Hyper-Consumption

Another prominent expression of human chauvinism is “hyper-consumption” (Manolopoulos 2009; Lipovetsky 2011). As with hyper-instrumentalism, we are required to first define “consumption” as such. To consume things is to “appropriate” them in various ways, from the most literal and elementary (e.g., we literally consume air, water, food, energy) to the more complex and technological (e.g., we appropriate timber for housing or firewood; we “consume” cultural products such as art and cinema). Consumption/appropriation is a normal aspect of creaturely life: corporeal beings (human and otherwise) are required to consume other things in order to survive and thrive. There is therefore nothing anomalous about this practice as such.

For example, moderate consumption would involve eating a sufficient amount of food to sustain a body or society (this point is developed in subsequent chapters). But we (more affluent) consumers have increasingly hyperconsumed food (refer to, e.g., DeSilver 2016; AIHW 2017). Another example of hyper-consumption is our appropriation of oil: world oil consumption is approximately one hundred million barrels per day (IEA 2018). Our levels of appropriation are so excessive that researchers have been speculating whether/ to what extent we’ve already passed “peak oil,” the point at which oil production will begin declining (Hubbert 1962; Campbell 1991; Campbell and Laherrere 1998; Deffeyes 2005; Owen, Inderwildi and King 2010; Nashawi, Malallah and Al-Bisharah 2010). Whatever the accuracy of scholarly estimates, the mere thought that oil levels might be already declining startlingly reveals the extent to which we hyper-consume oil.

What is the relation between hyper-consumption and hyper-instrumentalism? First of all, let’s note the relation between appropriation and instrumental-ization. When a thing is construed as an instrument to be used, then one of its uses might involve being appropriated. For instance, I may use a piece of fruit as a source of sustenance and satisfaction; its utilization involves the act of consumption. However, instrumentalism will not always lead to consumption. For example, a hammer may be routinely used but it is not “consumed”; the entity remains. The same principle applies with the excessive forms of these practices: hyper-instrumentalization will often but not always involve hyperconsumption; it depends on whether the utilization involves “incorporating” the object. The link between hyper-instrumentalism and hyper-consumption is confirmed by the following statement from Plumwood: “The other is reinvested with agency and purpose only through being brought captive as means within the master’s sphere of ends, through assimilation to the sphere of self via [hyper-]use, in commodification or [hyper-]consumption” (1993: 192). There’s an explicit link here between “use” and “consumption” - I previously noted how Plumwood doesn’t always nuance her terms, so we may rightly infer that these words in this context should be understood in the strong sense. (We also quickly note that consumption and commodification are overlapping but not equivalent terms.)

Now, given that strong instrumentalism leads to “runaway consumption” (WWF 2018: 30), and given that anthropocentrism gives rise to strong instrumentalism, then it follows that anthropocentrism also gives rise to hyperconsumption: when we humans consider ourselves the center-apex of Creation, then we tend to ignore, deny, or be unaware that entities are more than their consumptive dimension; we narrowly consider them as things to be appropriated. Our enduring and intensifying homocentrism has therefore paved the way for hyper-consumption. To be sure, I don’t claim that human-centeredness alone is to blame for our hyper-consumption: there are also other, “more obvious” drivers (hunger, greed, etc.), but this is precisely my point: human supremacism provides the largely undetected framework by which such problematic behavioral patterns are allowed to arise and thrive.

 
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