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Born Guilty?

The implications of consumerism

Exploring the relationship between consumerism, waste and our attitude towards the natural environment.

In a world full of human-made things, people in most societies are born addicted to consumption. Even before taking our first breath, people make decisions on behalf of our well-being that include the use of wasteful materials. Cotton swabs, syringes, diapers- let alone all the gifts and toys we receive from the very beginning onward. Everything wrapped neatly in shiny, appealing packaging. The attachment to things is one problem but the biggest issue here is the over-consumption and the depletion of natural resources all over the world. When contemplating on the social structures underlying this limitless consumption, I came back to Max Weber’s concept of the Protestant ethics.

Weber establishes a link between capitalism and a disenchanted rational society that is governed by the protestant ethics of chastity and purity; he views this cultural makeup as a perfect soil for capitalism to flourish. Weber argues that

“[…] the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life […] is thought of purely as an end in itself” (Weber, 2005, p. 18).

People are expected to work long hours, enjoy less leisure time and consume a lot. We burden ourselves with hard work to acquire stuff that does not fulfil the promise of making us better and happier persons. Sounds paradox? It seems like something is severely going out of hand in societies all around the globe.

Governing The Environment

The cultural philosopher Charles Eisenstein describes the rationale of the capitalist exploitation of natural resources: He explores the aspirations of humans to control nature. This implies the idea of being able to govern and predict everything, eliminating any doubts and surprises. Humans are accordingly seeing themselves as a separate entity from their surroundings, as a dominant and ruling force superior to nature. A binary between the ‘civilised, successful’ human and the ‘underdeveloped’ natural environment is established in this world view. Since nature is not seen as valuable in itself it is simply treated as a means to an end.

It is no wonder that humanity is treating the planet in such a careless way if our idea of progress is linked to working hard, consuming without end and ruling over our environments. It is definitely time to change something about that. And interestingly enough, the discipline of design can show a promising way out of our current dilemma (see my next article: Creating Durable Design Solutions).


Eisenstein, C. (2007). The Ascent of Humanity. Panenthea Press.

Weber, M. (2005 [1930 ]). Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London, New York: Routledge.

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