Thursday, May 24th, 2012
If you’ve been around here before, you probably know that the word “consumer” and its conceptual offshoots are definitely one of the bats who live in my belfry. The explanation for that is here.
Lately, I have dabbled at trying to point out the problem to an Irish comrade over at Climate & Capitalism. Alas, without success, as you can see.
The exchange does, however, give a rather clear view of the (il)logic adopted by those many lefties and greens who contend that “consumerism” is at or near the heart of our age’s many dire troubles.
In replicating that familiar contention, the would-be social critic complains that people nowadays foolishly and/or greedily engage in “consumerism,” thereby wrecking the planet and the culture. “Consumerism,” in this usage, means to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence. The would-be social critic intends his or her use of the word “consumerism” to itself serve as a scold. How could you do that? Why don’t you wake up and smell the real meaning of life?
The interesting part, at least to my eye, is the fact that such harangues are literally never accompanied by an underlying concern over the rank capitalist bias, rotten history, and Procrustean hacks that reside in the label “consumer.” Instead of explaining how the rise of the word “consumer” reflects the triumph of corporate capitalist priorities and projects, the would-be social critic ignores the root bias, then proceeds to scold his or her audience for their purported “consumerism.” In the process, the screamingly obvious point — that getting people to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence is one of the main institutional priorities and managerial activities of modern capitalism — goes unmentioned.
As such rote thoughtlessness passes for serious social analysis, capitalists are laughing all the way to the hedge fund.