Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

That's the new book by Geoffrey Miller, of The Mating Mind fame.  The exposition is a bit of a sprawling mess but the best pages of content are fascinating.  I recommend it and I am glad that I started reading it the moment I got my hands on it.

The core thesis is the Veblenesque point that marketing plays upon our weaknesses as evolved, biological creatures, obsessed with signaling:

From my perspective as an evolutionary psychologist, this is how consumerist capitalism really works: it makes us forget our natural adaptations for showing off desirable fitness-related traits.  It deludes us into thinking that artificial products work much better than they really do for showing off these traits.  It confuses us about the traits we are trying to display by harping on vague terms at the wrong levels of description (wealth, status, taste), and by obfuscating the most stable, heritable, and predictive traits discovered by individual differences research.  It hints coyly at the possible status and sexual payoffs for buying and displaying premium products, but refuses to make such claims explicit, lest consumer watchdogs find those claims empirically false, and lest significant others get upset by the personal motives they reveal.  The net result could be called the fundamental consumerist delusion — that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation, and cuddling.

I very much agree.  Miller also tells us that we can do better and offers us some (non-regulatory) proposals for lowering the cost of our signaling.  (Don't buy a luxury car!)  Would it be cheaper and more effective to wear credible, verifiable tattoos of our personality types from the six-factor model?

I'll be considering more from this book soon.


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