Almost all who favor taking conservative action to prevent existential catastrophe nevertheless accede to the allied ideas that “consumer” is a valid word for product-users and that we live in a “consumer culture” governed by “consumerism.”
This concession is itself pretty catastrophic, as we here at TCT have been trying to point out for fifteen years now.
Want an illustration? Consider this graphic:
Now, try to explain the reality shown there in terms of “consumerism” and “consumer culture.” You can’t, because the facts in question utterly contradict those very concepts.
The psychic effects of wealth are as fascinating as they are crucial, as shown here and here.
One major dimension of the mental distortion that tends to plague those who make it to the top in our radically unequal world is, ironically, innumeracy.
Consider the prevalence of the very strong tendency of tax resentment to increase as zeroes get added to incomes and wealth stocks. People who never would bat an eye at having taxes withheld from $50,000 incomes become irate crusaders when the base sum becomes $5,000,000 or $5,000,000,000.
Meanwhile, consider the patent stupidity of the latest pose being struck by the supposed genius, Jeff Bezos. $2 billion dollars for a “network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities”? Jeff, honey: How many top-shelf schools do you imagine can be built and staffed for $2 billion? There are 8 million households living below the official poverty line, in many hundreds of communities. I hate to tell you, but you are therefore off on this one by at least one order of magnitude — and that’s presuming you’d be giving this $2 billion every year (schools, you see, need to keep going once they open), which you are not.
But, of course, this kind of wild innumeracy is part and parcel of the capitalist creed. We need, they say, to let our creative entrepreneurial class have an unspeakable amount of wealth, so that they will turn around and use it to help the rest of us. Simply putting limits on them and doing what needs doing ourselves wouldn’t work, they say, despite the Nordic countries’ existence and apparent thriving.
Stupid is as stupid does. (Not, of course, that the corporate media will ever mention it in their predictable paeans to private power.)
Notice he didn’t say “consumed,” though, in the same essay, he describes “production and consumption” as the “movement” of private property:
Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it – when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., – in short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself again conceives all these direct realisations of possession only as means of life, and the life which they serve as means is the life of private property – labour and conversion into capital….The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world. [emphasis added]
Let us say it again: To accept “consume” as a synonym for “use” is to adopt the terminology and worldview of private property rather than plain human beings. To do so is to truncate and distort one’s view of the very process one professes to want to elucidate, by conceding the hypothesis that human product-use activities are only interesting and important insofar as they serve their own “conversion into capital.”
Social critics of the world, unite and cease your use of the “consumer” vocabulary! Be precise and objective! There is still a world to win, or at least describe.
Thanks to its superior deniability and ability to deliver Pavlovian treats, market totalitarianism works infinitely better than its state cousin ever has or could. Stalin and Hitler would be purple with jealousy at how well corporate capitalism obtains compliance from its subordinate classes.
With this in mind, ponder the fact that, as reported by Advertising Age, “[t]he escapist appeal of looking at other people’s beautiful homes turned Home & Garden Television into the third most-watched cable network in 2016, ahead of CNN and behind only Fox News and ESPN.”
The basis of this ascent is the sponsored worship of one of the core products of corporate capitalism’s sales vector, the personal residence:
Nikki Justice doesn’t seem like she’d be a big fan of HGTV’s show “Property Brothers.” A first-year astronomy and physics major at Ohio State University, she’s never owned a home, let alone flipped one. But her parents watched regularly, and now Ms. Justice tunes in several hours a week to watch one home transformation after another.
“A lot of the news these days is really stressful,” she said. “HGTV is not something that’s going to hurt me. I watch it and dream of what I want for my future house.”
So does Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who recently said that he prefers HGTV to ESPN. Taylor Swift shared on Instagram her affection for HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” And Hillary Clinton said she likes “Love It or List It” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” calling them “relaxing, entertaining and informative.”
CNN is itself a deeply defective product, as explained by Joseph Heath. But the fact remains: In the year 2016, HGTV is more important in the mental sphere of the United States than the supposed flagship of information about collective affairs. Note to the grandchildren…
As advertising of the most varied products is concentrated, a new type of human being, precise and generalized, emerges. We can get a general impression of this new human type by studying America, where human beings tend clearly to become identified with the ideal of advertising. In America, advertising enjoys universal popular adherence, and the American way of life is fashioned by it.
This research is exceedingly important. Yet, despite its overall quality and its stratospheric academic origins, it suffers from the de rigueur graphical illiteracy of modern liberalism.
Here is how the authors describe their findings in their own Executive Summary:
Wealth concentration has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last 100 years: It was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then.
Here, meanwhile, is the author’s graph showing the wealth share of the richest 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent) of U.S. households:
“Fell from 1929 to 1978” is an extremely peculiar way of describing the movement of that line over those years. As any child can see, the line has two declines — a minor one from 1968 to 1978, and the only major one from, of course, from 1932 to 1949, years when corporate capitalism was first dying and then under public command. From 1949 to 1968, the line is entirely flat, meaning that the richest 0.1% was maintaining its customary share of (rapidly expanding) wealth.
To conclude, as the authors do, that “there was a substantial democratisation of wealth from the Great Depression to the late 1970s” is profoundly crude, if not intentionally misleading. The supposed golden years of welfare state liberalism were exactly 1949 through 1968. But, as these authors themselves show but cannot acknowledge, wealth was not democratized one iota over that stretch!
The plain fact is that, under corporate capitalism, only systemic crisis and/or public anti-capitalist intervention ever democratize wealth. That simple fact, of course, is publicly unmentionable in our market totalitarian society, organized as it is around the thesis that the rich can never be rich enough.