Philosophy of futility

Philosophy of futility is a phrase coined in 1928 by Columbia University marketing professor Paul Nystrom to describe an increasingly prevalent outlook which, he believed, induced a greater demand for fashionable products. The growth of industrialization had brought about a narrowing of interests, contacts, and achievements for many people in the Western world. Such conditions of life, Nystrom observed, encourage a tendency to become quickly bored and, consequently, a continual appetite for newness and change and a greater interest in goods in which fashion dominates, such as apparel, automobiles, and home furnishings.

The following is a quotation from Nystrom's Economics of Fashion (1928), often cited by historians and analysts of marketing, consumerism, and commercialism:[1]

One's outlook on life and its purposes may greatly modify one's attitude toward goods in which fashion is prominent. At the present time, not a few people in western nations have departed from old-time standards of religion and philosophy, and having failed to develop forceful views to take their places, hold to something that may be called, for want of a better name, a philosophy of futility. This view of life (or lack of a view of life) involves a question as to the value of motives and purposes of the main human activities. There is ever a tendency to challenge the purpose of life itself. This lack of purpose in life has an effect on consumption similar to that of having a narrow life interest, that is, in concentrating human attention on the more superficial things in which fashion reigns.[2]

Philosophy of Futility and Retail Therapy:

Shopping in order to make oneself feel happier is a symptom that is referred to as “retail therapy” in the popular press. The term was first used in the Chicago Tribune of December 24, 1986: "We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy". Retail therapy, sometimes observed in people in times of depression or transition, indicates lack of personal purpose, and involves shopping as a therapeutic act that improves the buyer's mood or disposition; therefore, goods purchased during retail therapy are often referred to as "comfort buys." [3]

The “vicious cycle” in Nystrom’s theory can be seen in many economic and philosophical arenas. Robert and Edward Skidelsky, in a father-and-son/economist-and-philosopher writing partnership, discuss that needs are finite and can be satisfied, but wants are infinite in quantity.[4] Adam Smith, a pioneer in political economy, states his Theory of Moral Sentiments that “Riches leave a man always as much and sometimes more exposed than before to anxiety, to fear and to sorrow.”

Advertising can manipulate those wants, and make them appear as needs by making consumers feel they are not whole or happy without their product. [5] In his criticism of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche said "To act as a physician," he writes, "the priest must make one sick!" For Christianity to appear as the savior, people must first have a problem. Advertising can make their product be the savior of a consumer’s problem.

Advertising can be particularly influential on children. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children are unable to distinguish between advertising and scheduled television broadcasts. Many countries have banned advertising targeting children to help avoid marketing saturation, and to allow them time to develop an identity beyond that of a consumer. Child advocates have condemned ads from children’s cereals for their lack of nutritional value leading to child obesity to advertising campaigns for action figures based on adult movies or themes. With the average US youth seeing anywhere from 2000-3000 ads a day, the content and intent of those ads has increasingly come under scrutiny. [6]

See also


  1. ^ p. 85, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, Stuart Ewen, New York: Basic Books, 1976/2001; p. 18, Our Media, Not Theirs, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
  2. ^ p. 68, Paul H. Nystrom, 1928, Economics of Fashion, New York: The Ronald Press Company. Emphasis in original.
  3. ^ Story, Louise, “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad,” The New York Times, January 15, 2007, February 27, 2014.
  4. ^ Skidelsky, R., & Skidelsky, How Much Is Enough? Money and the good life. New York: Other Press, 2012.
  5. ^ Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Transformers Marketing: Still not Transformed.” Retrieved February 2014.
  6. ^ Commonsense Media, “Junk Food Ads and Childhood Obesity,” Retrieved February 2014.

Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology that is opposed to consumerism, the continual buying and consuming of material possessions. Anti-consumerism is concerned with the private actions of business corporations in pursuit of financial and economic goals at the expense of the public welfare, especially in matters of environmental protection, social stratification, and ethics in the governing of a society. In politics, anti-consumerism overlaps with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism; moreover, a conceptual variation of anti-consumerism is post-consumerism, living in a material way that transcends consumerism.Anti-consumerism arose in response to the problems caused by the long-term mistreatment of human consumers and of the animals consumed, and from the incorporation of consumer education to school curricula; examples of anti-consumerism are the book No Logo (2000) by Naomi Klein, and documentary films such as The Corporation (2003), by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, and Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003), by Erik Gandini; each made anti-corporate activism popular as an ideologically accessible form of civil and political action.

The criticism of economic materialism as a dehumanizing behaviour that is destructive of the Earth, as human habitat, comes from religion and social activism. The religious criticism asserts that materialist consumerism interferes with the connection between the individual and God, and so is an inherently immoral style of life; thus the German historian Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) said that "Life in America is exclusively economic in structure, and lacks depth." From the Roman Catholic perspective, Thomas Aquinas said that "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things"; in that vein, Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, and Mohandas Gandhi said that spiritual inspiration guided them towards simple living.

From the secular perspective, social activism indicates that from consumerist materialism derive crime (which originates from the poverty of economic inequality), industrial pollution and the consequent environmental degradation, and war as a business. About the societal discontent born of malaise and hedonism, Pope Benedict XVI said that the philosophy of materialism offers no raison d'être for human existence; likewise, the writer Georges Duhamel said that "American materialism [is] a beacon of mediocrity that threatened to eclipse French civilization".

Conspicuous consumption

Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power—of the income or of the accumulated wealth of the buyer. To the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means of either attaining or maintaining a given social status.The development of Thorstein Veblen's sociology of conspicuous consumption produced the term invidious consumption, the ostentatious consumption of goods that is meant to provoke the envy of other people; and the term conspicuous compassion, the deliberate use of charitable donations of money in order to enhance the social prestige of the donor, with a display of superior socio-economic status.


Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the industrial revolution, but particularly in the 20th century, mass production led to an economic crisis: there was overproduction—the supply of goods would grow beyond consumer demand, and so manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to manipulate consumer spending. In 1899, a book on consumerism published by Thorstein Veblen, called The Theory of the Leisure Class, examined the widespread values and economic institutions emerging along with the widespread "leisure time" in the beginning of the 20th century. In it Veblen "views the activities and spending habits of this leisure class in terms of conspicuous and vicarious consumption and waste. Both are related to the display of status and not to functionality or usefulness."In economics, consumerism may refer to economic policies which emphasise consumption. In an abstract sense, it is the consideration that the free choice of consumers should strongly orient the choice by manufacturers of what is produced and how, and therefore orient the economic organization of a society (compare producerism, especially in the British sense of the term). In this sense, consumerism expresses the idea not of "one man, one voice", but of "one dollar, one voice", which may or may not reflect the contribution of people to society.

In the almost complete absence of other sustained macro-political and social narratives—concern about global climate change notwithstanding—the pursuit of the 'good life' through practices of what is known as 'consumerism' has become one of the dominant global social forces, cutting across differences of religion, class, gender, ethnicity and nationality. It is the other side of the dominant ideology of market globalism and is central to what Manfred Steger calls the 'global imaginary'.


Ecclesiastes (; Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶת, qōheleṯ, Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ekklēsiastēs) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim (or "Writings"). Originally written c. 450–200 BCE, it is also among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most denominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet, the pseudonym used by the author of the book.

In traditional Jewish texts and throughout church history (up to the 18th and 19th centuries), King Solomon is named as the author, but modern scholars reject this. Textually, the book is the musings of a King of Jerusalem as he relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, who is not named anywhere in the book, or in the whole of the Bible, introduces a "Kohelet" whom he identifies as the son of David (1:1). The author does not use his own "voice" throughout the book again until the final verses (12:9–14), where he gives his own thoughts and summarises what "the Kohelet" has spoken. It emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, a word meaning "vain", "futile", […] as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Qoheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote:

"[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

Paul Nystrom

Paul Henry Nystrom (January 25, 1878 – August 17, 1969) was an American economist, and professor of marketing at Columbia University. He is most known as pioneer in marketing, and for his The Economics of Retailing (1915) and his Economics of Fashion (1928).

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.