The danger of the title “Consumer”

James Kunslter, author and critic of suburbia and proponent of New Urbanism, said something very interesting and important in a podcast referred to me by a friend:

    “Please, please stop referring to yourselves as consumers, OK. Consumers are different than citizens. Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities and duties to their fellow human beings.”

He goes on to suggest that by referring to ourselves — I might add that even by subconsciously thinking of ourselves — as consumers we are “degrading the conversation.” More than degrading any conversation about the future of America, we’re degrading ourselves. Are we to be defined by how big businesses and billion dollar corporations look at us? Should we continue to pay so much, if any, attention to things like the Consumer Confidence Index? How important is it, really, to a successful and happy life that the economy be always heading up, up, up?

We’re naive to think that the American economy is foolproof. This is especially true in light of the insane amount of federal and individual debt that owns us. Credit card and mortgage companies in their greed possessed no more foresight, it seems, than the automobile makers of 80 years ago, unless their intent involved the possible ruination of the most prosperous economy on the planet.

Kunstler’s premise in the 20 minute lecture is that the future of America, sans big oil, will be forced to look more like the America of yesteryear: We’ll have to live closer to each other, to our work, to our food supplies.

I’m probably not as militant in my thinking as he is, but his suggestion needs to be considered very carefully by all of us. It may not be that far from the truth depending on how willing we are to press for change today.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to The danger of the title “Consumer”

  1. Duncan says:

    Kunstler also talked about the title of consumer on a recent episode of his weekly podcast, The KunstlerCast. Thought you might enjoy the program if you haven’t heard it:

  2. Pingback: Another Kunstler quote « The Aesthetic Elevator

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