Perhaps inelastic pricing on “special things” demonstrate or reveal to us norms and values we idealise. Holidays at all costs are how we fulfil our desire for a work-life balance, even if such balances do not exist. An expensive wedding is our way of marking the event as meaningful, because expenditure signals investment.
In a society where almost anything can be bought or sold, our values and ideals can be commodified too.
THE VALUE OF VALUES
Yet at what point can we say that the amount we spend equates to love, filial piety and familial loyalty? In other words, to what extent can we put a monetary value on something intangible?
The temptation to count is always there, as a consequence of living in a capitalist, technocratic society. We have been socialised to think that more and new is always better – so much so that even certain versions of the afterlife are places to brand-signal as well, with shops selling joss paper replicas of the latest MacBook Pros and iPhones.
At the same time, I do not think the answer is to completely detach ourselves from rituals, whether religious or otherwise. Rituals and ceremony are a core part of what makes us human. Our collective partaking in rituals create forms of solidarity within and between groups.
What we have to be careful about, and what we have to ask ourselves, is whether spending truly symbolises our ideals, or whether it is our way of one-upping each other.
Terence Heng is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he is also an associate at the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts.