“Tune in, turn on, drop out.” Good advice, or terrible? Can we really imagine winning fundamental change in the status quo without using our democratic rights and powers to name and fight “the system,” a.k.a. corporate capitalism?
It’s a long-running question inside what passes for a left in the United States. And the navel-gazing, polito-phobic answer continues to win out, despite the times.
The latest form is what I call Green Shopperism, or the proposition that attempting to live a less harmful personal life is the core, rather than the inherently inadequate sidenote, of radical resistance. The call to Green Shopperism is everywhere among the so-called “transition movement,” for instance.
The great common denominator in such circles is their careful and consistent avoidance of the topics of capitalism and social class. Instead, Green Shopperists treat social power in America as if it is merely a simple sum of all citizens’ co-equal votes in the marketplace. In this entirely conventional (and fictional) view, “the average American way of life” is both the enemy and the co-equal responsibility of all Americans, regardless of wealth or access to institutional power. Overclass domination and manipulation — things like transportation dictatorship and big business marketing — are nowhere, treated as if they do not exist.
Among the Green Shopperists, the logical conclusion of such familiar premises is that personal guilt and pledges to be a smarter “consumer” are the way out of present reality:
Twelve Step programs, brought to the world first through Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s and now operating in hundreds of fellowships internationally, offer some guidelines for how to recover from destructive behavior….If nothing else, it may be helpful to remember the message behind the often-cited Serenity Prayer shared at the end of 12-Step Meetings: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In the Green Shopperist world, of course, there isn’t the courage even to name what needs to be changed, let alone an effort to organize a movement in that direction. I mean, who wants to do yucky and unpopular and extremely difficult things like attacking capitalism, when you can drive or fly to a workshop or a meetup and congratulate yourself for buying (or planning to buy) a Prius or planting (or planning to plant) a backyard garden?