Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Consumptive Freedom

The commodities economy long ago enslaved Americans and other “developed” capitalist societies. But Americans in particular. The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can perceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage. Inescapable, global, all permeating, the commodities economy rules so thoroughly most cannot imagine any other possible kind of economy.
Joe Bageant

It appears to be forever even though it may be coming to an end. Fevers peak just before they break, and the same is true of the orgy of consumerism that that had gripped the American psyche since the Industrial Revolution, which became a frenzied Bacchanal in the decades following World War II.

Delusion always accompanies the end of an era. Any twelfth century noble man would have been aghast had someone suggested that feudalism was coming to an end.

Consumerism won't end with a revolution.. When America revolts, it heads for the nearest mall. We don’t have revolutions, we have fashion statements.

And on those rare occasions when the public becomes so fed up that it begins murmuring about systemic change, our one-party system swings the door opens and invites them in, promising it to fight for the changes it wants. Then it tells the public to take a chair in the corner and keep quiet while the experts and professionals fight for the change it is demanding, which will involve only the most superficial of window dressing. (Before you cite the New Deal, remember that when the Great Depression hit, America had a viable labor and socialist movement, which are no more.)

It’s awfully hard to revolt when you’re glued to a screen or fascinated by the latest celebrity scandal. But then, why revolt when we’re the land of the free? After all, is not our freedom of choice complete? I see a shining example of our freedom every time I visit my supermarket. There I find a seventy-five foot shelf devoted solely to condiments. I can choose from an infinite selection of ketchups, mustards, hot sauces, vinegars, olive oils and marinades. Hell, how much freer can I be?

Yes, we are a consumptive democracy in which slaves are free to choose any commodity they want as long as their plastic isn’t maxed out. It is such a dazzling display of flashing, blinking, beeping toys, gourmet foods, engineered running shoes, T-shirts fashioned out of organic cotton and designer boxer shorts that we never even notice the erosion of our civil liberties. We are comforted by the fact that when the surveillance cameras catch our image we are dressed to the nines. In a consumptive society appearance is all. If you look good, you are good. This is especially true of politicians.

Who needs freedom when there’s UPS at the front door delivering another package?

Life is simpler that way. Why worry about an identity based on character when we can have one defined by the logos we display? Who needs freedom as long as we are free to go shopping?

It will end not because we revolt or because we experience a collective epiphany and return to a life of simplicity. It will end when the oil runs out, when the last credit card is maxed out and when the country is totally bankrupt. In retrospect, future generations will look back on our Age of Consumption and see it for what it was—a slow and gradual suicide in which we mistook decline for ascent.

Puck nailed it when he said, “What fools these mortals be!”


John said...

As with most games, playing is optional. I don't buy much crap, and I have yet to watch my second reality television show. Remember "Tune in, turn on, drop out" from 1967? It's odd how it evolved into "turn on, boot up, jack in."

Case Wagenvoord said...

...and then drop out.

Ivan Hentschel said...

"Consumption" was a term commonly used to describe tuberculosis, when physicians were able to determine that the disease was one wherein the body consumed itself. The big issue facing our consumer society ( and all of the other industrialized nations, like China, or soon to be, like Africa) is that no one is paying attention to the long-term problem of "sustainability". The world uses plastic to consume plastic which consumes oil which pollutes the water and poisons the earth which makes food growth difficult to impossible.

Everything is connected to everything and conspicuous consumption merely masks that reality.

We no longer have the option to drop out: we are being "dropped out" by our own short-sighted ecological malfeasance. We no longer "utilize" the earth's resources, we merely use them up.