Are You a Captive Consumer? Unveiling the New Poor in a Consumerist Age

I often see people talking about a book by the British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, “Work, Consumerism, and the New Poor.” This book is very thin, less than 200 pages. Many people read this book to find out whether they are captives of consumerism and whether they are considered the new poor. After reading this, many people may feel a little relieved: they are probably not the new poor, but they are definitely being coerced by consumerism.

Bauman proposed that in the industrial stage of modernity, everyone must be a producer before having other identities. In the second stage of modernity, the era of consumers, people must first become consumers before they can have other special identities.

In post-modern society, people are still engaged in various jobs, some are doing simple manual labor, and some are in high-paying management positions. Whether a job is high-end and attractive does not depend on its contribution to society or the requirements for people’s skills, but on whether it can continuously bring stimulation to people. People not only satisfy physical needs when shopping, but also have many psychological needs. Rich people are the trendsetters in consumption. People with high salaries work hard while rewarding themselves through crazy consumption, because “work is still the source of survival, but not the source of the meaning of life. The pride that was once brought by professional ability can now be obtained from (with appropriate (prices) for beautiful items – discover the best shops in the maze of shopping malls, discover the best clothes on the carts or the best items on the shelves”.

The problem with consumerism is that we think that our desire to buy is spontaneous, that we are free to choose, and that we choose according to our own aesthetics. It is a good thing to have a dazzling array of products on the market and to constantly introduce new ones. Bauman believes that consumers are not actually active or free. “It is the market that chooses them and trains them into consumers, depriving them of their freedom from temptation. But every time they come to the market, consumers are Feel like they are in control. They can judge, comment, and choose, and they can reject any of an infinite number of options – except ‘choices that have to be made.’ Seeking self-identity, gaining social status, in a way that is meaningful to others Life requires visiting the consumer market day after day.”

When shopping, we hope to enjoy it immediately after buying it, but the satisfaction brought by new things will soon disappear, so we continue to buy. The temporary satisfaction brought by shopping makes people accustomed to excessive consumption.

The transition to a consumer society has led to changes in the situation of the poor. The new poverty is not limited to material deprivation and physical suffering, but is also a social and psychological condition. Every society has standards for a “decent life,” and if these standards are not met, people will be troubled, miserable, and self-tortured. Poverty means being excluded from “normal life” and “not measuring up”, which leads to a blow to self-esteem, feelings of shame and guilt. If the poor cannot fulfill their consumer obligations, they will be abandoned, deprived, devalued, and excluded from the social feast shared by normal people. In a society of producers, the life of the poor is very hard, but they suffer together. They are still a reserve of labor force, and society still needs them. In consumer society, the bonds between the poor have also disappeared. They are either lonely consumers or the new poor who cannot afford to consume, and their situation has become a warning to others.

Some people strive to shed their identity as consumers and restore the original purpose of shopping. However, the power of consumerism is too powerful. American writer Kyle Chaka said in the book “Desire for Less”: “Using a credit card to purchase unnecessary items online can quickly and easily exert a sense of control over an uncertain environment. Sense. Brands sell us cars, TVs, phones and more as if they solve our problems. Through books, podcasts and peripherals, the idea of ​​minimalism itself is commodified and becomes a source of profit.”