How to be a Good Consumer

from my blog at

As I write this, it’s Black Friday, which to my mind is the highest ritual of consumer religion, attracting untold numbers of devotees of all races, classes, faiths and belief systems. Symbolically, Black Friday is the reigning idol of consumer religion. Already I have read reports about crowds of people vying for deals — people shot and stabbed, arrests made, fights and scuffles (there were even fist fights over towels at Walmart) — all triggered by engineered scarcity and the promise of savings.

I am not a fan of consumer culture, especially on days like this.

That might seem like an abstract position to take, since I am, like you, a consumer.

I am a consumer in the same way that I am a bipedal animal. It’s a behavioral attribute, not the whole story. But it is a real aspect of human life and consciousness. We all eat. We all breathe. We all share ideas. Problems start when it becomes the defining aspect of human life and consciousness.

Let me explain.

Biologically, we are consumers.

We all have to eat,obviously and we all have other basic needs too, as well as reasonable desires. What we eat and how we eat makes a difference physically and psychologically. Recent studies have shown that the health of the gut impacts mental health.

What we eat and how we eat, or whether we eat at all, can have spiritual implications as well. A variety of religious disciplines — from certain forms of Judaism and Christianity to Buddhist monasticism and Islam often restrict or require certain foods for spiritual or religious practices.

The correlation between food and our well-being takes on further significance in traditional Christian churches in which the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, not only has a symbolic function, but is believed to provide life to those who partake in an actual, synergistic, and mysterious way.

So the question isn’t are we or are we not consumers, but how can we be responsible consumers. In an age where everything is a commodity, how can we live in a manner that leads to the health of the whole psyche, as well as impacts our environment — socially, locally and globally — in a positive, rather than a destructive, way.

In other words, given that I am a consumer, how can I be a good one?

read more