The Renegade Consumer Manifesto – annotated

Many newcomers may be confused or unconvinced by the language of the Renegade Consumer Manifesto. Full understanding will come with the reading of the supporting material here and in the forthcoming book. To help developing renegades grasp our aims and goals from the source, we've prepared this annotated version of the Manifesto.

For more than three generations, since at least the end of World War II, Americans and most citizens of the Western world have been subjected to an unceasing assault on their economic rights and their fundamental freedoms of thought and choice.

It is difficult to pin down exactly when consumerism became a dominant force in U.S. and Western countries. There were threads of it at least as far back as the Civil War era, but the real rise of consumption as a life focus began in the aftermath of WWII. The number of generations may be as high as five or six, depending on how you measure.

Far from being opposed, this assault is actively supported by governments and economic institutions. Whole industries have arisen with the sole purpose of protecting and furthering this effort. The great majority of individuals have been conditioned to tolerate and even welcome this continual siege on their lives. As a result, this onslaught has had a larger impact on present-day life and the state of our world than any other factor in recent history.

Consumerism is an integral element in most Western economies and a bedrock component of most. Governmental policies large and small are determined by their effect on consumer spending, with the goal of always maintaining if not increasing it. In essence, our governments have become the largest and most powerful “marketing departments” of all, supporting a business and product environment beneficial to makers and sellers of goods to the exclusion of other concerns. Those who might find the last sentence excessive have yet to come to terms with the scope and scale of consumerism's role in our world.

This assault comes from the many combined forces of the consumer manufacturing and marketing industries, and all those who promote, support and encourage consumerism — the idea that the purpose of life is to use one’s economic resources to acquire goods, and that it is incumbent on all to make maximum use of those resources to further this pursuit.

This very terse definition of consumerism may again seem excessive, but the more detailed writings here will help make it clear that the term goes far beyond “consumption” as some necessary part of life—that we now, as a society, “live to consume” rather than “consume to live.”

This assault strikes everyone, from all sides, unrelentingly and without significant opposition or protections. It harms everyone by limiting their educational, economic and life options, by undermining individual potential for economic security, and by blunting the potential achievements of individual lives. It harms our world by fostering overconsumption and unnecessary depletion of natural resources. It harms our future by conditioning us to accept a form of slavery that we have been trained to praise as freedom.

The damage done by consumerism is almost incalculable, because it is the underlying cause of so many other damaging and destructive practices. To choose the most obvious example, our voracious appetite for global resources is not the cause of consumerism; consumerism is its cause, and the cause of many other intractable ills.

Despite its universal presence and effect, this unceasing attack on the minds and fortunes of nearly every person on Earth has gone all but unnoticed. The camouflage and misdirection are inherent in the effort itself. Those who recognize the assault are subverted. Those who attempt to bring it to public notice are ignored. Those who attempt to change it are dismissed. To all this we say: No more.

One of the most astounding aspects of consumerism is how invisible it has managed to make itself. Everyone sees it, to one degree or another; everyone “knows it's there”... but it is blithely dismissed at every level as everything it is not—inconsequential, trivial, inherent, and secondary to the world's other problems. Trying to call attention to its real existence and effects provokes more smirks than anything else. Time for this to change.

As renegades in the spectrum of consumers, we declare that this assault on the lives and economic freedom of all individuals must cease. We will strive to free ourselves individually from its effects and control. We will strive to educate others that they might free themselves. We will strive to eliminate the very notion that spending one’s wealth is the purpose of life. We will work to actively expose this onslaught and oppose those who perpetrate it. We actively and aggressively seek to end the reign of consumerism as a political, economic and social force.

There's little to add here; that's about as clear a statement of goals as can be written. Put in a single sentence: The primary goal of Renegade Consumer is to eliminate consumerism as a core component of our national and global economy, in order to eliminate all the individual, social, ecological and economic ills it brings along.

In support of these goals, we declare that:

  • We believe that ownership of goods does not define a worthwhile life;
  • We believe that there are better bases for life than maximizing one’s ability to consume;

Life is not about how much crap you have, or how much crap you can buy. This is by no means a new idea, but for all the lip service the notion gets it may as well be written in hieroglyphics. We mean to bring the concept back to a front-and-center position.

  • We believe that people should live within their economic means, and that individuals should consider their financial future while managing their financial present;

There are better purposes for our days than to earn as much as we can in order to spend it, and then to spend our future earnings to have more now, all at the expense of the quality of our later life. This is another set of issues that we intend to bring back to a position of importance for everyone.

  • We believe it is unethical to manipulate the economic practices of individuals for economic advantage or gain, and we demand ethical actions from manufacturers, marketers and sellers of consumer goods;

This may be our single most controversial stand—that industry and commerce and business do not have a right to goad us into buying their offerings on any terms. This is not a free-speech issue, and we don't believe corporations are “people” anyway. This is a moral issue. It is wrong to make people buy things they do not need simply to foster profits. Wrong.

  • We believe in the strongest possible protections against fraud and misrepresentation;
  • We believe that education and awareness are more effective defenses against this assault than excessive regulation and law;

We believe that regulatory agencies, law and industrial regulations have an essential place in preventing outright fraud, misrepresentation and deception; there can be no law strong enough to back essential truth and honesty in product sales and business operations. However, we do not believe that our principles and aims can be legislated into existence; they are moral, cultural and individual issues that must come from understanding and education rather than fiat. Put briefly, it is not our aim to “outlaw” any currently legal product or process; it very much is our goal to make the suspect and predatory ones as socially distasteful as any other assault on individuals.

  • We encourage independent thought and critical thinking; and

This may seem out of place, but we believe that if the majority of citizens were better trained in thinking for themselves, analyzing claims and statements, and the sweep of healthy skepticism often called “critical thinking,” the world would be a better place. The hustlers, liars and deceivers can only get the upper hand on people who trust them on first impressions and never look—or think to look—beneath the surface. Learning to think beyond the assigned box is an integral part of the Renegade Consumer effort.

  • We believe that the problem transcends all political and social ideologies and that our efforts should remain independent of them all.

This is not a political matter, nor a partisan social one. This is not right or left, libertarian or socialist, have or have-not: it is the social economy of everyone and we are all subject to its predatory assaults. Our current political, social and economic structures do not form consumerism; they stand on it... all of them.

We find it in no way contradictory to our aims to further declare that:

  • We believe that personal economic choices are best left to the fully informed individual;
  • We believe it is acceptable to live at any level and in any style one’s means permit; and

We do not believe that personal lifestyle and individual choices should be legislated or centrally controlled. Renegade Consumer is about freeing us from a far more constricted set of choices and options, not channeling us into a tighter set. We believe that many people if not most will choose the more individual- and family-centric options our efforts will produce, but there will be those who cling to more consumption-centric models for years, even generations to come. The choice is the individual's... but eventually the great mass of individual wills and choices will make the present model of “living to consume” less and less appealing and supportable.

  • We accept that, within bounds, marketing and advertising are necessary components of a healthy economy.

The key phrase there is... within bounds. The unlimited “right” to shape opinion and desire by undermining reason and sense, to no end but to swell profits, is hereby revoked.

We pledge unceasing war on the promulgators and the very concept of consumerism, with no rest in this effort until:

  • The American populace has been thoroughly educated on the real role of consumer spending in our lives, politics and society;
  • The real tactics and purposes of the consumer product and marketing industries have been brought to wide public attention and understanding; and
  • A sustained national discussion of individual, family and community economics not based on maximized consumer spending has begun.

We won't give up the fight until everyone understands what's at stake, and why, and that better choices are within reach.

We pledge not to abandon the effort until these interim steps result in:

  • A pronounced reduction of spending on valueless consumer goods;
  • A substantial movement of people adjusting their lives around sustainable and personally beneficial economic plans;
  • A reordering of the consumer product industries reflecting a market that will no longer be goaded into fostered spending and acquisition; and
  • Changes in our national policies reflecting a permanent turn away from consumerism as a basis for both individual lives and national economies.

We won't give up the fight until that collective understanding forces economic, social and political change that eliminates consumerism from our world.

In summary,

We I don’t buy it any more!

Say it out loud. Go ahead—say it.

signed, on behalf of all Renegades,
James Gifford aka Renegade One