If you’ve been looking at TCT for a while, you may recall my disgust with the Worldwatch Institute’s annual report for 2010. That report, which described itself as “subversive,” was full of flatulent attempts to squeeze something sharp and liberating out of the thought-killing “consumer” vocabulary. As always with such efforts, the noises were all about “culture” (an amorphous, sophomorically handled concept by which the assembled babblers seem to mean “a whole shared way of life, shorn of actual institutions and power formations”), and none about capitalism.
But of course. As James Keye observes, it is extremely hard if not impossible to describe oppressive institutions if one starts by adopting the biased terminology of the oppressors. Slavery becomes a house of mirrors, if one agrees that “slave” (or, worse, “nigger” or other racial slurs) is a proper descriptive category for the human beings held in bondage. Likewise, “consumer” is the capitalist’s reduction of human beings to mere appendages of the profit-making process. Issues of product-usage, product-promotion, and product-selection — and all the ecological issues attaching thereto — are difficult or impossible to describe, if one starts by presuming that commoners are somehow (though we won’t say how) asking for everything that happens, that people really are “consumers” in any but a very narrow and controversial sense.
I mention all this because yet another “green” operation has just tripped and ruinously vomited on this very issue. The Post-Carbon Reader includes a chapter by one William Rees, who blames “human nature” and “consumers” for existing ecocidal trends, and omits all mention of capitalists and capitalism.
As I say in the DbC Hall of Mirrors, where I collect important examples of such damaging thoughtlessness: With friends like these, who needs enemies?