Those who know me know will know how passionately I will agree with this article from Red Pepper: we are in an ‘epidemic’ of mental illness and the cause is the caustic society in which we live. The greed and isolationism caused by the capitalist system serves an infinitesimally small number of people at the top of the tree who benefit financially from the ever increasing flow of goods and money around the world.
But as we have known for quite some time now, the acquisition of yet more goods has not brought the rest of us happiness that lasts longer than the addictive rush of a new purchase, or the advert telling us we need to buy some other new thing which will miraculously turn our lives into utopia.
Having travelled extensively in developing countries where this obsession with possessions has not yet achieved the grip it has in the so-called developed world, I have seen that this type of ‘poverty’ has not yet destroyed their families and communities. They are relatively poor in that they don’t have the latest wide-screen TV or iPhone; their lives are not perfect, but they still have homes and shelter and warmth, they still have food, and they still have their relationships with their friends and families. (Note I am not talking about communities and countries where poverty is causing real physical hardship and starvation.)
This transition began in the 18th Century with the Industrial Revolution, of which Britain was one of the forerunners, but the real shift came at the beginning of the 20th Century, with the work of Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, from which developed the modern advertising industry. It’s a long watch (nearly 4 hours) but the documentary, The Century of the Self is enlightening.
But the question for all of us is how we can use this research, this knowledge, to overcome our own mental health frailties and support others who are also struggling. We cannot turn the clock back. We cannot undo what has been done. We won’t get rid of the over-production and over-consumption of goods that is destroying our planet as well as our mental health, not to mention the lives of the oppressed workers in slave labour factory conditions. At least not quickly, easily or without a lot of pain.
But we can start to understand the impact of our consumption led, consumerist world, challenge our own lives and work to help others to understand.