The basis on which good repute in any highly organised industrial community ultimately rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and so of gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods. -- Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Dover Books, 1994, page 52 ONE of the laments of contemporary political theory is the recognition that modern-day society is increasingly being characterised as a consumer oriented society. Theorists of contemporary democracy rail against the way in which ideas of civic duty, responsibility and care are declining in society.
Increasingly, all that is expected of us is that we consume more. Consumption is, of course, key to economic development. Our modern economies rely on us to consume the products we make and services we provide. Without consumption, our economies and therefore our standard of living would decline.
However, there is an important distinction that should be made between recognising the importance of consumption to a modern economy and reducing the meaning of human existence in present-day society simply to our status as consumers. Recently as I took a stroll through Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur I visited some of the new shopping malls that have sprouted in the area as part of the ongoing retail development that now is ubiquitous in Malaysia. I must confess from the outset that the names of all these shopping complexes begin to blend into one for me, and after a while the thing that strikes me is not the diversity that at first appears on offer but rather a growing sense of homogeneity and sameness that after awhile you sense as you walk through these institutions.
I must confess that walking through a kind of Christmas snow storm at the entrance to one of the malls was a surprise.
However, the thing that really struck me as I walked through one of the newer malls...