Big Society can’t happen in a Consumer Society

Whatever you may think of the coalition government’s ‘Big Society’ idea (and I have my reservations), it needs a certain type of population to make it happen – one that is politically engaged, community-minded and willing to give up time for the greater good. I hate to say it, but this doesn’t sound like modern society – where isolation, materialism and the pursuit of self interest seem to be greater priorities than compassionate collectivism for many people.

One of the reasons for this excessively self-oriented mindset is our dominant culture of consumerism, which can have a significant influence on us and affect the way we engage with the world around us. For example, studies (such as Greenberg and Brand, 1993; Shrum et al., 2005) show that increased exposure to commercial marketing is associated with increased levels of materialism in people. This can lead people to build their identities around extrinsic values (such as money, fame, and popularity) and stifle their concern for external issues such as poverty, suffering, discrimination and environmental challenges.

So, before we can realistically seek a truly progressive vision of society – whether that is indeed the Big Society or something else entirely – we will need to examine, and address, the social influences that militate against people’s participation, and this includes our culture of consumerism.

For more thoughts on consumerism, download ‘The problem with consumerism’ from Life².

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