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The Consuming Instinct by Gad Saad

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Consuming Instinct in the USA - or Buy The Consuming Instinct in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. 374 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-429-6. EBook: $11.99 (US).

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‘The Consuming Instinct’ has a lengthy sub-title of ‘What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography And Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature’ which its author, Gad Saad, describes are the motivations to why we do most things. We eat, like to be seen in something fancy which leads to sex and be seen as generous. All these things require making use of our society and buying things that makes humans the consumers they are. I should also point out that this book is more American orientated in its nature but you should be able to recognise something of yourself in its contents. The American dependency on transport, even in urban areas, than walking anywhere baffles him, a Canadian, as much as me. When it comes to food, I have some reservation as an outsider and as a Type One Diabetic who over the years is not motivated by advertising to eat everything in sight, let alone clear my plate. Considering Gad Saad’s description of the American meals getting larger and larger, perhaps that’s just as well.

This book is about consumerism and how Gad Saad sees this as just an extension of what other members of the animal kingdom do to achieve similar aims. I had to give a wry smile at the member of a marketing department at a business school not believing humans aren’t animals whom Saad was lecturing. Clearly the man didn’t do his biology. Intelligence is, after all, an addition to the animal. All Man has done is change his needs to a different level of sophistication that is exploited by the advertisers on behalf of their clients.

When it comes to eating, clearing or attempting to clear one’s plate, is supposed to be ingrained. I’m not sure if I entirely agree with that. Even outside of my own health problem, there are a lot of predatory animals who don’t complete their meals. After all, after the lion has had his fill of its prey, what’s left is for the lionesses and young. What they don’t eat, gets eaten by other animals. Not quite something you see many humans do. I like what Saad points out that many of our idioms are based on food references though, showing how important such things are in our choice of words. Then again, this is also a common metaphor that the majority of people would recognise than, say, something in the scientific idiom which fewer people would know.

Something else Saad points out which is worthy of note is that if you have multiple food choices then you will eat more than if there is only a single flavour. Consumerism obviously hits on more means more and is exploited by advertisers. One thing that this book will make you aware of is how your psyche is exploited but will you listen to that or your stomach? He does point out that that there has to be a balance between a greater or small number of choices and this extends beyond food and into whatever you buy.

As pointed out earlier, many of our animal instincts are exploited in what we buy. Our family instincts, as Saad points out come through in a variety of TV series we watch. I wish he had also considered the opposite effect, especially in the likes of soaps, where they are also torn down. Even so, the orientation of cars, perfume and high heels is very illuminating as to how men and women manipulate and deceive each other, even before the advertising people get at you as to the things ‘you must have’.

I’m glad Saad explores the herd instinct and interestingly, it isn’t always the fashion industry that sets it going. I’ve always felt that there is some need to explore why people suddenly get the urge to follow suit. One or two people doing something might be seen as oddball behaviour but what is the trigger for people to follow en suite? I mean, is it because they don’t have any ideas of their own or protective camouflage by looking the same? With the permanency of tattoos, I suspect the generation coming up is likely to stay ink free or wait until there’s a better way to remove or change them should they tire of the same pictures.

Saad points out that most of our songs are based off status or proclivity but I wish he’d placed where songs like Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ or Jimmy Ruffin’s ‘What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?’ fit into the scheme of things. Again, as with any scientific issues, one has to look at things that do not fit into the criteria for any sort of balance. Saying that, I did find his unlikely song title, ‘Ravage Me, Unemployed Man’, a hoot as something that would not be used for attraction between the sexes.

With television shows, he points out how sit-coms often have the men fantasising more than the females and neglects to see who was writing said episodes. Even without looking up at his examples, I bet they were written by men.

Chapter eight, ‘Marketing Hope By Selling Lies’, is probably the most fascinating and if you want to question whatever faith you have then you need to take a serious read of how easy religion is used to manipulate you. I’ve commented in the past that religion and the belief in a deity don’t necessarily have to have much connection. For advertising, Saad points out that whatever happens to you, whether someone you know are lucky to have survived a dangerous situation or not, you will think it’s the grand order of things. Religion relies on this belief so that whatever you do on its behalf is all right and all they really offer is hope and how much money you’re prepared to hand over for same. What is worse, many religions get away with it purely on a point of ethics. I liked Saad’s take on an alien on Earth having to work out the different contradictions between the religions in making any decision. In the UK, we aren’t manipulated by religion in TV advertising but we know it happens a lot in the USA and elsewhere and this should make you really think before handing any money over to them and not to charities that would probably benefit more.

If you’re interested in what motivates you into buying what you do then this book is actually very insightful. It’s a shame that Saad doesn’t explore beyond certain set-points as mentioned above but no doubt would make for another book. I suspect some SF collectors would have our collections size based on status even if what makes us collect isn’t entirely because things are there in the first place. Saad’s blend of occasional humour carries over the message of consumerism even if he doesn’t point out how to break the spell. I do think that after you’ve read the book and understand the motivation, then you might think twice about some of the things you buy which isn’t a bad thing. If you’ve thought yourself difficult to be manipulated, you might think twice after reading this book.

GF Willmetts

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