Consumers vs. Humans

Photo by: M.A.R.C. on Flickr (Friedrichshain, Berlin)

Photo by: M.A.R.C. on Flickr

by CS Sherin
Feb. 8 2017

Without hesitation, most businesses refer to their fellow humans as consumers–not patron, client, benefactor, or customer. From the time most of us are born we are subtly programmed and conditioned to see consumerism as positive–or at least necessary–a way of life, and a label that is to be taken for granted as fact and normal. Consumer has become THE word to refer to human beings who are customers to businesses of all kinds. Some businesses are even legally bound to use the term.

Let’s take a closer look and explore the origins of this label, as well as some of the more healthy and Greener alternatives.

Consumer was first used in an economic sense in 1745. It was meant as “one who uses up goods or articles” and is the opposite of producer. The earliest meaning of consumer was from the early 15th century and meant, “one who squanders or wastes.”

That is our subliminal charge: waste and squander. Wow. And this is a legally binding title for some. The consumer label is really a heavy, unhealthy, and dehumanizing title.

The word “consumerism” began in 1960 and meant: “encouraging consumption as an economic policy.”
Wow. There it is. It isn’t even just business perspective, it is a policy!

The word materialism emerged around 1851, a little over 100 years after consumer first emerged, and was defined as: “a way of life based entirely on consumer goods.”

Please note: The term “consumer goods” did not emerge until 1890. Materialism came before it by 39 years, yet Etymology Online uses that term to define materialism. I wonder why? In keeping with the chronology they could have defined materialism as “a way of life in which humans focus nearly entirely on the purchase of goods.”

What are the subliminal consequences of continually calling your fellow human beings consumer? What are the conscious consequences of accepting that label, without question? Something to consider and contemplate, to be sure.

What are the alternatives to the term consumer?

Now for some alternatives to the title consumer:

Customer emerged as a word from Latin in the 1540’s and meant “a person to deal with.”
The Latin form of customer goes back to these meanings: “habit, usage, way.”

Purchaser comes from the old French chacier which means “run after, hunt, chase.”

Buyer is from the old and middle English word “buy” which means to “accept as true”.
This word was first recorded in 1926. (What are we “buying into?”)

Client is from the latin clientem, cliens and means “follower, retainer.” In English a client originally emerged to mean a lawyer’s customer. By 1600 it was extended to mean any customer. (It is interesting to note: the definition of client is “follower.”
In our culture it immediately brings to mind social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook which give us the modern concept of followers.  Clearly, there is a business motive within it.

Benefactor is someone who supports someone else financially, usually with the aim to support a creatively gifted person or project. The word can be translated as “honorable actions” or “to do good.” While this isn’t always the definition of a customer, it is a great aim. If we choose to buy from ethical sources and families we respect, then our purchases can become honorable actions and we could rightfully earn the title, benefactor.

Patron comes from the medieval latin word patronus.
Harry Potter fans, how can this not be your favorite?
Patronus means: “defender, protector, advocate.” It comes from pater (“father”) meaning: “one who advances the cause from their own wealth and power.” The commercial sense of patron, meaning a regular business customer, was first recorded around 1600. The term patronage emerged around 1804. Nowadays, the term Patron is used most often as someone who supports the Fine Arts, and is where the social media platform for artists, Patreon, derived its name.

So, looking at the terms we use and have used, which do you prefer or like the most? And why? I prefer patron, client, customer, and benefactor. I reject consumer for a number of reasons. Read on.

This is how I see it:

Patron is one of my favorite titles. It puts the power back into the hands of the human who discerns what and whether they need and want to purchase. Not only is the patron respected, they are seen as one who is advocating and supporting the business. This is a relationship of respect that acknowledges the patron’s investment, support, and energy.

Client is a term for someone who is engaged with a business in a professional, legal, and perhaps service and health-care related way. It probably wouldn’t be an accurate term for all businesses, but it is a decent and respectful one for certain kinds. The origins of the word refers to the obligation by the client to pay ahead of time in order to secure a service. This is upfront and no-nonsense.

Customer has become a neutral word for any kind of person paying for any kind of business. It is general and does not carry the undertones that consumer does. The origin of this word speaks of the business a person habitually purchases from, and also a business owner’s dealings with those who purchase at their business. It is mutual and neutral.

In fact, consumer is the only title that is a negative and destructive directive in its core sense. 

From one perspective there is truth to the title of consumer, as our culture has been and is the “throw-away” mentality. Needless to say, the charge of consumer is the antithesis to a Green life, one which is rooted in conscious choice constantly striving to eliminate destructive, toxic, wasteful, and cruel choices, products, and practices.

The masses have sought what is disposable vs. reusable, cheap vs. value-based, fast vs. natural, quantity vs. quality. Not only that, producers and manufacturers make items of low quality that don’t last, require regular replacement, and waste on end without a thought or seeming care to overall consequences, long-term or short-term.

More and more though, we humans are becoming more conscious of the effects and consequences of this “consumer” mentality. Unfortunately, it seems that things have to get really dire and critical to get that attention and consciousness really going. Probably because the opiate that is being a “consumer” creates a dangerous level of apathy.

Under the model of business where people are Consumers with a capital C vs. patrons or customers (or humans for that matter) everything is based on, and fueled by reckless (even debt-based) spending. Disposable everything, fast and cheap gratification is the hook. Advertising of the last few generations, at least, has sought to program and condition humans from birth onward to believe that they are missing something, that they are not good enough, and that they need something. The advertising plays off the egos need for satisfaction and achievement that it will never be satisfied with. Advertisers know the psychology of the ego and know how to subliminally manipulate it for motives of greed, profit, power, and control.

It seems that many businesses and especially corporations, for their own interests, want this to continue indefinitely. These businesses and corporations (and other organizations) quite deliberately and thoughtfully have turned up the volume on the title “consumer” through the years till that is all I hear anymore. How about you? People even put it on their business cards. I find it offensive and demeaning.

This title, consumer, subconsciously and consciously encourages the perpetuation of the mindset to spend recklessly and to waste relentlessly.

Human beings are being told who they are. And they are not disagreeing! I did a google search about the word “consumer” and I could only find business pages talking about consumers. I could not find any articles talking about the use of this word as an ethical and moral issue, other than by graffiti artists such as in the image in this article. The fact is, the words we use matter. They shape our concept of who we are and what we do. Consumer is just another corporate way to objectify life and living beings. Just as factory farms refer to living beings as being grown and harvested. This is language seeking to remove the life from the living!

The impact of valuing human beings solely for consuming product/goods that give profit is a sick part of our world and society. It needs to be called out and addressed.

Another interesting thing to realize is that “Consumption” used to be the word for TB (tuberculosis). People died from Consumption. It was feared! When the word came up there was a palpable dread, kin to what we, of our era, experience with cancer.

When I hear a fellow living being addressed in a way that clearly objectified them, for the purpose of business and profit, a red flag goes up. Doesn’t it for you? Well, since you are a human in these times, you know how often the term is shot across the airwaves, news outlets, in articles, documents, and other numerous reports and so on. So, this red flag has gone up for me and has pretty much stayed up.

It is the cruel, disrespectful, objectifying, and lopsided power-over relationship between corporate and the people. They (human beings) produce, we (human beings) consume. Our consumption drives their profit. They tell us what to consume and to increase our consumption, regardless of our class, debt or health. They plan and strategize about what consumers want to consume more of and how they can get all of their products consumed in the cheapest way at the fastest rate without care to: the serious effects it has on health, habitat, water, air, soil, ocean, or anything else.  The drive to consume (and perpetually waste and throw away) is not in harmony with health, the planet, ethics, ecosystems, our spirits, hearts, creativity, or the future of all living beings on the planet.

From this perspective, there is a need to become conscious of what we are allowing others to address us as, as well as what we are choosing, and what we need to do differently.

Call me a human being, a person, a friend, a client, a customer, benefactor, and for sure, a patron. Yes. A Consumer? No. Please, and no, thank you. If a friend started calling you a new name, you would immediately decide in your mind and heart if it offended you or not. And then, based on that feeling and knowing you would either accept it or reject it. This is widespread and encompasses all living beings, and requires a collective conscious intention for a positive transmutation and evolution of who we are, and what and whom we give power to and invest our time, money, and energy into.

Source: Etymology Online (

CS Sherin, Recipe For A Green Life 2018© Please feel free to share this article–in its entirety with author, source credit, and this copyright notice–on social media and for non-commercial educational purposes only. 

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