Michael Laitman, On Quora: “Why is consumerism a bad thing?“
Consumerism never fulfills us. On the contrary, we become emptier the more we run after materialistic pleasures, where each fulfillment we receive after each purchase soon after turns into emptiness.
Our nature, the desire to enjoy—where we constantly seek to feel pleasure, using anything and anyone around us just to input pleasure into ourselves—eventually leads us to a desperate state.
Desperation from never finding true fulfillment will awaken our understanding that we’re trapped: our pursuit of happiness leads to unhappiness, a lack of fulfillment and dissatisfaction, as Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) writes, that we die with half our desire in our hand.
“All their possessions are for themselves alone, and ‘he who has a single portion wants a double portion,’ one finally dies with only ‘half one’s desire in one’s hand.’”—Yehuda Ashlag, The Study of the Ten Sefirot, Volume 1, Part 1, Histaklut Pnimit (Inner Reflection)
What we once enjoyed no longer fulfills us, and we constantly seek newer and different kinds of pleasures to try and fulfill ourselves.
We make it easier for ourselves to buy material goods. We make it cheaper to travel. But we find ourselves in a catch-22, because when our purchases and our travels were harder to achieve, they held more value.
Now, with a few taps of our thumbs, we can have goods delivered directly to our homes the same day, and access entertainment to keep us busy for hours. There is nothing left to desire.
What’s next? Our desire grows, we feel emptier, we start feeling out of control, that our desires are controlling us, and become increasingly frustrated.
Then comes a major crisis.
The accelerating consumerist treadmill is quickly reaching a state where we will be unable to keep up with its speed, and will fall flat on our faces. As a result, we will need to seek a different way to fulfill ourselves. The entire basis for our every enjoyment, that we enjoy egoistically, for our personal benefit, will need to undergo a fundamental transformation: that we enjoy altruistically, for the benefit of others.
How is such a transformation possible?
It is possible because our desire to enjoy simply wants to enjoy, and it doesn’t care about what it enjoys from.
Consumerism is built on the premise that by advertising various ways to enjoy, we will pull out our credit cards and pay for pleasure. However, if society advertised that we could enjoy by giving pleasure to others, then we would simply change the way we fulfill ourselves: by giving instead of by receiving.
Today, there are many people and groups focused on fulfilling themselves by giving. Baal HaSulam writes about 10% of the human population being naturally altruistic, i.e., people who feel an innate sense of pleasure by giving to others. Such people and organizations already provide an example of how we can change our means for enjoying ourselves.
Therefore, by shifting the way we enjoy—by giving instead of by receiving—the desire and the fulfillment will remain, but the means will be different.
In the wisdom of Kabbalah, this state is called “bestowal in order to receive.” It is a step higher than “receiving in order to receive,” which is considered as the lowest form of human consciousness.
The same human ego operates, albeit differently. It will become possible to undergo this transition when we will understand it as the solution to the egoistic dead end we reached in our consumerist attempt to enjoy ourselves.
Together with this awareness, the “recognition of evil” of our inability to fulfill ourselves by means of consumerism, we would need to establish our social influences—advertising, the media, the rewards and payments we receive for our work—to honor and respect giving and disregard receiving.
Baal HaSulam describes this phenomenon in The Writings of the Last Generation, as “free competition for every individual, but in bestowal upon others” and that “disclosing any form of desire to receive for oneself is dishonorable and such a great flaw that such a person is regarded as being among the lowest, most inferior people in society.”
In other words, Baal HaSulam explains that when human society reaches an altruistic state, medals and prizes would be awarded to people who exemplify exceptional acts of giving in order to encourage altruism throughout society at large, and disregard any displays of self-aimed enjoyment.
Human development is marked by the constantly growing desire to enjoy, and it is monstrously overgrowing. We’re recognizing our inability to enjoy egoistically, and the idea to enjoy altruistically starts surfacing.
We are headed toward a state where we will receive no fulfillment from receiving, and will then discover that we can fulfill ourselves by giving.
People would enjoy by, for instance, wandering around the public, seeking how they could contribute positively to people and to society at large. It would happen simply because we would find no satisfaction anywhere else. We would seek what and how to give in order to fulfill ourselves.
Such a different mode of fulfilling ourselves—altruistically instead of egoistically—would bring society to a state where we would start understanding how there is much greater benefit, happiness, confidence and satisfaction when we seek to enjoy by giving, and not by receiving.
We would then come a step closer to the laws of nature, which function altruistically—a force of giving and love dwelling between all connections in reality—and we would be closer to realizing nature’s connections in our social connections.