And a lot of us are victims. When faced with a problem in which there a very few good choices and a thousand bad ones, with marketing doing its utmost to bury the good ones, even smart people sometimes miss. Also, do not discount the power of display. People do the most crazy things to get attention. If it works, and doesn't kill them or destroy the future, was it dumb?
I'll give you some examples.
I used to drink soft drinks. Seeing that the vending machine was twice as expensive as a good deal on a six pack at the grocery, I got a small cube refrigerator. Saved several times the cost of the fridge. And the grocery had a larger selection than the vending machines. Good thinking, maybe? At the time, I thought so, and was pleased I'd outfoxed the evil vending machine operators. But, not the best. Now I drink water. Tap water, not bottled. No juice either. I still like soft drinks and juice, but now I am no longer willing to pay the price-- health, more than money. I do not take soft drinks even when they are free. I am saving far more than that cute little fridge idea saved me, and being healthier. I am amazed at how well brainwashing works on matters like this. Seems like it shouldn't take any great intelligence to see that soft drinks are a terrible waste of money, but the brainwashing worked on me for years. Amazingly, others still occasionally push me on this matter, accusing me of being cheap, as if being frugal is bad. Why?? Is it that I'm making them look bad? Misery loves company? Enjoy your soft drinks. I'm not stopping anyone.
Another example is lawn care. You can have a "beautiful" (meaning, monocultured) lawn if you spend gobs of money and/or time fertilizing, watering, weeding, spraying, raking leaves, and mowing. Very profitable for the lawn care industry, not so good for the home owner. to say nothing of the environment. Why are we so hung up on lawns, even to the point of many cities having made it illegal to have a natural lawn? It's an infraction to let the grass get too high! If not, some neighbors will be quick to let you know what a lazy, cheap loser you are if you don't mow often enough. Judged by your lawn. Cities and corporations are guilty of this same lawn care mania. Can't have the vegetation impeding drivers' view of the road, as if constant mowing is the only way to deal with that problem.
Then there's feminine beauty. The latest craze, so I understand, is shaving off all body hair, except the top where if you are bald you should add hair. What for?? Legs was bad enough, but now shaving even the pubic hair is the in thing to do. I can only think this is an appeal to childhood. Innocently wanting to remember the good old days when life was easier with parents around to take care of things, or perhaps it's also to appeal more to those with pedophilic tendencies. Whatever, it sells more shavers and creams, and the like. On a related note, honest sweat and dirt is now socially unacceptable, and we must cover that up with deodorants, daily showers, etc. Before indoor plumbing, most people did not take a bath every day. That was done once a week, and everyone used the same water, with the baby going last. Was way too much effort to do it every day. Now there is a suspicion that our desire to be clean, clean, clean has led us astray, and may be responsible for the rise in allergies.
There are plenty more. Do you use a clothes dryer, instead of a line or a rack? Buy cars new, instead of used? Try to keep the house at 75F all year? (Are you aware that it is healthier to let the temperature vary a bit with the seasons?) Pay interest on credit card debt, instead of paying it off in full every month? Pay for cable TV? Bought a class ring or directory? Seen a doctor for a mere cold? Bought extreme health care for an elderly pet, something like cancer treatment that was much more than a quick and easy removal of a skin tumor, or hip surgery? If you've ever done any of those, or other similar things, fallen for any consumerism now and then, how are you any better than the "dumb as rocks" poor you sneer at? Can't very well accuse the ancient Spartans of that, and they surely had as many dummies amongst them. Nor do many of the wealthy have any special insight on this. Indeed, they often do far worse, blowing big bucks on garbage like fancy watches and designer clothes, but not suffering for it because they have so damn much money to burn that it doesn't matter. Whose fault is it that there is such an astonishing range of poor options available, with peer pressure to choose them, and much effort to conceal how bad and costly they are as well as conceal the sensible options? Some people study human nature not to improve the human condition, no, but rather to get better at manipulating us into parting from our hard earned wealth. We'd like to think we're smarter than that, but that's just another weakness they can play on to con us.