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What does a post-consumerist society look like?

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

By Joe Perez

One of the huge gifts that an environmentally conscious World Spirituality brings into the conversation around green living is its understanding that people are more than consumers, and that identifying with any limited conception of ourself is the bane of health spirituality. If what we value is something beyond our Self — consumer products, for instance — then we are headed away from our Unique Self. If what society values us for is something other than our Unique Self — then society is leading us down the road to perdition.

But for many of us it’s easier to see how we can change our own outlook, or progress in our individual consciousness. How can we possibly change the way that society drives, defines, shapes us? The answer, I think, begins with a twofold response. First, we are all leaders, and called to leadership. Of course there’s a role for following in some areas of our life, but we must be leaders where it really counts — in the ways that we are uniquely called into leadership. Through this leadership, we can do our own role to change the way that society squashes our fullest human potential.

Second, we must all see ourselves as part of a “We Culture” which is collectively responsible for being the new good global citizens that the world needs. We must lead by example and take the initiative to create a world that values the Unique We that is our collective Self. We must look for ways in which our organizations and institutions can honor more and deeper parts of our humanity in everything they do, instead of treating us like idiots, numbers, or cogs in a machine.

This is all so abstract, one might say. But actually there are abundant examples that I would point to to show how leaders today are birthing companies and doing business in ways that are advancing a World Spirituality. Patagonia, the green clothing company that also forays into territories such as salmon jerkey, sees the light at the end of the darkness of a world economy driven mainly by consumerism. In article appearing in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company, the Patagonia founder and green living pioneer Yvon Chouinard is asked:

You write about the ideal of a “postconsumerist society.” What is that?

We’re not citizens anymore; we’re consumers. The government views us as consumers, and our economy is based on us consuming and discarding. That behavior is destroying the planet. How can we use the power of consuming to do some good? I introduced the concept of the sustainability index, and Patagonia is working with 40 clothing companies, including Walmart, to implement it. In the future, customers will be able to zap their iPhone and find out just how a clothing article was made. The index will give a grade, and suddenly the consumer is armed with information. Some jeans, for example, will have a score of 10, some a score of 2. I think it’s going to be the start of getting away from consuming as recreation.

Now this is just one small example, but think of it if it were ever radically implemented. Before we buy any product, we could easily find out more about the human, spiritual values of the people who built and sold the product: we can learn if they support causes we object to, or whether they used environmentally friendly methods, or if they donate to charities that we support or behave in other socially responsible ways.

In such a society, it would be so easy to be socially responsible in our behavior that we would just take for granted that buying a product is an expression of our most precious human values. If we want to support a business that makes a lot of non-biodegradable trash and toxic waste, then we know that that is an expression of our self-image. But if we know that our precious worth is not trash, but more like gold, then we can look for companies acting from a place of genuine love and compassion and responsibility to the planet.

In this society, “buying” would no longer be an activity separated from Who We Really Are. What we would be doing is “buying in,” fully to our most radical humanity. We would be living in a post-consumerist society, closer to a genuine “We Culture.”

About Joe Perez

Joe Perez is Executive Editor of Spirit's Next Move, Director of Communications and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality. He has eight years of blogging experience and has seen two of his blogs published as books including Soulfully Gay, a pioneering Integral Spirituality memoir. He is an Honors graduate of Harvard University, has studied at The Divinity School at The University of Chicago, and holds a certificate in Integral Leadership from Pacific Integral. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality.


  1. Michael LaGattuta says:

    Hey Joe,

    Really interesting article, and I love the advancement of a post-consumeristic society that is not solely bent on “bringing down” those “systems” they see as de-humanizing or destroying the planet. Not to say systems that de-humanize aren’t prevalent and rampant, but that they are. It seems to me, explicitly focusing on their destruction is unfortunately still tying oneself to the de-limitations of that entire edifice. There is much we can do in this world with our daily choices, but erradicting consumerism as an element of our current historical age is not one of them. Therefore, as you suggest, consciously utilizing those consumer choices we do make, can make a difference. Yet I have to wonder, whether or not the way you frame the issue of how the Unique Self – pregnant in each evolving human being as the possibility for an integration of their own radical responsibility and freedom in each moment – interfaces with societal culture that values “other things” helps the reader to actually re-empower themselves through choice.

    “Through this leadership, we can do our own role to change the way that society squashes our fullest human potential.”

    This seems to place responsibility for the global society of humans outside of the individual body-mind who is considering their actualization, liberation, and responsibility.

    Yes. It is important to recognize that conventional culture will not value those things post-conventional (and especially not post-personal), nor will any culture of mind value points of view it has willingly shed, or cannot yet see as possible, desirable, or relevant. It is important for us to “negate” the culture of conventionality, as well as the culture/identity structures which are antagonistically locked in symbiotic frustration to the present surface features of our global scene. It is important for everyone to be able to negate that which no longer serves them.

    We must learn to value our own voice, as well as find the common ethical arena where the asking of questions is the proof of having arrived for the day’s lesson. Yet, at some point, we need to simply recognize that conventional culture, modern culture, and post-modern critique, are what they are. There is no common collective that exists without the recognition of the inborn issues of corporeal sustenance, the ethical and political dimension intrinsic to being, and the differentiation of structures and states of consciousness.

    If Unique Self is defined as True Self + Authentic Self (false self re-integrated into the self-image). Or as No-Self + Embodied perspective.. Then isn’t it possible this teaching is pointing towards a process of insight/dis-identification most individuals who have not consciously engaged mystical praxis aren’t aware of?

    The question becomes, when mystical metaphors are utilized without an awareness of the students/readers who are engaging them, is it prudent?

    If the goal of expressing those metaphors is to help unchain individuals from their own present mental reifications and understandings of the world, does it make sense to frame the issue of Unique Self (A Metaphor based in a Non-Dual epistemology) as something we already know?

    Is Unique Self being taken from its place as a metaphor that references both ever-present perfection and embodied evolution as not-two, and instead being substituted for the newest fashion in ego-identification? In personal identification..? If the ego still lives in a post-personal unfolding, then how are you explaining that to the human beings who are fully – and exclusively viewing reality – absorbed in their own relevance and permanence?

    I think this is a relevant question in this informational age, where prior to advanced or, “secret” teachings are being disseminated into culture without a filter for who is receiving them.

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