“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?

Deep or Shallow?

The Post Carbon Institute fancies itself a bearer of the last word on eco-social thought and organizing. Under its banner, it charges money for online courses that promise to “[d]eepen your understanding of the interactions between human and Earth systems” and to thereby teach you what it is that is to be done.

Alas, here is how the course frames the human core of the problem we face:

Society’s goals and mindsets could be thought of as the stories we tell ourselves.

Consumerism is a modern version of our biological drives for status-seeking and novelty-seeking, and makes use of how our brain chemistry develops addictions.

Stories? Stories we tell ourselves? Because of our biological drives?

In reality, “consumerism” is probably not a thing at all, certainly not a well-defined or seriously documented thing, and is also definitely not reducible to individual addiction.

Meanwhile, where are the institutions in all this? “Stories we tell ourselves?” Really?

Zuckerberg is Irrelevant

naive graphic

AOC is fantastic. She says “our greatest hope is a multiracial, working class movement in the United States of America.” Righteous.

But AOC is apparently also now questioning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about whether his property will allow lies in its political ads.

This is both a bit much, and far too little.

With the partial exception of local newspaper want ads, all advertising is a form of lying. In the hands of major corporations, the dishonesty is a lavishly researched, intricately implemented endeavor. And Facebook, uncontroversially, is in the business of advertising. Nothing more, nothing less.

Facebook, in other words, exists to facilitate lying. Literally.

AOC almost certainly knows all this.

The question, then, is why she isn’t talking about the only imaginably effective response to the Facebook problem: unleashing the United States Postal Service.

Playing naive isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We must discover and speak the truth about power, and act accordingly.