Monday, February 12, 2007

I shop therefore I am

"An important contribution to the critique of consumerism has been made by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, but very little of this has been translated into English. Stiegler argues that capitalism today is governed not by production but by consumption, and that the advertising techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle of consumption, leading to hyperconsumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery. At the same time, however, he does not believe that simply opposing capitalism is a viable strategy.

While there is not precisely an intellectual movement to promote consumerism, there has been, in recent years, strong criticism of the anti-consumerist movement. Most of this comes from libertarian thought. For example, Reason magazine, in 1999, attacked the anti-consumerism movement, claiming Marxist academics are repackaging themselves as anti-consumerists. James Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida and popular writer, referred to anti-consumerism arguments as "Marxism Lite."

The libertarian attack on the anti-consumerist movement is largely based on the perception that it leads to elitism. Namely, libertarians believe that no person has the right to decide for others what goods are "necessary" for living and which aren't, or that luxuries are necessarily wasteful, and thus argue that anti-consumerism is a precursor to central planning or a totalitarian society. Twitchell, in his book Living It Up, sarcastically remarked that the logical outcome of the anti-consumerism movement would be a return to the sumptuary laws that existed in ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages.
Conversely, many anti-consumerists believe that a modern consumer society is created through extensive advertising and media influence, rather than arising from people's natural ideas regarding the kinds of things they need. In other words, anti-consumerists tend to believe that consumerism is an artificial creation sustained by artificial social pressures, while libertarians tend to believe that consumerism is natural and the only way to eliminate it is through artificial social pressures."
(Crosspost from Wikipedia)
It pays to bear in mind that it was not so long ago that people trying to alert the world to global warming were called 'pinko subversives' and considered to be saboteurs of Western interests, so the 'Marxist Lite' brand should be consumed with a conspicuous amount of salt.
Discerning retail therapy can be a way of encouraging businesses that have a positive effect on long term prosperity. But rampant consumerism is damaging the planet and the human psyche. Consumerism, under the banner of freedom of choice, can actually erode free will by pandering to human desires. Desires become conditionings which inhibit freedom of choice.

No comments: