“Consumption” Politics is Annoying and Wrong

quixote TCT exists to publicize the true methods and consequences of big business marketing, which is corporate capitalism’s use of scientific management to control off-the-job behavior. Despite the importance of knowing how the overclass dictates the conditions and evolution of personal life, it does not follow that the proper answer to such dictatorship is an effort to politicize product-use in itself. In fact, such efforts always quickly reduce themselves to naive and paternalistic harangues for individuals to somehow use their “consumer” choices to alter the socio-economic system. “Shop your way to a decent society!” “Join/start a co-op!”

I mention all this because the profoundly annoying figure Annie Leonard is redoubling her deeply silly efforts.

TCT could expound on the fit between Ms. Leonard’s flimsy analyses and the cartoon format of their presentation, but will for now confine itself to remarking on this core Leonardian thesis:

You see, when it comes to our economy, most Americans also believe that more is always better.

Rubbish. Pure and complete rubbish. When has anybody anywhere ever asked a representative sample of Americans “Do you believe that more is always better?” The plain and simple answer is that nobody ever has. And, if they ever did, the question would undoubtedly draw a massive “No” answer, because very few people, even in this hugely indoctrinated nation-state, are banal enough to think quality doesn’t matter. Quite the contrary: Everybody but capitalists knows this very, very well.

And yet here we have Annie Leonard school-marming us on this totally fake (and insulting) point. To what end? Liberal university students eager to acquire an easy way of being “political,” perhaps? Certainly not Joe or Jane Sixpack, who would be rightly insulted by such pointless pandering, if they were ever to see it.

Our real problem is that popular desires for better, saner ways of living are simply ignored in our market totalitarian society. And, as Barry Commoner argued, “the only rational answer [to so-called “consumer” issues] is to change the way in which we do transportation, energy production, agriculture and a good deal of manufacturing. The problem originates in human activity in the form of the production of goods.” Politics, in other words, is about demanding and gaining control over macro-choices, not special-pleading over micro ones.

16 Replies to ““Consumption” Politics is Annoying and Wrong”

  1. The first paragraph of this piece should be a part of an essay inside the “First Things” column on the side of the site. It’s a good high-level statement of the issues your site tackles.

  2. Oof. Middle class soccer moms yapping about the importance of organic are much more difficult to endure than honestly selfish overclass assholes – at least they screw me over and leave me alone. But nooo, the middling and aspiring narcissists also need to make sure that they have sufficiently convincingly asserted their moral and intellectual superiority by informing me how much of an idiot I am for buying the regular ol’ produce, not the enlightened organic one.

  3. In the face of so much understanding of the inefficient horrors of their rule, elites have a built-in survival strategy using the counterattack momentum of an unskilled opponent: redirect reactionary force into the setup for the next phase. Ms. Leonard, here, is like a drunken brawler swinging madly forward, unaware that she’s about to do 60% of the work of sweeping her right onto her back on the mat, so the whole ground and pound can begin again.

  4. Great question, Mark. If we had a left in this society — e.g., if the labor movement weren’t a branch of the Democratic Party — such questions could be asked and publicized, with pretty big effect. As it stands, nobody asks, and ninnies like Annie Leonard continue to treat TV commercials as reflections of public preferences, rather than vectors of capitalist propaganda.

  5. RE: “treat TV commercials as reflections of public preferences, rather then vectors of propaganda”. It is shocking how true this is, but I’ve given up arguing – when you marshal the (admittedly limited) evidence such as public opinion polls over decades, you get met with blank stares and misguided lectures on the “limitations of the survey methodology”. Usually by the same people who “love science”, because “OMG data is awesome”.

    The sad part that date is not even necessary –> if people were naturally greedy, surely business would not have to undertake the enormous trillion dollar expenditures on marketing activities.

    In one of the polls in 2008, 55% of Republicans (sic.) expressed support for a single payer system (“Medicare for all”).

    Doesn’t matter for the progressive liberal mind – it is the stupid people who aren’t “ready” for a single payer system, so the current mess is “a step in the right direction” until “we get the country to consider single payer”. “We” of course, are the educated, and idealistic middle class, and should be in charge of the whole thing, cuz stupid people and all (and as a reward for the tireless moralizing).

  6. Yeah, Marla, and the extra sad part is that somebody like Leonard, who presents herself as a beacon of transcendence, passes up the chance to note how radically false the commercial in question really is. As we TCTers know, the USA has poor telecom services at the world’s highest prices, thanks entirely to “our” ceding the industry to private oligopolies, which shamelessly treat it as a profit ranch. And, to the tiny extent there’s any difference at all between said oligopolies, AT&T consistently sucks the most.

    Yet, here they are saying the exact opposite, and using kindergartners to mouth their lies — lies which, contrary to Leonard’s slur, no adult believes. The whole point of such ads is merely “humor” and repetition, to burn “AT&T” into a profitable slot in the brain, despite its lack of any decent reason for existence.

  7. Right on target, as usual, bringing back that edge to TCT.
    However, this anti-voluntary simplicity posture will cost you some readership in Academia USA. Every other tenured type is back to the land, recycle every rubber band, castigate the masses, look at me and my bike, read the classics until the eyes bleed, anhedonic, green veg localvore, on the take, folkish manque. The every other – the convenient foil, the bought and sold corporate rat, such as this clown:
    http://www.unh.edu/news/releases/2013/sep/lw17entitlement.cfm

    Also, The Fall of the Faculty, by Ben Ginsberg, has takes potshots at the silly ivory tower, which would be fun, if it wasn’t so passe.
    Annie Leonard, by way of explaning what tangent I went off to, has a big career lecturing $60,000 campus cocoon babies about simplicity, which makes about as much sense as the “Transition Town” punjabs flying across the globe to do the same ascetic snake oil.

  8. Lol, Martin, you need your own blog. So much snark should not go to waste!

    It is particularly important to note, forcefully, that is is precisely the uppity middle and upper middle class – i.e. the rich, that are the most zealous preachers of simplicity. You don’t see many (any) waitresses or janitors walking around preaching simplicity.

    Even worse, if you closely scrutinize the consumption behavior of the selfless middle class simplifiers, chances are you will be appalled at the waste. Here are at least three points they are oblivious to:

    1) Framing the issue of patterns of consumption, by definition focuses on… consumption and is just a particularly revolting form of conspicuous consumption – hugely expensive “health food”, hugely expensive “enrichment / education activities” for the gilded offspring, large, energy-sucking house, hugely expensive hybrid car (probably a 2nd or a third car, because you “still need the van for longer trips”. In any case, the focus is still on what is being consumed. The key is that it is higher quality and more enlightened than whatever the plebes buy. But, we recycle.

    2) In the rare event of actual significant downsizing, an elephant in the room is that only people with a lot of savings/disposable income can afford to strip their domiciles to the bare minimum. Why? Because if it ever happens that they need a wrench, they’ll just fire up the hybrid and will drive to home depot to buy one. A person with no disposable income will probably stash away more stuff, because indeed you may often need something later and not be able to buy it.

    3) Well, my attention span is in the crapper. I forgot what 3) was supposed to be.

  9. I suppose 3) was simply the much larger proportion of disposable income spent on non-essentials. When most of the spending happens in the top 20%, then by definition it is expended on non-essentials

  10. FWIW, I don’t believe anybody actually practices “voluntary simplicity,” not least because doing to is impossible in this society, which is built to require wall-to-wall waste. In fact, I think the Annie Leonards of the world do a lot of the enemy’s work, by failing to really explain the situation. Curiously, these people also make the solutions seem both too easy and too arcane, like something you have to/could “recognize” while you’re out shopping for your new bamboo flooring.

  11. I don’t know how TCT does it – so much fodder to choose from…
    There is a woman who writes in a barely-making-it free paper roundabouts who was profiled in another paper for her zero waste life – all the refuse of her adult life, she maintains, has fit into one garbage bag. Now there’s real fucking voluntary simplicity for you – uno garbabe bag, for life. That self-ennobling ascetism is bound to save the earth and its remaining creatures, oh yeah!
    What about you, o loyal readers of TCT/ What about Annie Leonard? I heard she threw away a styrofoam cup of coffee yesterday – right on the ground. Earth-killer.
    Then again, I’m an “entitlement-minded worker.” So it’s all abuse.
    Greens are getting killed here by TCT and the crack corps of TCT commenters. Just don’t do this over at resilience.org- you’ll be banned for life.

  12. Martin, I’m pretty fascinated by greens’ desperate refusal to think things through. I think that’s probably a sign of the fact that they were the last of the Sixties constituencies to wake up a bit. Hence, they think you can reason with TPTB, while portraying gestural molehills (Evergreen Coops; Totnes, England (pop. 7,444); pipeline poses) as glorious mountains.

  13. I give you this gem of skillfully crapping on both the lower and the middle class, while bemoaning one’s belonging in the latter, while also demonstrating severe cognitive impairment:

    “I think I know why chick-fil-a’s super junky food is so popular among the middle- and upper middle-class. The key to the conundrum lies in their mockery of good spelling in those popular cow-featuring ads. Poor people don’t understand the humor of using bad spelling. Bad spelling is what they do for lack of good education, so they go to McDonalds where no one mocks them and actually recently tell them in ads that eating that chemistry makes you smarter. Now, the educated middle-rs get the humor and appreciate a fellow’s intelligent, bookish trickery to survive. Now, I can’t wait to get ads that will address that most effervescent thing in our society – the critical thinking. It will be both mockery and trickery.”

    Um… How about an alternative theory? Such as that Chick Fill A’s business strategy is to *specifically target the middle class*, and also per its marketing campaign cows are on a heroic mission to ask people to eat more chicken, which is soo cute, because cows can’t spell, nah’mean? And who likes cute things? Soccer moms!

  14. Where did that dreck originate, Yab? There’s a long history of reading way too much tricky ideology into ads. It’s been the dominant mode of critical analysis, in fact. It goes back to Marcuse, who knew quite little detail about actual corporate capitalism.

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