Friday, September 9th, 2011
Here’s what I said, with a few additions and amendments:
Hi, Nick, and welcome to TCT. You ask excellent questions.
The immediate purpose of this blog is to show people how corporate planners (on behalf of the overclass of wealthy shareholders who remain the primary beneficiaries of big business) manipulate “free time” experiences and choices, and to demonstrate that corporate capitalism requires this manipulation, on an always-expanding basis.
The secondary purpose of this blog is to get people to think about how radically unsustainable this arrangement is, and to encourage movement toward a decent alternative. The work you are doing sounds vital. My only complaint about local solutions is that many of their architects tend to forget about the larger levels of reality. But that is certainly not a necessary part of making new local arrangements. And any adequate macro-level changes are certainly going to require radical reconstruction of our towns.
As for my objection to the way people talk about culture, those are of two kinds.
First, a great many supposedly radical thinkers begin from a sophomoric and unscientific definition of the word. Culture, properly defined, if the set of learned habits and behaviors prevailing among a population. As such, it is a very large-bore concept, close in scope to “society.” Meanwhile, many “cultural” theorists use it as a stand-in for one part of life only — free time, or personal life. Often, they shrink it even further to mean merely entertainment. In making that move, they build their attempts at explanation of reality on quicksand.
My more specific complaint about culture is that it is so often twinned with the bias-word “consumer,” to make the doubly stupid concept “consumer culture.” Social science (and the humanity and democracy it exists to serve) demands that its practitioners take care to make their concepts and data as free from bias and as descriptively valid and neutral as possible. To accept the word “consumer” as a valid equivalent for product-using human beings is to forgo the possibility of powerfully and accurately describing people’s product-related activities.
“Consumer” is a capitalist’s narrow view; nothing more, nothing less. It is a rank and destructive bias, poison to objective description of reality and its determinant institutions and processes. It is an ongoing tragedy that social science has swallowed it, without so much as a hiccup.
We live in a capitalist society and a capitalist culture. To choose to call it a consumer society and a consumer culture is to deny the cardinal facts and to confuse and insult the potential audience.
Jettisoning the word “consumer” is a first necessary step toward getting serious about describing humanity’s extremely dire crisis of economic waste and injustice.
The second step is to stop yammering hot air about culture, and to start examining and explaining the details of existing institutions and processes.
Alas, these both remain micro-ghetto endeavors, for a host of reasons.