in the mind. This physical difference was underlined when a chortling, winking Reagan came out with a witty put-down of Carter, the sort of image which stuck in the mind of smalltown America.

Today it would be practically unthinkable to elect an ugly politician.

The forerunners of pop — gospel, blues, jazz — had their origins in the Sufferings of an oppressed black people and embodied the vast range of emotions felt by that people. The music was a shout of joy, a cry of pain, a vehicle for worship and for doubts. Ironically the escapism of persecuted blacks became a largely consumer escapism for non-persecuted white teena­gers. But some pop and rock retained much of the integrity of the earlier styles, and other pop has recently started to explore its own, pre-consumer heritage.

We are painfully aware that we are not the idol and the more we try to be that person the clearer it becomes that we cannot succeed. And the idol suffers, because they fail to match up to expectations. They have an image, a role to act out, which can detract from their humanity.

I suspect God won’t ask us why we failed to be Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, Bono of U2, or Billy Graham, but why we failed to be fully ourselves.

We need to know we are accepted and liked. We are told at school that we need to ‘sell our­selves’ otherwise we will never get on in life. We adopt a series of different masks to make us acceptable in each of the envi­ronments in which we move: the office, the home, the church, the party. We have become experts at the art of packaging ourselves for particular markets, never fully able to believe that we are valuable and loved without any of our masks, images or packaging.

“The first assumption is that this definition of development is the best one. It assumes that progress can be equated with material prosperity. Even the terms ‘developed’ , `underde veloped’ and ‘development’ betray this assumption. It says that if a nation has no industry or consumerism and if its people are not prosperous, it is a less successful country. It says the Good Life means having money and the ability to buy consumer goods. It says that a country which is not ‘moder­nised’ is failing and implies that a country which has glossy shops, marketing and fat wallets is by definition a better place than a nation of villages and smallholdings.

A second assumption follows from this — that obstacles to this ‘progress’ should be removed, and it is in the interests of society and individuals to do so. Blocks of this sort might include clinging to your ancestral land rather than moving to where the industry is, in cities, or an over-fondness for your wider family or clan and its traditions. How can a country pro­gress when so much time is taken up with pointless initiation rites, time wasted on storytelling, the elderly, and so on? So we have seen mass movement to the cities of the Third World, and a dramatic weakening of a traditional sense of roots and belonging.

Assumption number three is that if a country fails to develop in this way, it must be the fault of the nation. It is not producing the right goods which people want, its methods are inefficient, its people are lazy. Not, of course, that the whole trading system might be unfair — the developing nation is alone responsible for its own success or failure in develop­ment.

In traditional societies, such as Africa, heart disease was vir­tually unknown. In recent years, the consumption of Western foods, which are high in fat and sugar, has made heart disease a new problem in the Third World which never existed before.

Modernisation theory comes from a set of assumptions about what matters in a society, and what people should be aiming to achieve in life. It shares the usual Western assumption that a human’s personal development is one towards indepen­dence and self-sufficiency.

In the West, the nuclear family is the accepted model of the family. But in the majority of countries of the world, including almost all developing countries, have preferred the wider family pattern, because of the sense of support and roots which it can provide. As in the genealogies of the Old and New Testaments, an African’s identity is seen in relation to his wider relatives.

In a con­sumer society, where people are defined largely in relation to their capacities as producers and consumers of goods, there is little place for an unproductive seventy-year-old. The elderly are left at the margins of life and culture, put in homes out of sight. We increasingly talk about the ‘problem of the elderly’ as the average age of the population grows.

In a survey of a Cambridge geriatric ward, the pro-family group Familybase found that out of seventy-two people in the ward, forty-two of them never received a visitor. In an Age Concern study of 1974, eighty-two per cent of old people questioned said the worst problem facing them was loneli­ness. In general, the elderly are not so much valued as toler­ated.

However, in the so-called underdeveloped countries, old people are not seen as elderly but as ‘elders’.

It has been said that IBM stands for, ‘I’ve been moved!’ Like many other companies, the large computer manufac­turer is reputed to have a personnel policy which often involves high job mobility for its employees. The company is not unusual in this. Tax inspectors are regularly moved as a matter of course, as are the military, bank managers, dip­lomats, junior doctors and trainee managers of department stores. Some Civil Service departments can look like a nation­wide game of musical chairs because of job mobility.

This is not accidental. It stems from a certain, low view of the importance of land, belonging and roots. Mobility has widely been seen as a positive thing. It implies progress, opportunity, promotion, new horizons. Less thought, as many Africans would tell you, is given to the problems it can bring to relationships, particularly those in the family.

The US Army conducted an inquiry into the high divorce rates among its members. Divorce and other social problems were found frequently to be the result of the constant uproot­ing of couples and families. The Army adopted a policy of lower mobility. The Army’s findings are confirmed by academic research. A 1976 study concluded that job mobility was ‘a recurring feature of marriage breakdown’.

An explanation of this has been offered by Rev Bruce Winter, Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge. He is an Anglican minister with wide experience of the problems brought about by mobility. For many years he was vicar of St George’s Church, Singapore, a church attended by many dip­lomats and business people on short-term assignments:

The mobile man tends to be married to his company. He works long hours and gets a sense of identity from his work. But what about his wife’s identity? Most of the British wives in Singapore neighbours back home. When they were uprooted, the marriage alone had to sustain an identity which had been rooted in a wider community. Often it could not take the pressure.

Among the areas in the UK with the highest rates of suicide is its newest town, Milton Keynes. Can it be a coincidence that these deaths are happening in the most rootless place in these isles? The people of Milton Keynes are people uprooted from other regions and communities and dropped together, then expected to grow new roots instantly.

Dependency Theory is the picture of development favoured by relief agencies, such as Oxfam, TEAR Fund and Christian Aid. It says it is inaccurate to compare the rise of modern Third World nations with the early stages of capitalist development in, for example, Britain. For one, Britain had no competitors in international trade at that stage. Now, Third World nations have to compete in a massive global system of trade with its own rules already set. Supporters of Depen­dency Theory point out that 1955-75 saw the greatest economic growth the world has ever seen, but it was also the time when the gap between the rich and poor countries grew more than ever before. Clearly the poor were not benefitting from the growth of the wealthy nations.

And groups such as Traidcraft and TEAR Craft are work­ing to embody a new, ethical form of trade with developing countries. Before entering into trade agreements these groups ensure that workers are paid a good living wage and that the majority of the profits from sales go to the producers and not some Western middle-men. They also embody a new ideal of trade because their trade is based on relationships. Traidcraft workers work closely with producers they know well.

Our evangelism tells people Jesus will make them happy and fulfilled. Jesus is my saviour and the hymns I sing are about my personal relationship with God. Prayer can become a ‘shopping list’ of requests, rather than experiencing a profound relationship with the creator. Con’ version is ‘making a decision for Christ’, rather than a response to God’s call, salvation is by faith (mine) rather than grace (God’s). And so often we talk about taking a ‘collection’ (getting) rather than an ‘offertory’ (giving).

The Reader’s Digest Abridged Bible only does what most Western Christians already do with regard to Scripture: pick out their favourite bits and leave the rest on one side. Simi­larly, we have privatised our conception of sin so it only refers to private sexuality and personal habits rather than wider issues of justice, oppression and materialism. We have reduced a transforming vision for the whole of life to a private hobby and an individualised set of rules.

Our consignment of religion to being a ‘private matter’ goes some way to explain the discrepancy in UK church atten­dance: in an Independent Broadcasting Authority survey (December 1988) on religious belief in Britain, 74 per cent said they believed Jesus Christ was the Son of God. But less than 10 per cent actually attend church services. Religion is a private affair, alongside toilets and contraceptives in the list of things you are not public about. If this attitude was expressed as a small ad in a paper it might read: Journalist, 26, seeks warm, caring divinity for occasional fun at Christmas, Easter and Remembrance Day. No ties or commit­ment.

The attraction of New Right economics is its utter realism. Whereas forms of socialism optimistically hope that man is innately selfless and will work for the good of society at large if only his circumstances are right, the New Right knows that people are basically selfish. It attempts to harness this truth in such a way as to improve the lot of society generally

In one way the New Right is on target in that it recognises the truth about human nature. But this in turn gives rise to a range of other problems…. The stress on realism can lead to a squeezing out of any idealism. Even morality can be seen as a luxury to be tacked on when economic ‘realities’ have been dealt with.

And it is true that it was Calvin who overturned the tradi­tional ban on charging interest which the church had upheld beyond the Middle Ages. But in Calvin’s day unfet­tered greed was held in check by a firm code of Christian ethics. Calvin’s words on this matter are uncompromising: `We are not our own… We are God’s’; ‘We are (God’s) ste­wards, and are bound to give account of our stewardship… the only right mode of administration is that which is regu­lated by love.’ (Institutes).

Wealth is neutral. It can be used in ways which enhance human life. But it is only a means and not an end. As King Midas discovered, wealth pursued for its own sake becomes destructive.

The idea that you have to create wealth before you can give any away sounds convincing. But at best it is only a half-truth. It is equally the case that the more wealth you have the more you want for yourself. According to the Charities’ Aid Foundation, the people in the UK who give least to charity are those in the affluent South-East.

Freedom of choice is an inadequate basis for organising society. One person’s freedom is often another’s lack of freedom. My freedom to play loud records is my neighbour’s loss of freedom to have a quiet afternoon.

Even Marxists and socialists share much of the consumer world-view. In fact, in some respects, some socialism is more materialistic than the New Right in that it believes that by get­ting material conditions right, mankind’s true potential will flourish. It shares the assumption that greater prosperity is the solution to our problems, but simply tells a different section of the community how to achieve it. As workers pursue their own self-interest (in the battle against the greedy employers) they will improve their own lot in life.

It has also been ironic to hear women of the left use rhetoric of the consumerist world-view in the issue of abortion. They call for ‘a woman’s right to choose’, not questioning the assumption that self-interest is the ultimate court of appeal,

The first problem for scientism is that it is based on false logic. The materialist says that the only things which are true and valid are those which can be scientifically proved or observed. But how can he prove that even his own statement is true? He cannot possibly know whether the things he can observe are all there is. Is he all-knowing, all seeing? All he can say is that he believes that only things which can be proved are true. But that means he is expressing a belief or faith, the very area he claims to have done away with! So materialism is self-con­tradictory from the start.

Under materialism, free will and rational thought become practically meaningless. Both of these imply that the thinker or doer can stand aside from a given situation to analyse it objectively. But, hang on! The materialist has said we’re all cogs in the machine. How can we stand aside and look at the machine from a distance. Only the — ahem — maker of the machine can look at it with detachment. So the materialist is again inconsistent. He claims he can observe the natural world with objectivity, but at the same time says that he him­self is just another part of that nature, pre-programmed by his genes and environment. How can he possibly know if he is seeing the whole picture, with true detachment, when he is not detached?

The whole of our legal system is based on the assumption that materialism is false. How could we punish a criminal if he had no genuine free will in his crime. If he was utterly ‘prog­rammed’, he could hardly be blamed for his actions and it would be nonsense to punish him for something in which he had no choice.

History in fact proves the exact oppo­site: that when a country throws off its Christian heritage and its accompanying assertion of a solid basis for morality, any abomination can result. One of the French Enlightenment philosophers, Diderot, wrote of his longing ‘to strangle the last king with the guts of the last priest’.’4 Not surprisingly, the French Revolution was followed by the blood-bath of the Reign of Terror, Hitler was able to gas six million Jews in the name of progress and enlightenment, Stalin removed 12 mill­ion of his opponents (according to the Soviet historian Roy Mevedev, the USSR’s leading authority on the Stalin era;’5 Western estimates put the figure closer to 20 million). When I interviewed Bishop Festo Kivengere of Uganda he told me of roads lined with hundreds of thousands of skulls of the dead, both from Amin and the regime which followed.

The entire Spanish Inquisition only killed as many people as a few days in Hitler’s gas chambers. Even the ‘religious’ troubles in Northern Ireland only see a fraction as many deaths annually as gang warfare in Los Angeles.

We ‘catch’ consumerism from our environment, like ‘flu, and take it for granted that it has all the answers. And if we do ever question it we use a consumer assumption to judge the alternatives by — does it feel good to me, will it bring me happi­ness and prosperity?

In a society which gives unthinking service to the consumer worldview Christian conversion is the most subversive act possible.

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that relationship already existed in the very character of God before you and I were a twinkle in his eye. A relationship of love existed even before the universe began.

In the view from the tree-house with which I began this book, consumerism is recognised as a modern idolatry. In any age, idol worship means the elevation of an aspect of the created world to the status of a god. The Christian task in any age includes the dethroning of those cultural idols which take the place of the Creator. In themselves these things may be quite worthy (money, sex, nature, human reason, physical beauty, and any number of others). But idolatry selects one such dimension and sets it above the rest, making it a focus of meaning and significance.

The main idolatry of the modern West is consumerism, an unbalanced and unhealthy, self-centred obsession with money and the pleasures it can provide. Wealth becomes the goal of aspiration, the root of identity, the source of satisfac­tion. Little wonder that Christ personified mammon not simply as a greedy waywardness, but as a living and dangerous rival for the worship and adoration due to God.

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