Production is the Issue

Like the book from which it springs, this blog is called “The Consumer Trap.” By this phrase, I mean several things at once. Corporate capitalism is, I contend, a giant historic trap. That is the deepest claim.

But I also mean to protest against the foolish Frankfurt School suggestion that, under our epoch’s over-productive economy, the main strategic locus of politics and society somehow shifted from the boardroom to the bedroom — that we are somehow in an era in which “consumption” (meaning the ways we acquire and use commercial products) is the great question of our age.

This is a rather dull reaction to actual institutions and affairs. Our problem is no less one of macro-choice and investment (aka production) than it ever was. A sea of stuff, non-stop corporate entertainment, and increasingly commercialized off-the-job habits are all trends that emanate from elite dictation, not popular preference. But that is news to Herb Marcuse, who argued the opposite (without ever actually looking).

All of which brings me to this photograph:

That is the back of last night’s pizza box. It is one example of what’s wrong with talking about “consumption.” The manufacturer of this box is, no doubt, one or another major timber-and-paper conglomerate. That entity is certainly all too aware that greasy food containers DO NOT recycle. Yet, as we see here, that knowledge doesn’t lead to retraction of this dishonest little message. Why miss a chance to suppress and combat your customers’ actual concerns?

Corporate product producers are always biased in favor of lying and tricking and cheating to achieve their aims. Until we get back to studying how and why this happens, we will continue to chase our own tails in circles.

“Our Crisis of Consumerism”

The New York Times will sometimes let writers come pretty close to realism, but only to a certain depth. When it comes to talking about causes, the paper’s standards of coherence and apt evidence disappear. The job, after all, is to make nonsense out of what might otherwise make deep and dangerous sense.

To wit, consider the wildly irrational op-ed by Bianca Vivion Brooks on “the cycle of waste and consumerism” in today’s paper-of-record.

According to Ms. Brooks, the world is in deep trouble from booming material waste because of defects in “our collective desire for goods and services.” And these defects, Ms. Brooks asserts, arise from us ourselves:

[T]he accumulation of things is still at the essence of what it means to be American. Ownership of property and the gospel of prosperity are so deeply tied to our ideas of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that few seem willing to renounce the materialism that lies at the core of our national identity.

That, of course, is at least highly debatable.

Brooks certainly provides no reference(s) to support the claim, nor does the NYT require such things, apparently.

Meanwhile, Brooks, who says she’s still in her twenties, seems unacqainted with any careful, classic criticisms of capitalism, so perhaps we can excuse her sloppy speculation. But, as her piece shows, this “consumer culture” stuff is damned toxic to realistic thought.

Brooks concludes that it is high time for us to “reassess our relationship to things.” The problem, of course, is our relationship to one another.

At this late date, in our corporate media ecology, it remains all but forbidden to describe these pertinent relationships.

Late > Never

So, The New York Times is starting to make some rather sane observations about the nature of our society:

We are living in the world’s most advanced surveillance system. This system wasn’t created deliberately. It was built through the interplay of technological advance and the profit motive. It was built to make money.

Quite so.

This development, which, barring sharp democratic intervention, only promises to intensify, was, of course, quite predictable quite some time ago. We here at TCT saw and named it in 2003, when the TCT book emerged. The pertinent phenomenon is “market totalitarianism.”

The NYT being both a major commercial enterprise and a major ideological organ of TPTB, the true origin of this deep reality has to be denied, of course.

Hence, a phenomenon which springs directly from corporate capital itself — itself a phenomenon which sprang straight from Adam Smithian capitalist normalcy — has to be attributed instead to mere bad apples:

The greatest trick technology companies ever played was persuading society to surveil itself.

[NYT, emphasis added]

In this preposterous but ascendant misreading, market totalitarianism is just a trick played by one rogue sector within our dominant socio-economic order. One question that willfully silly excuse begs is who buys all the data and for what purpose?

Evidence That “Consumerism” Is Not Our Problem

Richard Eckersley is a very skilled and important researcher into the details of how our world actually works.

Among the topics Eckersley investigates is the question of what the mass of people actually like, want, prefer, and worry about, and whether (or not) and how (or how not) our dominant institutions care about and encasulate those actual desires.

Here is what Eckersley reports about the increasing advocacy of well-being indexes as a replacement for, or accompaniment to, GDP statistics. Such nice ideas, Eckersley suggests, do not go far enough:

Public perceptions of the future have been another dimension of my research. And I am not aware of any progress indicators that reflect the depth of people’s concern (which existed well before climate change gave it a tangible focus).

Richard Eckersley

Ordinary people, in other words, are far more worried about the future and desirous of macro-alternatives than any “happiness indicator” scales show. If, of course, one bothers to actually look.

That, alas, remains something very few thinkers, including the purported mavens of green consciousness, do.

Instead, among such would-be leaders, the phantasm of “consumerism” continues to trample this whole field of reality into a plane of hopeless hallucinatory mush.

TCT will say it again: “Consumer” analysis is barking up the wrong tree. The masses are already way more complex and thoughtful and open to hearing the news than their would-be saviors bother to know.

It is beyond high time for the arrival of an empirical perspective on off-the-job life in the modern world.

Question

If you were trying to explain slavery, how much emphasis would you put on “slavism” or “slavishness” as one of its causes? Not much, right?

Why, then, does virtually every person trying to explain the market-totalitarian corporate capitalist promotion of unsustainable material waste in the spheres of product design and product usage attribute that reality to “consumerism”?

It is pathetic, and carries the whiff of liberal practicality, too.

Commodifier of the Year

Procter & Gamble, the world’s 53rd largest publicly-traded business corporation, has been named Advertising Age‘s Marketer of the Year for 2019.

According to Ad Age, P & G has re-dedicated itself to out-marketing its competitors. As a result of its search for “work that has more impact,” “P&G has,” Ad Age reports, “gained share in most businesses this year, posting 7 percent organic sales growth the past two quarters.” This “rarity for any big company” has pushed P & G’s “stock price up more than 30 percent this year and 65 percent from recent lows in May 2018.”

Okay, but what is the material basis for such stellar work on behalf of shareholders?

Things like this:

That is new Downy Unstopables, which is apparently perfume you add to your laundry.

The logic of such a breakthrough is reported, with TCT’s emphasis added, by Ad Age as follows:

Such ads, which aim to encourage consumers to use products more often and successfully, are part of an effort…to focus less on taking share from rivals and more on growing or creating categories. 

One example is Downy Unstopables scent beads, a business with more than $750 million in global sales that’s moving the brand from fabric softening to adding lasting fragrance to clothes.

No word, of course, on what happens to all those new plastic bottles.