“Confronting Consumption,” Indeed

homer brain What passes for a political and intellectual left is stone-cold stupid when it comes to matters of personal life and corporate capitalism.

The anchor of this stupidity is the continuing inability of would-be radical thinkers and activists to get past the discombobulating slave-words “consumer” and “consumption.”

Unable to see that calling product users and citizens “consumers” and lumping all their activities and intentions into the category of “consumption” does irreparable damage to any chance at coherent social criticism or democratic movement-building, the “consumer” haranguers plow blithely on, tilting at the windmill of “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” while saying next to nothing about the basic realities of corporate capitalism and its ever-growing big business marketing juggernaut.

This endless pursuit of a dead-end has recently been redoubled by the “scholars” associated with this smugly confused book. In it, the various assembled academic career-builders profess to be attacking “the consumption problem,” without ever stopping to ask whether part of that alleged problem might be the continuing reign of the massively biased concept of “consumption.”

Worse, in the name of an attack on waste they can never quite explain, they actually dare to say that “economistic thinking” is part of the problem, rather than a vital part of the solution. The fact that mainstream economics ignores capitalist waste and qualitative outcomes is no reason to toss out “economistic thinking” altogether. In fact, a true economics would be a devastating expose of the present system and the overclass it exists to enrich.

3 Replies to ““Confronting Consumption,” Indeed”

  1. A third of it is simple precision:

    When people are shopping, call them “shoppers.”

    When people are watching TV, call them “viewers.”

    When people are using a product, call them “users” of the product in question.

    When discussing people’s collective product-related interests, call them “product users.”

    The overall idea is to always adopt the term that conveys the actual process and intention under examination.

    Another third is remembering the huge, constant activity that saying “consumer” and “consumption” always obscures: people’s efforts to maintain, preserve, repair our worldly possessions.

    The last third is seizing appropriate chances to point out how “consumer” is a slave word created and maintained by corporate capitalists.

    As to reading material, that’s a tough one, Lisa. Reading the “consumption” stuff is probably necessary, in terms of gaining some perspective and seeing how mistaken the left is one this key issue, but doing this always requires a huge amount of translation and contextualization, given the general immersion in bias and dogma.

    Personally, I find that reading things like Business Week and Advertising Age and the major newspapers is more revealing and informative than the supposedly “critical” dreck about “consumption.”

    I would also say that, in The Consumer Trap book, I go the whole way without ever myself calling people “consumers.” It’s actually exceedingly easy to do, once you develop the thought and the habit.

    Not to be indelicate, but trying to make good sense of capitalism and issues of product-use with the word “consumer” is closely analogous to trying to attack slavery while swallowing and repeating the word “nigger.”

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