In the knowledge economy, most people earn more than the subsistence level.
Most white collar workers seek an increased standard of living.
The standard is defined largely by the degree and manner of consumption.
Hence the prevailing definition of success is to constantly be in the top percentile of consumers.
Both labor and consumption are expenditures of energy, and both creates margins for the capitalists.
Labor is to help create, and consumption is to help destroy. Both feed each other.
The trick in encouraging consumption is to make it a part of one's identity, as a form of potency in an impotent world.
In the modern world, what one consumes defines oneself. One is perceived according to the costly labels one carries.
To feel powerful after having consumed is the big delusion that markets strive to sustain. To feel as if one is more alive after consumption.
One is willing to live in inhuman conditions in order to have a chance at the consumption carrot which the market dangles before one's eyes.
Consumption leaves one unfulfilled. But since larger carrots are always there, one doesn't suspect the path, only the milestones.
The prime need in a human being to be gratified (in terms of neurotransmitters) is manipulated ceaselessly by the market in both driving him to labor hard, and then to consume hard.
A man riding a powerful SUV and feeling good about it is the result of pervasive brainwashing, but it derives from a primal need in the man.
Without gratification in various ways, one feels alienated. And as more and more gratification is dependent on money and status, one is less and less capable of being self-sufficient for one's happiness.
The owners are not fulfilled as well, of course. But their thresholds of gratification are now so high that thousands of people have to work, and consume, to enable their neurotransmitter levels.
To turn the other way, from gratification and satiation towards joy and contentment, is the key, but it is extremely difficult, owing to the very early programming of a child gearing him towards "worldly" success.
Sex being the core drive, and the competition for mates becoming more fierce with the breakdown of the traditional structures, and with the competing ability determined by one's worldly success, it is biologically counter-intuitive for a person to turn the other way and seek contentment instead of success as defined by one's potential mates.
Since the cycle of alienation, work, consumption, gratification, alienation, work, consumption and gratification is unending, there is burning out, exhaustion and depression.
As the community breaks down, and institutions and markets take over, there is choice only in the degree of one's participation in the economic arena, not in the matter of it. (As in, one can only choose to disengage to a degree, not completely)
To live comfortably by one's own labor is easier than ever before, but to fulfill oneself in the circumstances one finds oneself is not necessarily easier, it may even have become harder than ever before. Fulfilment in normal human beings is a socially measured outcome.
As one disallows society to dictate one's fulfilment, one risks becoming anti-social and even more alienated, as compared to being only asocial. The drop-outs, the various kinds of addicts, and so on. Man is inherently social, and to get cut off from this society (which today encourages alienation) is in itself alienating.
What is the way out? I'm not entirely sure, but what I am practicing is: To question one's biological and social goals, and to risk meaninglessness, and then to come upon contentment in which there is an inherent significance to living and experiencing, and not an imposed one on the content of one's experiencing.