Butterfly flying off beam against sky

Do markets create strange social forces?

Much as society might revolve around the idea of markets, what does that actually mean for us as the humans living within them? While it might, as a way of life, purport to meet all our needs, isn’t this also chipping away at our self-worth and long-term security on this planet? Arranging the whole of our lives around this notion sometimes seems a strange way to be going about things.

Doesn’t it tend, as a way of thinking, to ripple out through every area of our lives? Everything becoming something to package up, sell or put behind a paywall. Nothing seemingly impervious to this power money has to convert everything to its way of thinking. Everything “can”, perhaps, be conceived of that way, but does that mean it should? (Notes One)

As if there’s no other way of thinking, no other means of looking at reality and operating within it – no other values capable of standing against the promise of profit or growth. As if we’re simply “right” to see life that way; casting it all in the light of supply, demand, producers, consumers, products, services, and captive audiences. The whole of life somehow becoming a market offering.

Of course, we have needs, as do all things that live (Notes Two), but is this the best way to be meeting them? Sometimes it seems we’re not even “trying” to meet them; simply to create interlocking sets of mutually contradictory demands. Isn’t this system better off if we have as many needs as possible? If our problems can be exacerbated to the point where those needs can never be filled.

Isn’t it almost a picture of society undermining “us” for the sake of profit? Our psychological needs for meaning, purpose, status, self-esteem, belonging, acceptance, love becoming this bottomless source of potential demand – if only we can be convinced we’re not quite enough without something more. As if, in a system reliant on demand, the easiest solution is to tap into human psyche. (Notes Three)

From there, don’t we start living in a world that’s forever trying to mess with our minds? Planting seeds of doubt, threads of new meaning, and drawing us into narratives we never knew we needed on our path to self-fulfilment and a purposeful existence. If we can only be persuaded to accept these ideas as true, build our lives around them and convey them to others.

But what does it mean if we become accustomed to living this way? Forever chasing the next thing on this never-ending path of perpetual consumerism as our search for meaning becomes a quest for more – as if we’re ever going to “arrive” and find our true worth that way (Notes Four). “Life” might throw up recurrent needs to be met, but where “is” that elusive line between essentials and illusions?

What does it mean if the genuine needs of a human lifetime have taken on this strange form within society? This conversation we’ve often little choice but to be drawn into.

Notes and References:

Note 1: If life’s a sum, are our choices calculations?
Note 1: “The way things should be” as an add-on
Note 1: How much is in the hands of the market
Note 2: Things with life have to be maintained
Note 2: Appreciating other ways of being
Note 2: Green as an idea
Note 3: Solving all the problems we’re creating
Note 3: Markets, and what they might mean
Note 3: The value we’re giving to things
Note 4: Does it all come down to money?
Note 4: Value and meaning in our lives
Note 4: Absolute or relative value

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