The fear of scarcity

There is no shortage of things that elicit a fear response.

Simply turning on the television, opening the newspaper or scrolling through social media channels, you’ll surely suffer ocular whiplash with the number of headlines about the impending doom of nuclear warfare, climate change or civil unrest; however, there’s a seemingly quieter fear lurking just below the surface. A fear that slowly but surely tears at fabric of society. It’s a fear that rarely, if ever, gets attention in the media.

It’s the fear of scarcity. 

To be clear, I’m not referencing the fear of failure to meet basic human needs like clean water, food, clothing, a safe place to sleep, etc. or the fear involved with living paycheck to paycheck and not being able to afford a $400 emergency on any given day. 

I am talking about the fear of scarcity among the well off individuals who have their basic needs met and a reasonable amount of disposable income.

A pervasive belief exists that nothing is ever “enough” because there’s always a bigger house.

A better job.

A newer car. 

Nicer clothing.

A more attractive partner. 

The fear of scarcity can make you doubt everything, including your own self-worth. 

The drivers of this fear are highly complex and intersectional. Thus, this article neither provides a comprehensive understanding of (what I deem to be) the issue nor “solutionizes”. This article only serves to create awareness of this troubling phenomenon and its ripple effect on our lives. 

Oh, capitalism

As mentioned previously, it’s tough to argue that there is a single root cause that drives the fear of scarcity, but gross capitalism certainly plays a prominent role. 

In modern society, there is a commonly held notion that the more “stuff” you have, the higher your status or sense of self-worth. 

This storyline is all too relatable – you’ve finally saved up enough to buy the new iPhone “X”, so you rush to the Apple store. Within 48 hours, the euphoria of the purchase has worn off as an advertisement subconsciously reminds you of the stuff-status-self-worth link and exploits your most deeply held insecurities and fears. Or you’re reminded that within 2 years your stupid expensive iPhone “X” must be be upgraded as it will no longer be supported by its current operating system. Planned obsolescence is no myth!

You fixate on the next dopamine rush – purchasing a new (insert item of desire). Can’t afford it? Fear not! The big banks and credit card companies have your back. 

We consumers are pawns in the systematic, carefully planned and controlled game of capitalism. Here’s the thing though, our “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality has far reaching consequences, including:

We commoditize one another 

An element of the fear of scarcity that is often overlooked is how it effects our relationships — whether that be with friends, family or romantic interests. 

For instance, have you considered how the fear of scarcity influences the way we interact with others? In many ways dating sites and apps like Match.com, Bumble, Tinder, etc. have normalized the commoditization of finding love. Even if unintentional, we tend to reduce a person to a tagline and carefully crafted image.

No matter how satisfying your current romantic relationship might be, you find yourself lured back to the digital realm with the promise that something “better” is only one swipe away. 

Our physical, mental and behavioral health are held hostage 

How do we cope with all of these societal and self-imposed pressures?

The short answer is — we don’t. Or if we do, we don’t do it very well. 

We have perfected the art of escapism through self-medicating:

At the end of the day, we don’t allow ourselves to really feel much of anything. 

How do we heal

While I don’t intend to “solutionize”, I can’t help but wonder how do we begin to heal from all of the pain that the fear of scarcity has imposed on our lives? 

I’ll offer up two simple thoughts: 

  • What if we redefined what is “enough”
  • What if we turned inward and looked inside ourselves for fulfillment and alignment?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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