“Consumerism”

snake If you’ve been around here before, you probably know that the word “consumer” and its conceptual offshoots are definitely one of the bats who live in my belfry. The explanation for that is here.

Lately, I have dabbled at trying to point out the problem to an Irish comrade over at Climate & Capitalism. Alas, without success, as you can see.

The exchange does, however, give a rather clear view of the (il)logic adopted by those many lefties and greens who contend that “consumerism” is at or near the heart of our age’s many dire troubles.

In replicating that familiar contention, the would-be social critic complains that people nowadays foolishly and/or greedily engage in “consumerism,” thereby wrecking the planet and the culture. “Consumerism,” in this usage, means to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence. The would-be social critic intends his or her use of the word “consumerism” to itself serve as a scold. How could you do that? Why don’t you wake up and smell the real meaning of life?

The interesting part, at least to my eye, is the fact that such harangues are literally never accompanied by an underlying concern over the rank capitalist bias, rotten history, and Procrustean hacks that reside in the label “consumer.” Instead of explaining how the rise of the word “consumer” reflects the triumph of corporate capitalist priorities and projects, the would-be social critic ignores the root bias, then proceeds to scold his or her audience for their purported “consumerism.” In the process, the screamingly obvious point — that getting people to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence is one of the main institutional priorities and managerial activities of modern capitalism — goes unmentioned.

As such rote thoughtlessness passes for serious social analysis, capitalists are laughing all the way to the hedge fund.

Election 2012: Another 45% More Farcical

money-for-nothing Television advertising, an inherently dishonest and irrational means of communication, has long been the primary venue for state and national electoral debate in the United States.

Unsurprisingly but importantly, that disastrous trend is in the process of making yet another upward leap. In the wake of the almost complete deregulation of political money after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, a Barclays Capital expert quoted in Advertising Age is projecting political advertising will this year see “a 45% increase from the 2008 presidential year.”

Most of the money goes to local TV station owners, according to Ad Age:

By the Nov. 6 election, campaigns will have spent $2.6 billion, with 85% going to local TV.

Advertising from political campaigns has become Lin TV’s [the Providence, R.I.,-based owner of 17 stations in the 12 swing states] biggest growth category, CEO Vincent L. Sadusky said at an investor conference in December.

“Fortunately for us, if you want to get elected in America, you do need to advertise,” Mr. Sadusky said. “Political has been very, very strong in the last couple of cycles and we anticipate it to be very strong going forward.”

That’s not to say that it’s unimportant to the national TV peddlers:

“There’s going to be a lot of money spent,” CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said in December. “I’m not saying that’s the best thing for America, but it’s not a bad thing for the CBS Corporation.”

CBS will receive about $230 million in political advertising this year, Mr. DiClemente estimated in the note. Without political ads, CBS’s broadcast revenue would be unchanged from a year ago, he wrote.

Ah, the free market at work…

As for this post’s title, I kid. It wouldn’t be possible for an election to be 45 percent worse than the fraud-fest of 2008. We’re far, far into asymptote territory on this front.

Political Marketing Update

obama_fraud “Politics,” John Dewey once observed of the normal state of corporate capitalism, “is the shadow cast on society by big business.” As this normalcy has grown and the methods of big business marketing have been increasingly applied to selecting and selling candidates, Dewey’s shadow metaphor has seemed less and less adequate. Politics is now the scientific management of society’s macro-choices by big business.

For those interested in this topic, check out this new report from the Sunlight Foundation. Its main finding:

If you think wealth is concentrated in the United States, just wait till you look at the data on campaign spending. In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups.

For those still laboring under the illusion that the Democratic Party is somehow an exception to the rule of capital, the report shows that:

Over time, the share of all individual campaign contributions coming from The One Percent of the One Percent has increased for both parties, increasing from 17.8% in 1990 to 32.1% in the 2010 election cycle. Consistently, Democrats have been slightly more reliant on The One Percent of the One Percent than Republicans – relying on The One Percent of the One Percent for, on average, about three percentage points more of their itemized campaign receipts.

TCT would suggest that aspiring progressives and radicals can save themselves a great deal of precious energy by keeping this fundamental reality in mind.

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.

Delusion is as Delusion Does

knorpp The gent at left is Bob Knorpp, “president of the Cool Beans Group, a marketing strategy consultancy based in New York. He likes laughing even more than breathing.”

Discussion question: Why is the marketing world so full of men who look and talk like this, while serving a function in the society that would embarrass most PropDep overseers? Is it a simple case of spending too much time around dishonesty? Or is it some form of attempted psychological compensation?

In any event, compare Mr. Knorpp’s whimsical self-presentation with the way he talks about you and me:

There’s still an irresistible urge to build an audience at scale. We feel we need to get our message in front of as many people as possible, so we we put all of our efforts into generating followers and likes and +1s. Then once we build this mass audience, we communicate with it and many times sell against it. And we keep being confronted by the fact that this audience is still too small, compared with the larger audiences of traditional and digital ad spending. Thus we dismiss these micro audiences, or at the most, treat them as quaint test projects.

Yet as those direct-marketing models that we were working with two decades ago proved, there’s real value hiding within the smaller subsets of any aggregate audience — a value we are simply not tapping.

There is a place and a time for reaching an audience at scale. Paid media and mass reach are still very effective methods of spreading a message. But in the case of many of our social efforts, this mass philosophy is actually damaging the relationship with our community leaders. So while the metrics may show increased interaction, the value of the engagements may actually be lessening.

A community is an organic thing. It is much different than a customer file. It is a place where our customers might be interacting with each other as much as with us. So we need models and programs that recognize this intangible as a valuable asset.

What do you think happens to an advocate whose voice is suddenly drowned out? We can’t always say with statistical certainty, but common sense tells us he or she may stop talking. The advocate is no longer special. We’ve destroyed her bully pulpit. So off she goes.

The ironic thing is that it’s not hard to identify an influential advocate in an existing, functioning community. There are third-party modeling tools to be sure, but an active community manager can provide you with a list within a few days. And we can still grow the community to scale by targeting these folks — and probably do so for less effort and money spent. It may not happen as quickly, but it will happen more intelligently, scaling the influence of your advocates right alongside your follower counts, and building a community that is engaged rather than simply wondering why they are there.

We may or may not get to a model one day for the social spaces that is as effective at targeting loyalists as Ward’s model was in the direct space. But there is no doubt that most of us are not properly valuing the advantages of working with smaller, more engaged audiences. Until we consider how our mass approaches are affecting this advocate value, we will fail to realize the full benefits of [Facebook marketing] programs and miss the path to profitability that is present in these more engaged connections. [Source: Advertising Age]

Scratch a hippie, find a profit-seeking social engineer.

“Confronting Consumption,” Indeed

homer brain What passes for a political and intellectual left is stone-cold stupid when it comes to matters of personal life and corporate capitalism.

The anchor of this stupidity is the continuing inability of would-be radical thinkers and activists to get past the discombobulating slave-words “consumer” and “consumption.”

Unable to see that calling product users and citizens “consumers” and lumping all their activities and intentions into the category of “consumption” does irreparable damage to any chance at coherent social criticism or democratic movement-building, the “consumer” haranguers plow blithely on, tilting at the windmill of “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” while saying next to nothing about the basic realities of corporate capitalism and its ever-growing big business marketing juggernaut.

This endless pursuit of a dead-end has recently been redoubled by the “scholars” associated with this smugly confused book. In it, the various assembled academic career-builders profess to be attacking “the consumption problem,” without ever stopping to ask whether part of that alleged problem might be the continuing reign of the massively biased concept of “consumption.”

Worse, in the name of an attack on waste they can never quite explain, they actually dare to say that “economistic thinking” is part of the problem, rather than a vital part of the solution. The fact that mainstream economics ignores capitalist waste and qualitative outcomes is no reason to toss out “economistic thinking” altogether. In fact, a true economics would be a devastating expose of the present system and the overclass it exists to enrich.