Bernie Goldbach in Cashel | Image from Prof G.
ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKING seems to amplify conspicuous consumption. It's as though the pictures of goods shared online or the tweets about luxury accommodation offer a public claim for social status.
When I mention my perspective, I'm labeled as a begruder. However, I grew up in a household where invidious consumption was devil's work. And until the mid-90s, I had no channel to revel in what I had for dinner or no way to share a wishlist of items I'd like to acquire.
I've become more aware of my personal transgressions because I live against a backdrop of rising unemployment, job insecurity and a new spirit that favours austerity and clever purchases. The sociologists behind frugality sometimes recommend The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen. It is an economic treatise and detailed social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social-class consumerism, which proposes that the social strata and the division of labor of the feudal period continue into the current day. We can rewind the spirit of the past by viewing Downtown Abbey where the lords of the manor enjoy conspicuous leisure, often on the backs of lower class servants who support the whole of society.
Nearly every day on national radio I hear a forlorn caller talking about rising debt and I can watch television programmes honouring actions that result less consumption. Pressure not to consume seems to be rising, as evidenced in Transition Town meetings and an increasingly credible environmental lobby. I think this shift of focus, from conspicuous consumption to empty wallets to smaller footprints may gain the strength of a moral boycott. The ideas are already parts of discussions in small pubs across Ireland and in sitting rooms in Greenwich Village.
And most intriguing for me, I've watched The New York Times track articles about conspicuous consumption.