Somewhere along the way, America transformed from an achieving society to a consuming one. While people date American consumerism from the 1950s, the permanent shift in values actually occurred later, sometime in the 1970s.

But we were uneasy about the shift, not the least because we feared there were limits to our ability to continue consuming.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, September 24, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

We can never be happy again

Somewhere along the way, America transformed from an achieving society to a consuming one. While people date American consumerism from the 1950s, the permanent shift in values actually occurred later, sometime in the 1970s.

But we were uneasy about the shift, not the least because we feared there were limits to our ability to continue consuming. We elected a nudge who told us that - but then we rejected him. Instead, in response to our fear rode Ronald Reagan, like the cowboy heroes to whom he often played supporting roles in films. He convinced us there were no limits to our ability to consume, now and forever.

With this last restraint removed, Americans set all their efforts to feeding themselves - eating more and better foods, driving bigger and better cars, getting their kids into superior schools, making more money, owning larger homes, being healthier, having better sex, being happier, protecting ourselves from discordant elements around the world.

But each of these consumptive goals has proven double-edged. The eating has interfered with the health, the larger homes and cars have bumped into the limits on natural resources, our ability to protect our international interests has been undercut by the massive discrepancy between our productiveness and our consumption, our happiness and mental health could not be purchased as we were promised they would be, and so on.

"Chickens coming home to roost" has become a favorite metaphor for critiquing American society and our economic system. The largest, latest example of an obstacle we cannot overcome is the collapse of real estate consumption and the related implosion of our financial institutions.

And our response? Like the fantasy futuristic figures in the cartoon hit film WALL-E - who are so fat and complacent they are permanently attached to personal conveyances they ride from one shopping venue to another - we scream for a return of our toys and treats. We want overextended mortgages to be forgiven, we want American automakers who made massive hunks of steel for us to be saved, we want the planet to be okay despite our assaults on it to obtain the resources we need for our pleasures.

But we are incapable of sacrificing anything to achieve these goals - we have lost that ability. We define what we want to be lower taxes and more goodies, not a return to financial soundness and living within our means. So to succeed at our goals is to feed our failures. The presidential candidate who wins will be the one who best convinces us he can square this circle - but the impossibility of his doing so is written in the wind.

So enjoy yourself in this bonfire of the vanities - it only gets worse from here.