Is there a relationship between confidence and consumerism?
While watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, I first heard part of Jimmy Carter’s speech from July 15, 1979. This speech later came to be known as the Crisis of Confidence Speech. The documentary itself was not particularly well made. Even though most of the people in it discussed valuable ideas, the filmmakers made questionable creative choices. The inclusion of several Black Friday shopping madness videos, countless commercials segments, and footage of the rich and famous, only cluttered the viewer’s mind instead of driving the point home. The filmmakers missed the opportunity of making a minimalist documentary, with very little distractions and room for contemplation. Instead, they followed a standard format and piled one thing on top of the other. Pity. But I digress.
I’ve been struggling with the concept of minimalism since becoming a father and hoping to raise my little one less dependent on things than I am. In the past few years, I have done some considerable decluttering but I haven’t been able to stop the steady stream of things coming in. I have a few theories on why that is but I’ll save that for another time.
What caught my attention while reading the speech, was that the concept of over-consumerism was already part of America’s collective consciousness back in 1979. This came as a surprise to me, seeing how things ended up playing out in the average American household over the past thirty years.
A lot of Americans ended up disliking Carter and hailing Reagan as the second coming. I don’t have enough information to form an intelligent opinion on this. The aim of this article is simply to highlight some of the things I like about the speech.
Here we go:
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.
Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.
But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.
We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions.
This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose.
One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values.
Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.
In this speech, President Carter equates the lack of confidence in the future with self-indulgence and consumption.
I don’t know whether this was intentional or not but from a sociological standpoint, it warrants further examination.
Do we consume more when we have less confidence in the future?
Or to put it simpler, do we buy more when we are scared?
There a lot of conclusions that can be drawn from this but for now, I will leave my readers with this question:
If we buy more when we are scared, does a seller have a vested interest in keeping a buyer afraid of the future?