Amitai Etzioni is a Moron

etzioni According to his own website:

Outside of academia, Etzioni’s voice is frequently heard in the media.

In 2001, Etzioni was named among the top 100 American intellectuals as measured by academic citations in Richard Posner’s book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.

Also in 2001, Etzioni was awarded the John P. McGovern Award in Behavioral Sciences as well as the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was also the recipient of the Seventh James Wilbur Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Appreciation and Advancement of Human Values by the Conference on Value Inquiry, as well as the Sociological Practice Association’s Outstanding Contribution Award.

So, what does this top 100 mind have to say about the ongoing radical commodification and commercialization of personal life in the United States and elsewhere?

Sit down, because you are about to LYFAO:

As long as consumption is focused on satisfying basic human needs–safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education–it is not consumerism. But, when the acquisition of goods and services is used to satisfy the higher needs, consumption turns into consumerism–and consumerism becomes a social disease.

The link to the economic crisis should be obvious. A culture in which the urge to consume dominates the psychology of citizens is a culture in which people will do most anything to acquire the means to consume–working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules in order to maximize their earnings. They will also buy homes beyond their means and think nothing of running up credit-card debt. It therefore seems safe to say that consumerism is, as much as anything else, responsible for the current economic mess.

A shift away from consumerism, and toward this something else, would obviously be a dramatic change for American society.

To accomplish this kind of radical change, it is neither necessary nor desirable to imitate devotees of the 1960s counterculture, early socialists, or followers of ascetic religious orders, all of whom have resisted consumerism by rejecting the whole capitalist project. On the contrary, capitalism should be allowed to thrive, albeit within clear and well-enforced limits.

I certainly do not expect that most people will move away from a consumerist mindset overnight. Some may keep one foot in the old value system even as they test the waters of the new one, just like those who wear a blazer with jeans. Still others may merely cut back on conspicuous consumption without guilt or fear of social censure. Societies shift direction gradually. All that is needed is for more and more people to turn the current economic crisis into a liberation from the obsession with consumer goods and the uberwork it requires– and, bit by bit, begin to rethink their definition of what it means to live a good life. [Source: The New Republic, June 17, 2009]

There you have it.  This pampered and decorated former president of the American Sociological Association has obviously never once contemplated the history and conceptual validity of the word “consumer.”

Nevertheless, onward he plows in his field of air.

“Consumerism,” Etzioni says, is a “mindset” that automatically takes hold as soon as people stop living hand-to-mouth.  Once any kind of affluence develops, this “social disease” emerges, and eventually people drive themselves crazy and even ruin their lovely capitalist economies in their unhinged quest “to acquire the means to consume.”

In this world, people run up their credit cards not because of stagnant wages and salaries, but because they want to.  Capitalism, while perhaps needing a slap on the wrist, is squarely part of the solution, rather than the overwhelming and obvious main cause of the problem.  And people can simply choose to drift away from current behavioral environments and habits.  Nobody in the corporate power structure would much care about that, one way or the other.  After all, “consumerism” comes from we the people and our chosen “culture,” not from the corporate overclass’s ever-expanding two-trillion-dollar-a-year marketing juggernaut.  That minor endeavor exists merely to serve our pre-existing demands, obviously.  Hence, it isn’t even worthy of a mention.

I’ll just say two things about this stunning pile of unscientific manure:

1. If an undergraduate handed me this essay, along with their C+, they would get back a long note about the importance of both taking care with definitions and making some attempt at reference to actual, empirical, documented realities in trying to do sociology.

2. Such is the stuff that gets you laureled as a scholar in this market-totalitarian nation of wall-to-wall lies.  “A study of decline,” indeed.

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David A Peppers
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David A Peppers

Of course, he’s an expert. I heard a good definition of expert some time ago. An expert is one who most closely supports or gives voice to the values and desires of the powerful –ruling class, oligarchs, capitalists, whatever you call them. I think it was Noam Chomsky who said it. So, the experts are either self-selected or appropriately molded along the way.