An All-Consuming Parable
There was a society that was extraordinarily gifted in making things. Most people created what they needed themselves. Some of them developed the ability to make certain things much better than others could make the same items. Over time, they not only could make them better, but also could make them faster and cheaper, even at scale.
While this was quite the accomplishment, the problem was that these producers began to have their warehouses filled with their goods. Creative members of this group found ways to tell large number of people about their wares, and how if folks would buy their products instead of making the items themselves, they would save time and have better products.
All of these ideas caught on. The people began to specialize in what they produced best, and sold them to each other in order to buy others’ products. Life got easier.
As people grew to enjoy consuming each others’ products, a dynamic equilibrium was approached between production and consumption. However, as people learned to consume ready-made items, they became interested in newer and more types of products, which increased demand for new producers. So growth occurred instead of reaching equilibrium. This was good.
Over time, people increasingly thought of themselves as consumers instead of producers, partly because they bought more types of things than they made and partly because consuming these things made their lives so much easier. With this ease, more time was available for leisure and entertainment, and producers rushed to fill the new void.
Over time, a perversion developed. Producers began to look for ways to cut corners in their production to reduce costs and increase production, so they could consume more themselves. Simultaneously, consumers became less interested in producing, because it took time away from consumption. Over time, more and more of the people became consumers only, and refused to produce anything themselves.
This last made things harder on the remaining producers. There were fewer producers than consumers and they had to look elsewhere for people to assist in production to sate the appetite for consumption.
A further perversion occurred when people began to consume products inferior to what they could make themselves, because it was cheaper and faster to buy poorer quality than to make the goods themselves. Some producers even bought cheaper products and resold them rather than make their own.
Still more time passed. The consumers were growing in number, and also growing fatter, lazier, dumber…and unhappier. They thought having more for cheaper would fix this, but, alas, things just got worse. So they demanded that someone somewhere should develop an easy solution, one they could quickly consume.
One idea that arose was that the producers should be punished for oppressing and cheating the consumers. While some producers were taking advantage of the consumers, most were not because they had to struggle so hard to find employees willing to help produce.
A further challenge arose as the consumers began to realize they had no money to consume anything anymore. Rather than realize it was because they weren’t producing anything, much less anything of value, they believed it was because someone was denying them their rightful share of the prosperity.
They were not entirely insane in this belief, however. As the society evolved the consumer mentality, producers catered to it in their attempt to sell more of their products. Thus the consumers were bombarded with the idea that they deserved all of the benefits of these products, and they deserved them immediately.
By the time these errors were fully realized, the attitudes were deeply ingrained, even making strong inroads among the remaining producers. There arose competing camps among those who recognized the problems as they strove for influence in reforming the culture.
Some argued for a return to a production mindset. Others argued that this was a problem of the producers own making, and therefore, they should view the consumers as their wards, and care for them. A variety of voices argued somewhere between these extremes, and few had the clout or willingness to really fix problems.
Meanwhile, all segments of the society were affected, as the people viewed everything in terms of items to be consumed, even things that were never before considered products. If it wasn’t consumable, it wasn’t desired, so ideals as nebulous as altruism were presented as products to consume to produce (all too fleeting) contented feelings in the consumers.
Meanwhile, ain’t nobody was truly happy or content. Blame became the dominant currency, and stupor increased. Everything had a price, but little was valued. As the people lost pride in their work, they sought validation in increasingly trivial and meaningless achievements. True accomplishment was both admired and punished, as the success story highlighted the apathy of the consumers.
The society fell into ruin ultimately, becoming merely a subject for study and debate between scholars over the centuries. A few hundred years later the cycle repeated elsewhere.
What, did you expect a happy ending?