Denis Diderot, the Diderot Effect, and consumerist dissonance

Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

More on being yourself by Ralph Waldo Emerson from Self-Reliance

E.E. Cummings said, “To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any humanRalph Waldo Emerson being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

This is a common theme throughout history; the greatest thinkers have praised originality.

This is a concept worth continuing a discussion about because the dangers of conformity are as alive as ever.

Perhaps one of the greatest manifestos on individualism is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Indeed, in perfect union with Cummings’s philosophy is Emerson’s quote that:

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Here are a few other remarkable statements from that essay:

  • To believe our own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost…
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare?  Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?  Every great man is a unique.

For more quotes and their meanings, see this link