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The Diderot Effect and the dangerous social cycle that makes us buy unneeded things

ygolo

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The idea in the following article is that this sort effect comes about because we are trying to signal to others that we are worthy in some way. Living for others essentially. I tend to agree.
The dangerous social cycle that makes us buy things we don'''t need — Quartz
The author also claims healthier way to do this sort of signaling is to do things like getting in shape, debating, and teaching others. I agree with that.

Here is one source of the old essay (I am not advocating the site, it's just a place that hosts the essay):
Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown by Denis Diderot 1769

Other related ideas are "keeping up with the Jonses".

And one related scale measure:
Materialism Scale - Money+Relationships+Equality

I scored 27 on the materialism scale. 6 on success, 12 on Centrality, and 9 on Happiness.

I wanted to see how others scored, and what their thought are on materialism, keeping up with the Jonses, social signalling through possessions, and the Diderot effect.
 

J. Starke

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The thing is that being able to impress other people really does make people happy.
 

Lark

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The thing is that being able to impress other people really does make people happy.

It can but I think its a legitimate question to ask what is impressing others and why.

There's a quote I only half remember about people working way too hard in order to impress others that they actually do not like.

Also the comparisons people make matter too, so if you compare yourself to someone in a third world context you could be pretty happy at your status, but if you instead compare yourself to someone in the fortune five hundred then you could be pretty depressed.

I also think that the comparisons, if they are stuck in the having mode of existence, will tend to depress too, the having mode is all about possessions, ie how many cars do you have in the garage of your second home, but the being mode, now, I think its fine to make comparisons there, particularly if they spur you onward to improvements. Which is the point about physical fitness, personal prowess etc. I would not say debating and teaching but I might say social connectedness and caring instead, that's just me though and make no claim to that reflecting being more than having or anything of that sort.

I've not heard of the Diderot effect but I might read a little bit more about it, rejecting materialism is fine, in some respects. It deserves to be thought over. However, like Ceecee has said in the past its most understandable, perhaps, if the "materialism" is that of people who have been deprived or under privileged and they suddenly come into money. Not saying its good but saying its understandable. I do think the materialism of different classes is important, it is different, even if both appear equally insatiable, when interrogated one often corresponds much more to need than wants. Finally, materialism has a VERY sinister aspect in so far as it can and does also involve objectifying people, in the having mode particularly, this is where slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation, the holocaust "industries" of turning people into soap all came from.

Associated with this is the idea of consumerism, which I think is way more complex than most accounts give it credit for, like a lot of people (and I even include myself) are letting consumer behaviour fill in for other experiences, so you may never actually do a thing, take a trip, find a solution but if you can buy something that kind of serves the purpose or allows you to feel like the goal is achieved.

Maybe this does not seem that important, I would say on the scale of little old me, its not, but this is also the thinking, increasingly, of heads of public services, people managing huge budgets. Sometimes promotions and corporate ascendance are determined by this. So individuals produce reports about managing change when really all they did was make some expensive consumer choices for their organization and did not change a lot objectively but on paper it's done and they get promoted. They then will select for subordinate positions people who are thinking the same way. Its a cycle too and a serious one.

Interesting, at the individual/personal level, Adam Smith wrote about this, in his book about moral sentiments. Talked about trinkets and accessorizing and tried to discourage it, talked about knowing the difference between needs and wants. I bet not a lot of people know that. In any case, not just because of the traffick in vice and extensive black markets, but the modern economy owes more to Al Capone than it does Adam Smith.
 

Lark

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Something I would add and it applies to other threads but in particular to ones like this, is that there's little in the way of research into the plutocracy proper, like the individuals who do have effectively infinite resources compared to the average member of the population. I'd really like to read about that but part of how those populations have kept their status and money has probably been a result of staying "under cover" and avoiding public attention.
 

Anantashesha

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I wanted to see how others scored, and what their thought are on materialism, keeping up with the Jonses, social signalling through possessions, and the Diderot effect.

On the test itself;


"Diderot’s story shows how the acquisition of new possessions is never a singular event. Each new purchase often creates a spiral of consumption that leads you to acquire more things."

This sentence is a huge 'duh' sentence. Of course things you buy cause you to spend more; if you buy a bigger house for your family, there will be money spent on furniture, as well as more rent and bills. If you buy a car, now you have to pay for gas and maintenance. If you buy land, you'll have to get equipment to maintain it and pay taxes. If you buy a TV, now you have to buy movies to actually use and enjoy the TV. However, if I had only read this short definition, I would have had the completely mistaken idea of the Diderot effect.

The Diderot effect seems specifically about buying to impress, or buying items for their superficial value rather than for the practical value added to the person's life. The difference lies in what actually happens in the story; the specific circumstances. In other circumstances, if a person buys a very nice suit for their work, though materialistic at first glance, it is a practical choice. It's making your money and items work for you. If the suit is a prerequisite for a job, then the suit will eventually pay for itself. This is entirely different from buying a flashy suit to go with your flashy car to create a sense, or perception of elevated uniform worth for the self or for the others.


I think Diderot was an idiot, and worse, one of the idiots who thinks others are an idiot like him who think that his specific experience apply to the human tendencies as a whole and go out there and sell it as philosophy. He's one of those people who adopt philosophies on fiscal and material issues that relate to his spending capacity; it's a smart adaptation, but one that for some, doesn't stick. He sounds like one of those people who become a loose cannon when they win the lottery only to end up poor again in a few months: they don't actually know or understand how to use and work their money and acquired items. There is very little actual financial knowledge present.

Don't be an idiot like Diderot. Work your assets wisely, and take lessons from his experience: it's not about what you have, it's about how you use it. It's about how you make your assets work for you. Don't look at the item face value. See what you can do with it. Make it deserve the money you spent for it rather than sit pretty as another money sinkhole in your belongings acting like it pays rent but demanding more money in maintenance, bills, and taxes.

On a similar vein, I don't think that people who want more items are necessarily materialistic. There are many, many things you can do in this modern world, a world that demands more than just physical labour. You can't (I guess you can, but would you?) just sell your body as a farmer, milkmaid, or housemaid and live a fulfilling life. Owning items is absolutely ESSENTIAL to good living, instead of just scraping by. If you want to be an artist, you'll need high quality materials for your work. If you want to be a chemist, you'll have to own all the high-tech fancy apparatuses in order to actually do your job and contribute to your field. If you want to learn to do any of these things at all, well, that requires you getting more money too, to begin with. If you need a mega private jet to expedite dispensing humanitarian resources for the impoverished I don't quite think that's materialistic either. Again, the difference is how you use your assets, and why you acquired them to begin with.


Personally, I'm absolutely immune to status signalling via wealth / money. Ever since I was a kid I have known to not spend unwisely- I saved every bit of pocket money I got. Before 10 I had enough money to pay a couple months' worth of rent for an adult (and this is a LOT of saving happening- you don't give kids $100, you'd be giving them $1-$20 every now and then, so for a kid to amass thousands of dollars without being prompted is a LOT of saving). I yelled at my dad who was stupid enough to get me an iPhone because even at a young age I understood that an item is only as good as how much you use it, and how much you know how to use it and I didn't care about the rest. To sum up my spending philosophies when it comes to the more social, 'advertising' part of ownership:

I'm buying my stuff for me, not for YOU, why in the ABSOLUTE DINGLETRUCK would I give a single (*#$& on what you think about my stuff? Do you pay my rent? Are you going to be using the things I buy? No? Then duck off.

You worked hard for your money. Use it for yourself.
 

ygolo

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The thing is that being able to impress other people really does make people happy.

Yes. that point was acknowledged in the article, in that impressing people is a bit of a primal urge for many.

However, there is a lot of research that shows that materialism make people unhappy.
Here is one example:
Materialistic people '''more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied'''

If you are at a university, here is a more thorough article:
https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033344
Materialism comprises a set of values and goals focused on wealth, possessions, image, and status. These aims are a fundamental aspect of the human value/goal system, standing in relative conflict with aims concerning the well-being of others, as well as one's own personal and spiritual growth. Substantial evidence shows that people who place a relatively high priority on materialistic values/goals consume more products and incur more debt, have lower-quality interpersonal relationships, act in more ecologically destructive ways, have adverse work and educational motivation, and report lower personal and physical well-being. Experimentally activating materialistic aims causes similar outcomes. Given these ills, researchers have investigated means of decreasing people's materialism. Successful interventions encourage intrinsic/self-transcendent values/goals, increase felt personal security, and/or block materialistic messages from the environment. These interventions would likely be more effective if policies were also adopted that diminished contemporary culture's focus on consumption, profit, and economic growth.

Perhaps, ironically, materialism is correlated negatively with money management skills. So being hyper-focused on money and material things actually makes you less good at managing your money. I am not surprised by this, but I do chuckle a bit at the irony, every time I see a paper showing the same thing.

Here is how it affects marriage:
How Materialism Harms a Marriage
Materialism in marriage linked to devaluation of marriage: study
 

ygolo

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Something I would add and it applies to other threads but in particular to ones like this, is that there's little in the way of research into the plutocracy proper, like the individuals who do have effectively infinite resources compared to the average member of the population. I'd really like to read about that but part of how those populations have kept their status and money has probably been a result of staying "under cover" and avoiding public attention.

One thing about the rich avoiding flaunting their wealth is that it would tend to keep people from spending their money that way. There is a lot of pro-social behavior people can engage in. If the rich impressed people by donating all their fortunes on curing infectious diseases, cancer, etc. This becomes part of the aspirations of others instead having fancy real estate, the next iPhone, or a BMW.

I think materialism is largely independent of people's preference for socialism vs. capitalism. Either system would be poorly allocating their resources if the society has materialistic values instead of pro-social values.
 

Jaguar

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I don't care what the Joneses have and if the Joneses asked what I have, I might tell them I'm on welfare just to fuck with them. In short, it's none of their business what I have. As far as "buying things we don't need"? I'll be the judge of what I need.
 

ygolo

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On the test itself;

Agreed. The scale has many issues. Every scale I've seen trying to measure things through questionnaires have rather similar problems...including the MBTI and Big Five.

I don't care what the Joneses have and if the Joneses asked what I have, I might tell them I'm on welfare just to fuck with them. In short, it's none of their business what I have. As far as "buying things we don't need"? I'll be the judge of what I need.

I agree with both you and [MENTION=35920]Earl Grey[/MENTION] on this. I am asking from more of a philosophical perspective. [MENTION=7280]Lark[/MENTION] mentioned Adam Smith's stating the importance knowing the difference between needs and wants. Of particular interest to me regarding Smith's writings is the allure of extreme wealth as an aspect of inequality.
 
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