Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks, in his address at the Gregorian (see previous posts) commented on how consumerism saps the moral strength of a culture, for it brings about a society obsessed with money. He said,
“When money rules, we remember the price of things and forget the value of things, and that is dangerous.”
He suggests that a consumerist society is a highly efficient system for the creation and distribution of unhappiness, and then goes further and speaks of the need for inculcating impulse control in children to ensure good social adjustment by way of analogy to what he terms the “infantilization” of European culture. For Sachs, success depends on the ability to delay gratification, something a consumerist culture undermines. He questions whether our current social structures are strong enough to survive this infantilization.
I find, once again, that he brings up some food for thought. One can reflect upon one’s own experience and ask whether the economic realities with which we live have done anything to mature us. Has our attitude and behavior toward money and possessions led us to a maturity, an ability to save, to delay gratification, and to seek happiness in other realms other than economic, or has it only infantilized and enslaved us?
One might even ask whether or not our economic lives have become a source of idolatry for us…. do we worship what we can consume, or do we place all we have at the feet of God in offering?
The next and final installment in this series on Sachs’ address will be on his thoughts on how Judaism protected itself from this.