Latouche on the Spiritual Dangers of Advertising

Serge Latouche identifies three ingredients necessary to a consumer-driven economy: advertising, credit, and products with built-in or planned obsolescence.  He alerts us to the evil of avarice that is baked into so much advertising:

Times Square, New York, United States. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Advertising makes us want what we do not have and despise what we already have. It creates and re-creates the dissatisfaction and tension of frustrated desire.

A survey of big American companies found that 90 percent of their CEO’s admitted that it would be impossible to sell a new product without an advertising campaign; 85 percent confessed that advertising “often” persuaded people to buy things they did not need; and 51 percent admitted that advertising persuaded people to buy things that they did not really want.  

Advertising is now the “second biggest budget in the world” — the first being weapons for war.  Might advertising itself constitute a kind of war—a war against our souls because it promotes avarice?

Consumer central: a shopping mall. Image by Carol Carter from Pixabay

Latouche cites American market analyst Victor Lebow, who as early as 1955 warned of the spiritual dangers of making a drug of consumerism. Said Lebow:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. . . . We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.

 Warns Latouche:

Jason Hickel: “Our addiction to economic growth is killing us: Degrowth explained in two minutes.” From

If growth automatically generated well-being, we would now be living in paradise. We are in fact going down the road to hell.

Latouche endorses the “slow food” movements, the “slow city” movements, and the “new commune” movements of Italy that are springing up around Europe. He sees in them a “laboratory for critical analysis” of how to implement de-growth philosophy into practice.

Like David Korten, he endorses local economies and agriculture wherever possible, and notes that small and organic farming creates many good jobs. Indeed, statistics show that in France the appearance of supermarkets did away with 17 percent of bakers in France, 84 percent of grocers, and 43 percent of hardware dealers; five sustainable jobs in local shops were lost for every one created in mass market stores.  

Organic garden, interns and wind turbine at SunRun Centre / Russet House Farm, Toronto. A 2013 UN report says such small-scale organic farm are the only sustainable way to feed the world. Photo by Peter Blanchard on Flickr

Says Latouche, citing Ivan Illich: “The recipe lies in doing more, and doing better, with less.”  We can cut the depletion of natural resources by 30 percent by reducing “final” consumption by 50 percent and create an appropriate ecological footprint for our one planet and still “the improvement in our quality of life would be out of all proportion to the measures that are needed.”

Latouche addresses the “massive” failures of so-called “development” policies in developing countries which have “resulted in corruption, incoherence and structural adjustment plans that have turned poverty into misery.” Colonization, development, and globalization, he feels, have interrupted the organic economies of Southern cultures. He cites a Guatemalan peasant leader: “Leave the poor alone and stop talking to them about development.” 

Citations are from Serge LaTouche, Farewell to Growth.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 241-244.

Banner Image: Political cartoon “Limite écologique” by Degrowth Movement organization Colectivo Desazkundea (Decrecimiento). The train of Capitalism hurtles toward the planet’s ecological limits while voices inside cry “Slower! You have to go slower!”…”Yes, but the US car (of the train) needs more soda, it’s on the menu”…”Uh … what if we just want to get off the train …?” On Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Is it your experience that growth generates well being?  If not, isn’t it time that we inform our economists and politicians about that?  How best to do that?

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7 thoughts on “Latouche on the Spiritual Dangers of Advertising”

  1. Avatar

    I just know that leaving a relationship where I was adored and showered with expensive gifts was a big relief and gave me the freedom I had given up.

    I have rediscovered that I can manage with very little, and relish giving to others, however I can. Actually, having less is freeing and challenging, and has opened the door to my being able to receive from the loads of friends that have shown up to help an elderly lady without a car! How about that? Praise Mother-Father God!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Vivian, thank you for your comment. Yes, less is more as E. F. Schumacher said in his book, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      It is not religion that is the opiate of the people as Marx and Ingles said, but consumerism is our people’s drug of choice…

  2. Avatar

    In Buddhism,
    desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied.
    Suffering arises from attachment to desires
    The cause of suffering is called samudaya or tanha. It is the desire to have and control things, such as craving of sensual pleasures. … Attachment to material things creates suffering because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.
    But according to Buddhism, we must let go of attachment and desires if we are to experience happiness. However, letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about anyone and anything. It actually means you can experience life and love fully and openly without clinging to it for your survival.
    Stay safe

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Billy, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Buddhism and why desire and attachment can be problematic in our lives.

  3. Avatar

    if you wish to receive joy and God,
    Pour out your clinging to things
    Matthew fox
    Meditation with Meister Eckhart
    Stay safe

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