Amitai Etzioni is a Moron

etzioni According to his own website:

Outside of academia, Etzioni’s voice is frequently heard in the media.

In 2001, Etzioni was named among the top 100 American intellectuals as measured by academic citations in Richard Posner’s book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.

Also in 2001, Etzioni was awarded the John P. McGovern Award in Behavioral Sciences as well as the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was also the recipient of the Seventh James Wilbur Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Appreciation and Advancement of Human Values by the Conference on Value Inquiry, as well as the Sociological Practice Association’s Outstanding Contribution Award.

So, what does this top 100 mind have to say about the ongoing radical commodification and commercialization of personal life in the United States and elsewhere?

Sit down, because you are about to LYFAO:

As long as consumption is focused on satisfying basic human needs–safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education–it is not consumerism. But, when the acquisition of goods and services is used to satisfy the higher needs, consumption turns into consumerism–and consumerism becomes a social disease.

The link to the economic crisis should be obvious. A culture in which the urge to consume dominates the psychology of citizens is a culture in which people will do most anything to acquire the means to consume–working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules in order to maximize their earnings. They will also buy homes beyond their means and think nothing of running up credit-card debt. It therefore seems safe to say that consumerism is, as much as anything else, responsible for the current economic mess.

A shift away from consumerism, and toward this something else, would obviously be a dramatic change for American society.

To accomplish this kind of radical change, it is neither necessary nor desirable to imitate devotees of the 1960s counterculture, early socialists, or followers of ascetic religious orders, all of whom have resisted consumerism by rejecting the whole capitalist project. On the contrary, capitalism should be allowed to thrive, albeit within clear and well-enforced limits.

I certainly do not expect that most people will move away from a consumerist mindset overnight. Some may keep one foot in the old value system even as they test the waters of the new one, just like those who wear a blazer with jeans. Still others may merely cut back on conspicuous consumption without guilt or fear of social censure. Societies shift direction gradually. All that is needed is for more and more people to turn the current economic crisis into a liberation from the obsession with consumer goods and the uberwork it requires– and, bit by bit, begin to rethink their definition of what it means to live a good life. [Source: The New Republic, June 17, 2009]

There you have it.  This pampered and decorated former president of the American Sociological Association has obviously never once contemplated the history and conceptual validity of the word “consumer.”

Nevertheless, onward he plows in his field of air.

“Consumerism,” Etzioni says, is a “mindset” that automatically takes hold as soon as people stop living hand-to-mouth.  Once any kind of affluence develops, this “social disease” emerges, and eventually people drive themselves crazy and even ruin their lovely capitalist economies in their unhinged quest “to acquire the means to consume.”

In this world, people run up their credit cards not because of stagnant wages and salaries, but because they want to.  Capitalism, while perhaps needing a slap on the wrist, is squarely part of the solution, rather than the overwhelming and obvious main cause of the problem.  And people can simply choose to drift away from current behavioral environments and habits.  Nobody in the corporate power structure would much care about that, one way or the other.  After all, “consumerism” comes from we the people and our chosen “culture,” not from the corporate overclass’s ever-expanding two-trillion-dollar-a-year marketing juggernaut.  That minor endeavor exists merely to serve our pre-existing demands, obviously.  Hence, it isn’t even worthy of a mention.

I’ll just say two things about this stunning pile of unscientific manure:

1. If an undergraduate handed me this essay, along with their C+, they would get back a long note about the importance of both taking care with definitions and making some attempt at reference to actual, empirical, documented realities in trying to do sociology.

2. Such is the stuff that gets you laureled as a scholar in this market-totalitarian nation of wall-to-wall lies.  “A study of decline,” indeed.

What is Capitalism?

enjoy_capitalismCapitalism is an inherently expanding social order in which the goals and powers of profit-seeking, wages-for-worktime-paying private investors are the most important force shaping society.

Capitalists hate free markets, which force them to pass along technological advances in the form of lower prices.  To protect themselves from that, in the late 1800s, leading capitalists lobbied state legislatures in the USA to win the right to form the giant conglomerate corporations that have since been the major units of the system.  Thomas Edison explained this to The New York Times in February 1892, when he was merging Edison Electric with rival Thomson-Houston Electric to form General Electric.

Capitalism presumes that Earth can sustain endless economic expansion and whatever level of resource consumption that may require.

Message to Business Class: Time to Abdicate!

Forgive my suspension of core sociological truisms here.  We know that, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” and that, as Dr. King wrote in Birmingham City Jail, “privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance.” We also know that we continue to lack even weak resistance.

Nonethless, in the wake of yet more mega-bonuses for the overseers of corporate capitalist devastation, it’s a worthy word for any future social movement against this decrepit overclass:

Abdicate!


You money-grubbers have had your chance. You and your system are done, failed, dead, out of chances and answers. Now, yield yourselves and your schemes to make way for economic democracy and ecological reconstruction. If we need your help, we’ll let you know.

McDonaldization: A Mickey-Mouse Theory

Yesterday, I commented on how pathetic sociology is on the topic of big business marketing and its ongoing commercialization and commodification of modern life.

The most renowned sociologist trying to discuss matters in this vital area is George Ritzer of the University of Maryland.

Ritzer has started a mini-industry around his contention that “McDonaldization” is the proper concept for comprehending the course of events.  The basic idea is that McDonald’s restaurants are somehow (Ritzer has no empirical evidence of McDonald’s-copying; he merely asserts that it is happening) the driving essence of what’s happening to us.

Ritzer would have you believe that it’s all a question of runaway rationalization, a.k.a. generic bureaucracy, and that Max Weber, not Karl Marx, is the deepest theorist of our hyper-commercialized reality:

McDonaldization is an amplification and extension of Weber’s theory of rationalization, especially into the realm of consumption.  For Weber, the model of rationalization was the bureaucracy; for me, the fast food restaurant is the paradigm of McDonaldization.

And “McDonaldization,” a.k.a. bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy itself, is supposed to be “the paradigm” for “consumer culture,” a.k.a. the dominant trend in contemporary American life…

What a sophomoric mess! Ritzer seriously argues — and consequently draws along a substantial following of supposedly smart social critics — that everybody is running around inspired to be like McDonald’s, which he treats as a mere bureaucracy, rather than a profit-seeking business. All the while, not only does Ritzer uncritically adopt the rank capitalist bias-words “consumer” and “consumption,” but labors (and belabors) to extend them into even-worse conceptual morasses like “consumer culture” and “consumer society.”

The reality, of course, is that not only is the McDonald’s Corporation itself driven by marketing, but it is the 2-trillion-dollar-a-year (in the USA alone) discipline of big business marketing, not some random bureaucracy fetish, that is driving things forward across the whole society.

And corporate marketing is all about capitalism, not bureaucracy:

[M]arketing is both an art and a science, and like any other investment activity, it must be grounded in research, planned carefully, and measured and evaluated based on return on investment.

Ritzer not only understands none of this, but covers it all up with a deeply misleading shaggy dog story.  As a result, today’s sociology, supposedly the art and science of demystifying the institutional conditions of human life, could hardly be less helpful to those hoping to explain and redress our capitalist-dominated, market-totalitarian culture.

What is Marketing?

Few outside its inner sanctums understand what big business marketing really and truly is.

In my own “field” of academic sociology, nobody even asks, despite corporate marketing’s overwhelming importance in shaping behaviors and lives.

When sociologists try to touch the topic, they invariably do so by babbling in one direction or another about “consumption,” by which they really mean (or would mean, if they were aware of their own bumbling obtuseness) people’s “free time activities” and/or “product-related activities.”

Trying to comprehend and explain the social logic and effects of big business marketing in that manner is like trying to do surgery wearing catcher’s mitts. The resulting stuff is hopelessly confused and massively violent to reality.

So what is it that gets missed? As usual, the proper answer comes from the professional communications of marketers themselves. Here’s what marketing really is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

[M]arketing is both an art and a science, and like any other investment activity, it must be grounded in research, planned carefully, and measured and evaluated based on return on investment.

In other words, it’s this guy’s stuff, applied to off-the-job behavior:

To miss that fundamental fact is to miss the whole train of social analysis and criticism.