Guest Post: Narcissistic Consumerism And Self-Destruction

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Narcissistic Consumerism and Self-Destruction  

Health is horribly unprofitable; illness, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable. That is the destructive essence of our sociopathological "engine of growth," narcissistic consumerism.

Today I want to extend the discussion of a topic that I believe is absolutely central to "why things are falling apart": our dependence on a peculiarly adolescent narcissistic consumerism for identity, meaning and economic growth.

Understanding the consequences of this pathology is the core of my books, Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation, An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times and Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change.

Correspondent/physician Birgit insightfully extends the narcissistic consumerism at the heart of our economy to its self-destructive conclusion: an essentially suicidal cultural antagonism toward any intact ecosystem.

Thanks for your concise way of connecting consumerism and narcissism. I frequently wonder at the energy my patients devote to television, three-colored hair streaks, the right shoes and purses, expensive cars, big vinyl houses, and then are completely aghast when I tell them to just plain turn off the TV and go for a daily walk and cook some actual vegetables; somehow these are too time consuming and expensive. The cognitive dissonance is painful to the point where I feel a very strong suicidal impulse from our culture. (emphasis added, CHS)


I know you are aware of the recent results of the human microbiome project, showing our heritance includes 10 times more bacterial genetic material than human DNA; and it is becoming very obvious that this is an obligate relationship, and we need our microscopic flora at least as much as they need us (skyrocketing food allergy, MS, Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, autism rates all attest to this). I think that our cultural antagonism toward an intact ecosystem is suicidal. Actually, I know it is suicidal, but I think it is manifesting more and more strongly in our capitalist subconscious. So much sanitizer and plastic!


Strangely, I see a cultural refusal to acknowledge our dependency on an intact ecosystem most strongly when driving my in suburban neighborhood. All those mulch volcanoes, frantically trying to hide any hint of roots branching underground. The good citizens somehow feel the soil that supports all life is obscene and must be completely covered. Luckily the fermentation underground is there to balance the sterility impulse (Sandor Katz's new fermentation book is like a bible, I recommend it).


I also wanted to thank you for your career advice. I finally gave notice at my conventional healthcare practice and have cast myself loose in a private practice, with low overhead, no support staff, and my own ideas. Thanks to you I see the complexity of the insurance and Medicare systems as the marker of their unsustainability, and I know that business as usual won't be for too much longer.

Thank you, Birgit, for a brilliant and incisive description of permanent-adolescence narcissistic consumerism. For readers who are unfamiliar with the microbiome, here is an excellent overview Your Inner Ecosysem: Your Microbiome Community Brings New Meaning to "We the People" (Scientific American) and Explore the Human Microbiome.

As mentioned in yesterday's entry Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth, the culture of narcissism is based on fear: of emptiness, worthlessness and whatever else the marketing machine can make you fear.

In our heavily sanitized culture, that includes anything related to micro-organisms, i.e. "germs," dirt, etc. Those of you who know basic biology understand the irony of this sanitization: in killing off bacteria, we not only eliminate "good" bacteria we need to stay healthy, we also eliminate the weakest "bad" bacteria and leave only the most resistant few to reproduce.

This heavily marketed obsession with sanitization of everything has led to super-bugs which cannot be killed by conventional antibiotics.

In a way, the self-destructive consequences of obsessive sanitization is an apt metaphor for the self-destruction at the heart of the entire narcissistic consumerism project. Where does reacting to constant, exaggerated messages of fear lead to? To the loss of the ability to make realistic assessments of reality.

Permanent adolescence is the state of resolving insecurity, fear and social defeat by buying things that promise the invulnerability of a fantasy self and world, and by indulging in instant gratification to mask the self-destructive derangement of broken ecosystems: not just in the natural world, but in our bodies, in our society, in our economy and in our politics.

Nurturing permanent adolescence, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable, for people responding to the fear and anxiety of Thanatos (the instinct for destruction) will not only become malleable consumers, they will lose their grip on Eros, the instinct for life and love. Once lost to the Dark Side, they have no way to experience health or intact ecosystems; their world darkens as there appears to be no alternative to the Status Quo.

Health is horribly unprofitable; illness, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable. That is the destructive essence of our sociopathological "engine of growth," narcissistic consumerism.

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JustObserving's picture

What you call Narcissistic Consumerism, Rogoff calls Coronary Capitalism:

"But the obesity epidemic hardly looks like a growth killer. Highly processed corn-based food products, with lots of chemical additives, are well known to be a major driver of weight gain, but, from a conventional growth-accounting perspective, they are great stuff. Big agriculture gets paid for growing the corn (often subsidized by the government), and the food processors get paid for adding tons of chemicals to create a habit-forming – and thus irresistible – product. Along the way, scientists get paid for finding just the right mix of salt, sugar, and chemicals to make the latest instant food maximally addictive; advertisers get paid for peddling it; and, in the end, the health-care industry makes a fortune treating the disease that inevitably results.

 Coronary capitalism is fantastic for the stock market, which includes companies in all of these industries. Highly processed food is also good for jobs, including high-end employment in research, advertising, and health care.

So, who could complain? Certainly not politicians, who get re-elected when jobs are plentiful and stock prices are up – and get donations from all of the industries that participate in the production of processed food. Indeed, in the US, politicians who dared to talk about the health, environmental, or sustainability implications of processed food would in many cases find themselves starved of campaign funds."


vast-dom's picture

there are too many people that would rather shop than stay home and make love. too many people that are medicated and/or out of shape that can't make love. the average time for intercourse in North America is 5min, and decreasing...what is the time per week the average North American spends shopping, online and otherwise?


and did you know this little tidbit: central bankers polled said they would rather print money then ejaculate.

Orange Pekoe's picture

It has to be the circumcisions. Sex is better for both parties with foreskin. Circumcisions peaked in the US in the 70s at 90%. Probably cause everyone was so stressed out and malnourished, depleted their vitamin b nervous system vitamins, and became hateful baby mutilators.

ToNYC's picture

Empathogens are a Buddhist Tool: Needless I say, not needless to say.

captain_menace's picture

You say it like it's a bad thing.

Natural selection at work?

Cathartes Aura's picture


there are too many people that would rather shop than stay home and make love. too many people that are medicated and/or out of shape that can't make love. the average time for intercourse in North America is 5min, and decreasing...what is the time per week the average North American spends shopping, online and otherwise?


maybe some have heard the derogative labels "cunt" & "pussy" shouted enough times to get the message about what is hated.

and submit to the 5 minutes (because "sex" ends when the cock does), then grab the keys 'n' credit cards to extract payments. . .


"making love" should be mutual. . . getting fucked requires compensation, at the very least.

cossack55's picture

I'll finish reading this as soon as I return from Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

CH1's picture

The conclusion of the article is magnificent.

Zero Govt's picture

I disagree

Charles Hugh-Smiths conclusion is our engine of growth is Wacko Jacko looking in a mirror wanting yet another trip to the plastic surgeon to reach his Peter Pan nirvana

consumerism is as fundamental to nature as it is to man

it is productivity that leads to real economic growth. What is at fault is the usual rotten bedfellows of bwankers and politicians trying to fuel false growth by debt.

That's the real wrecking crew, not marketeers or detergent makers

you wanna see viruses and bugs? Watch what happens when we hit a recession, the bug rates increase markedly. Zippo to do with being sold Clean Wipe

"Health is horribly unprofitable.."

Well 'they' must all be bankrupt then as our lifespans have never been so long or so healthy

Charles you've lost your marbles. Another delusional article like this and i'll get you certified for being clearly hysterical

dick cheneys ghost's picture

Stop eating wheat, these people are trying to kill us...........we should sue them for attempted murder

falak pema's picture

aren't u talking about "doctored" wheat; like "doctored" corn or soya; GMO stuff?

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

on walden pond is so 19th century. tofu for all. soy is a death sauce in someones mind. for me ben franklin that womanizing, high living genius, is my model for modern man: moderation in ALL things. now lets define moderation. oh thats the rub.

Spastica Rex's picture

Does "moderation in all things" include moderation itself? Are we advised to occasionally indulge in gluttony and other forms of excess?

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

spasticaR, that's the rub..moderation in mind and body and most importantly actions..only a budda could know when enough is enough, the modern world says NEVER. Never enough never..we drive a prius to save the polar bear, not so we can commute long miles to work shop and play no not that. live where you work and drive an SUV 2000 miles a year who saves those cute bears now.

Zadok's picture

I'm afraid that unless you can find a stock of 100 year old seed your out of luck. And then if you plant it, it will be cross pollinated quickly.

Cathartes Aura's picture

Monsanto'd wheat.

Today's "wheat," he says, isn't even wheat, thanks to some of the most intense crossbreeding efforts ever seen. "The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother's age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier," he says.

Plant breeders changed wheat in dramatic ways. Once more than four feet tall, modern wheat--the type grown in 99 percent of wheat fields around the world--is now a stocky two-foot-tall plant with an unusually large seed head. Dr. Davis says accomplishing this involved crossing wheat with non-wheat grasses to introduce altogether new genes, using techniques like irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays, and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations.

combatsnoopy's picture

A lot of "wheat" products contain "gluten" to make the product appear to have more protein in it.  The laws here state that the ingredients have to be listed and where the product is made, but the laws do not require the food maker to disclose where they got the ingredients from. 

Did this gluten come from China? 

Is this the same gluten in pet foods that killed a number of animals recently? 


On that note, do you REALLY know what you're putting into your body?  I've embraced raw food recipes for this reason alone.  I hate hospitals and hope to never need to go back again.  

RichardP's picture

Gluten is a natural part of wheat.  Are you talking about added gluten?

q99x2's picture

I had to quit eating bread because of pain. I went on vacation and noticed that the pain went away. The only thing different was the bread that I was eating. When I got back I did not resume eating bread and no pain. So I don't eat bread now.

aerojet's picture

Sure, because nothing else besides bread could be causing your pain.  Not sure if serious...

SWCroaker's picture

Then read.  Or have a relative transition over the ignore-it threshold with type II diabetes.  My wife did.  She had to change her diet, oddly enough just to dodge carbs and sugars, per instruction.  Turns out some of the most consistent offenders in carb levels all tie back to ---> wheat.  Bread & pasta.

My diet changed when hers did.  I'm feeling better, and losing weight, and not subject to hunger cravings.

You can choose to believe.  Believe the government line on what is "healthy" for you, even if you don't believe any other lines they feed you.  You can believe some book author who's on a lecture circuit and enjoying the limelight.  Or maybe you can believe the poorly written, often zealous firsthand accounts from ordinary people who for one reason or another, tried something different, and feel compelled to share their stories.

For me, I distrust easily, have seen all too often how good intentions can morph overtime into self sustaining fonts of disinformation, and am comfortable using myself as my own lab rat.  The scientific method isn't just available to white lab coat types.   I've tried the low-wheat change, and a noticeably good change occurred in my health at the same time.  "Who you gonna trust woman, your lovin' husband or your lying eyes?"

hack3434's picture

Illusion of choice:

Kellogs total revenue as of 2011 (Just one of many conglomerates): $13.2B

Not hard to at least suspect that corps such as Kellogs have the incentive of providing pseudoscience showing the "benefits" of wheat. To each his own I suppose... 


combatsnoopy's picture

Bristol Myers Squibb is the makers of Metformin and they bought off a lot of PR to censor good information about insulin spikes and high fructose corn syrup. 

Also look into polysaturated/transfats and diabetes II.  And the lack of nutrition.  

I don't trust diobese CEOs of Big Pharma to regulate our healthcare reform which is why I'm strongly opposed to it.  


Japan got it right.   The Japanese take such good care of themselves that their healthcare system is not considered a money maker, so it's not even worth their while to lobby politicians.  This is a great example of how the free market beat the socialist sytem, which they do have.  The consumers put forth the effort and discipline and they won. 

IT doesn't matter whose POTUS or whose lobbying, Big pharma is ready to exploit the medicare we're handing over to 76 million baby boomers who believe it's status quo to throw chemicals at everything.  Either prescriptions or recreational devices.  

What you're talking about will save us a chunk of money in medicare, if it's actually implemented.  But OMG, people will need to learn how to prep REAL food vs. the precooked imitation meat served at Taco Bell.  


falak pema's picture

well the role of a philosopher is to tie in the loose ends; our captialist paradigm having gone south bigtime we now not only have a short term challenge to climb out of current hole but a longer term one of defining a new paradigm. That balances different societal issues like "individual free will", a thread that started off in Renaissance days as expression of the individual outside the dogma of society, both religious or feudal, and has now become so self serving that its destroying the individal itself while benefitting the predatory elements of society; as always.

Back to ethics and morality, back to understanding the physical limits of planet earth. Back to redefining the frontiers between ecosystem, individual and collective living. 


Spastica Rex's picture

Ego is the source of our predicament. Leadership isn't the answer; it's part of the problem.

illyia's picture

Ego is existential. Corruption is the problem. Definition of corruption: Lying, stealing, obfuscation, manipulation.

Solution: Transparency - enforced.

falak pema's picture

too true, when you live thru two world wars the ego takes a beating. Maybe our first world troubles arise from an accumulation of ego trips in an age when we had it too good. Now the black swans arrive in droves. 

Nobody wants to change the rules of the game even when you know its up. 

Best icon of the age : Lance Armstrong, who feels justified having won the fight against big C, to go on to win the fight against little 'c', in his line of thinking; "its only that I wanted to have a CDS on my races, fellas, nothing to write home about and nothing to go to jail about; hell the world is full of Libor manipulators; cheats do prosper if they have the gall to stick it out!'

Banksters's picture

Kill your cable Tv. It operates on your mind in ways you cannot defend.

Arbysauce's picture

I blame the public education system as well. It destroys independent thought.

Nimby's picture

Nothing can destroy independent thought.  The independent thinker may endure the cruicible of the public education system relatively unscathed, otherwise, they are wholly bereft of the qualities of an independent thinker.  Indeed, the independent thinker would revel in the opportunity to attend public school: no where else would they find so many opportunities to find truth than in the absence of it.

Winston of Oceania's picture

That is why they choose in the end to simply destroy the thinker themselves...

Bob's picture

Absolutely agreed.  Nobody is more resistant to efforts to control their thinking than adolescents are.  Just the nature of the beast. See my comment below. 

I get the impression that most people who view kids as intellectual invalids victimized by public schools are talking about somebody else's kids.  Little do they actually know.

Harbanger's picture

"Nobody is more resistant to efforts to control their thinking than adolescents are."

That is false on so many levels I can't take anything else you said seriously.

Bob's picture

Thanks for sharing your critique.  Apparently you know far more than me. 

Harbanger's picture

Yes, I do.  You're apparently a part of the system you defend.  I can understand that.

Bob's picture

So far you seem to be asserting yourself as a self-righteously ignorant zealot. 

nofluer's picture

I don't know if you folks have your view set up like mine, but I've found that iin the comments section as one of these ping-pong ball slam fests goes on and on, the view as displayed gets narrower, and narrower, and narrower...

ForTheWorld's picture

He/She isn't saying that they know more than you, but to say that adolescents are harder to sway mentally than other age groups is false. It's quite easy to get an adolescent to change their opinion three or four times within minutes if you just use the right words. Actually, it applies to anyone, but if you've ever worked with adolescents, you'll know just how easy they are to sway.

An example (albeit extreme): If you watch the documentary "Louis Theroux - The Most Hated Family in America", you'll see just how easily the children in that family are manipulated, and how they don't even understand what they're talking about, yet spout it as if it were gospel (pardon the pun).

Abrick's picture

That's right, adolescents buy millions of dollars worth of Axe body spray, because it smells good and when they wear it they get laid all the time. They eat Mcdonalds, Burger King, etc... because it is so healthy and tasty.  They are resistant to their parents efforts to control their thinking because most parents are shitty at marketing.

CH1's picture

Nothing can destroy independent thought.

I'm sure it seems that way to you (which may be a good thing), but that is UTTERLY false. The rulers of the world couldn't stay in business otherwise. 

cossack55's picture

You may be assuming that many people actually think.

Offthebeach's picture

Um.....what did you think it was designed for?
It is very, very successful.

Bob's picture

Designed to provide feed stock to business? 

Harbanger's picture

Correction.  Designed to produce narcassistic needy drones for the Statists.

Bob's picture

Even most of the younger kids aren't that simple minded. 

Harbanger's picture

The ones that aren't are medicated into submission.

The trend is your friend's picture

agreed,  if you open your kids eyes to the nonsense at a reasonable age, like i did at age 8 with my first son, they will not be part of the consumeristic system. 

New World Chaos's picture

Check out Common Purpose.  It's a cultish secret society that is taking over British bureaucracy and politics through training courses based on "soft" mind control techniques such as Neuro-Linguisitc Programming.  It sounds like headache-inducing jargon and pablum but it has insidious effects on weak minds.  Candidates are pre-screened with elaborate psychometric profiling.  They seek narcissists first and foremost.  Narcissism is the trait which makes the best statist drones, because they feel above the people they lord over and they very much need to belong to an alpha group.  Strategically placed ostracism and fake love will turn narcissists into unthinking minions of the Hive Mind.  Lack of self awareness is CP's next most desirable trait because they don't want people to realize they are being played.  Greed might be third on the list.  Here's a quick description of how they work:

Flakmeister's picture

A tad simplistic....

Consumerism and short term gratification, which is taught at home, destroys critical thinking...