Buying Our Way into Humanness


Consumerism is an important feature of neoliberalism. The market has spread to all areas of life and relationships, emotions, meaning, but also whether one is considered fully human, are being determined by what one can buy. The question of whether something is a human being should be an easy one to answer. However, social psychology research shows that at times, we subjectively attribute human characteristics to non-human entities (anthropomorphism) or deny human characteristics to human beings (dehumanisation). Dehumanisation has mostly been studied in the context of intergroup violence, as is the case
with genocides. In this article, I will explore the link between consumerism and dehumanisation. In a consumer society, goods, services, and lifestyles are not just bought for their usefulness but also for their ability to signal that one belongs to a higher social class (to the category of those that are seen as being more human), distancing oneself from those that are seen as lower and less human. As a result, the poor, who can only afford to consume a little, are systematically dehumanised. The poor are often invisible, despised or excluded when belonging has been identified as one of the most fundamental human psychological needs. Additionally, their well-being and happiness are threatened by a system in which those are determined by what one can buy.


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