The Moral of the Sneetches: On Neurosis and Capitalism

I was sharing in one of my classes about the relationship between neurosis and capitalism.

"Neurosis," I said, "is the fuel for the engine of capitalism."

Other theologians have described how capitalism is an economy of desire. To keep the engine of consumerism humming along, capitalism creates, fuels, and feeds off of desire. But I like focusing on neurosis rather than desire. Because the desires capitalism exploits are rooted in feelings of inadequacy. Consumerism is driven by how we purchase our way toward status and significance. We buy our way toward self-esteem.

Neurosis is what we're pointing to when we talk about "keeping up with the Joneses." The Joneses have a bigger house or a nicer car or a new pool. Those things make us feel inadequate and insecure, like we're falling behind. And all these feelings are examples of neurosis.

Describing all this to my class, I said that Dr. Suess' story about the Sneetches is the best commentary I've ever seen about neurosis fueling capitalism. Notice how, in the story, neurosis--feelings of inferiority and superiority--create and fuels consumer demand, and how Sylvester McMonkey McBean makes a fortune off the neurosis.

That's the moral of the story of the Sneetches (full video here).

Neurosis is the fuel for the engine of capitalism.

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