TCT’s Purpose

gallo_quote TCT reader Nick asked me to explain our basic views. I thought I’d repost my answer, in case any other readers want to add their thoughts.

Here’s what I said, with a few additions and amendments:

Hi, Nick, and welcome to TCT. You ask excellent questions.

The immediate purpose of this blog is to show people how corporate planners (on behalf of the overclass of wealthy shareholders who remain the primary beneficiaries of big business) manipulate “free time” experiences and choices, and to demonstrate that corporate capitalism requires this manipulation, on an always-expanding basis.

The secondary purpose of this blog is to get people to think about how radically unsustainable this arrangement is, and to encourage movement toward a decent alternative. The work you are doing sounds vital. My only complaint about local solutions is that many of their architects tend to forget about the larger levels of reality. But that is certainly not a necessary part of making new local arrangements. And any adequate macro-level changes are certainly going to require radical reconstruction of our towns.

As for my objection to the way people talk about culture, those are of two kinds.

First, a great many supposedly radical thinkers begin from a sophomoric and unscientific definition of the word. Culture, properly defined, if the set of learned habits and behaviors prevailing among a population. As such, it is a very large-bore concept, close in scope to “society.” Meanwhile, many “cultural” theorists use it as a stand-in for one part of life only — free time, or personal life. Often, they shrink it even further to mean merely entertainment. In making that move, they build their attempts at explanation of reality on quicksand.

My more specific complaint about culture is that it is so often twinned with the bias-word “consumer,” to make the doubly stupid concept “consumer culture.” Social science (and the humanity and democracy it exists to serve) demands that its practitioners take care to make their concepts and data as free from bias and as descriptively valid and neutral as possible. To accept the word “consumer” as a valid equivalent for product-using human beings is to forgo the possibility of powerfully and accurately describing people’s product-related activities.

“Consumer” is a capitalist’s narrow view; nothing more, nothing less. It is a rank and destructive bias, poison to objective description of reality and its determinant institutions and processes. It is an ongoing tragedy that social science has swallowed it, without so much as a hiccup.

We live in a capitalist society and a capitalist culture. To choose to call it a consumer society and a consumer culture is to deny the cardinal facts and to confuse and insult the potential audience.

Jettisoning the word “consumer” is a first necessary step toward getting serious about describing humanity’s extremely dire crisis of economic waste and injustice.

The second step is to stop yammering hot air about culture, and to start examining and explaining the details of existing institutions and processes.

Alas, these both remain micro-ghetto endeavors, for a host of reasons.

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Douglas Pressman
Guest

Right on the mark, Michael. The point of capitalism is not that much acclaimed efficiency of resource allocation – which under limited circumstances can be a side effect – but the further enrichment of the already rich. We are fast reaching a ‘normal game over’ situation: the rich can now only get richer via outright plunder, and attacking whatever remains of the bonds that make for a decent society.

Nick
Guest
Nick

Hi Michael,
thank you so much for these answers. They clear up a whole lot for me. In other news, I just read a sociology book that involved just these topics and I now fully understand why you are so adverse against the word ‘consumer’ and ‘culture’. These books use them like there’s no tomorrow without really defining the terms or even bother proving that they exist within the description..

Michael Dawson
Guest

You nailed it, Nick. They are amazingly bad. Personally, I would even go so far as to say there’s an institutional logic to it. Taking courses on “consumerism” and such allows teachers and students to feel radical without actually being radical. Actual radical explanation is anathema in academia. They need the appearance to maintain their street cred, but hate nothing worse than the real thing. Its scares the dean and doesn’t bring in grant money.

Martin
Guest
Martin

In the paper of neoliberal record, the New York times, there is a hellish piece on the infiltration, in broad daylight, of corporations into your sanctum sanctorum, the ivory tower college campus. For example, Target sponsors buses to shopping malls at midnight for college students at orientation – which would have worked for me fine in college, except for I had no money whatsoever, had no intention of working for any corporation – but then the takeover is nearly complete – as can be seen in the typical business-zombie speak highlighted in the article, linked here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/business/at-colleges-the-marketers-are-everywhere.html?scp=1&sq=Target%20college&st=cse