The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

29 September 2003

Weapons of mass consumption

It's been said before, many times, many ways, but it always bears repeating, especially when it's said as well as it is by Tobacco Road Fogey:

Western popular culture is probably the most successful weapon we've ever had against totalitarianism in the last half-century or so. Our music, our films, and our television programs demonstrate the freedoms we take for granted, and utterly baffle those who have known only the dead hand of government-controlled media. They marvel at things in our culture that we find so commonplace as to be trivial — fast food, well-stocked stores of all shapes and sizes, people on television openly criticizing all of our institutions. These things, and myriad others that escape our notice, leap off the TV or movie screen when viewed by someone who's never known the freedom we were born into.

I would add only that these things also seem to baffle some of our own residents, who can't understand why anyone would willingly embrace Burger King or Costco or Fox News when there's a more enlightened path — theirs — to follow. Nor can they understand why no one seems to be joining them along said path.

Hold the mayo on that Whopper, please.

Posted at 9:36 PM to Almost Yogurt

please make a distinction between ramped up hyper-consumerism and forms of free expression. One depends on the continuing poverty of others and their lack of any freedom of mobility and the other raises the entire human race.

Your condescending tone for those that spurn the mass production madness of over consumption BAFFLES ME. You know there is a middle ground where we have people that enjoy the freedom of music, art and liberty without forcing others to feed an insatiable desire to consume consume consume.

Hold the whooper, please!

Posted by: bruce at 11:08 PM on 29 September 2003

So when I buy a Whopper at BK or a pair of shoes at Wal-Mart, I'm causing someone to be impoverished? Puh-lease. Spare me the socialist "redistribution of wealth" fodder.

Posted by: unixdude at 6:26 AM on 30 September 2003

Actually, my condescending tone is reserved for people who are convinced that they are on a higher plane of existence because they don't buy a lot of consumer goods. (Actually, they do; they just don't buy recognizable brand names because they're commercial, doncha know?)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:30 AM on 30 September 2003

I applaud people that are less consumer driven.

first, unix, you cant dismiss valid arguements with a dilbert-ish wave of the hand and a "bah", or in your case a "socialist bah". ;-)

There is a finite amount of resources, and as much as you may not like to view the world in this context the greater your demand for products and services then the larger slice of the pie you consume, this leaves the rest of the pie smaller. America for its good qualities (I happen to agree 100% with the first half of the quote) demands such a large slice of that pie that it minimizes what is left for others. Poverty and hunger are not due to lack of resources or food, but bad distribution. So yes, I tend to think that redistribution of resources is a laudable goal. (what do you think markets are but a resource distribution scheme, one which puts us at the front of teh line?) If that means that I get one or two less burger kings so that a few people can live in relative comfort and have a portion of what I take for granted then I dunno call me a whacko, but that makes me feel better.

(and yes I know that ideology aside, one less burger king may just turn out to mean on more mcdonalds! but I hope you understand my larger meaning.)

I want to adress the disconnect in the quoted paragraph. It does not follow that the freedoms that we enjoy; music, art, expression, are of the same value as the material wealth we have as well. In some cases they are contridictory (as well as complimentary). Take for example the blind eye that we turn towards China and the exploitation of what I would call near-slave labor markets. We reserve our criticism because we value the material wealth we gain from that situation. When we should be asking (or demanding) that the rights that we enjoy (expression!) be extended to that country and its people as well. Would we accept a small increase in the price of electronics and garments if we knew that meant greater freedom for people we dont know or see?

We condone a similar arrangement with Saudi Arabia because of consumer needs that trump our moral ones. Should we simply find alternatives or address consumption issues we could instead focus on getting the Saudi royals to step aside or at least allow greater freedom within their country. Might not the freedom of saudis to practice free expression of religion be a good thing if it comes from a direct consequence of our drive to reduce oil consumption? We cannot ask this as long as countries are feeding our material needs.

CG, I understand your disdain for people that practice a faux-anti-consumer form of consumption. Buying goods at the same rate but merely shifting their focus to generic or non-name brand goods. Its better to look carefully at your needs and meet those, while seeing your consumer desires as optional purchases to be considered after weighing the negative consequences. What I dislike is buying for buying's sake. Which I'm sure most people dont do consciously. But I know from my own experience that part of the american social experience is based in shopping. We will witness this in its full bloom in a couple of months, where the major focus of christmas has become centered around buying gifts. I am a bad gift giver, i feel a little guilty saddling people with material goods that they might not want but feel obligated to keep. But thats another story...

A more cynical eye would see our national holidays not as moments of cultural engagement but merely socially designated days for mass consumption. I like think that we can get beyond that.

Dare it be said that others look at our culture and the aforementioned and see a society that has misplaced priorities? I have heard it said by a few here and there that they admire america's tradition of individual liberty but resent our hypocritical attitude that our desires should be met even at the cost of others.

(this is were you call me a socialist elitist liberal and other such smears)

Posted by: bruce at 11:42 AM on 30 September 2003

There's nothing like good old capitalism to drive an economy, and capitalism without greed and envy wouldn't go far. The problem is how do we harness that energy to do the most good for the most people? When capitalists dictate our laws, the game is tilted in favor of those already with the most capital. As long as the credit holds out we'll be fine. After that is when you'll really see class warfare hit the fan.

Posted by: Mike at 1:31 PM on 30 September 2003

So much for Mickey's for dinner tonight.

Posted by: Vickie at 3:09 PM on 30 September 2003

Came across this in researching for my latest long winded rant..

Marxism is, hence, just a method of analysis - it provides us with a means of criticism. But the Marxian system itself had obvious points of vulnerability which he was aware of. One of these was the threat of reform, the possibility that the hardships of capitalism would be so mitigated such that they would no longer arouse the revolutionary anger of workers. Yet, he could not resist specific reforms in the interest of the working man.

The closest to a programme proposed by Marx (in collaboration with friend, Frederich Engels, (1820-1895)) is found in the famous ten points of The Communist Manifesto (1848), the most celebrated - and most energetically denounced - political pamphlet of all time. It urged along with much else a progressive income tax, public ownership of railroads and communications, free education, abolition of child labour and jobs for all. Curiously, much of the industrial world in the twentieth century is in step with much of The Communist Manifesto, not through revolutionary action but by parliamentary reform.

As much as it might suprise people here, I never really studied Marx, but I thought this comment interesting. The parliamentary reforms here in the US were a result of the great depression that nearly brought our economy to a crashing collapse if not for the intervention of the state to sustain the flow of capital.

It amuses me to no end that the very flagbearers of capitalism are always actively working to bring it back to the edge of ruin. As that is the way it works, no?

The true test of capitalism will be as we get closer and closer to a globally intergrated society with little or no new frontiers available for resources. What happens when a system grounded in economic expansion and escalating rates of consumption meets a dwindling resource base?

Its into space.. or what Mike said.

Posted by: bruce at 5:27 PM on 30 September 2003

Thanks for the link.

Bruce, please note that the "parliamentary reforms here in the U.S." were enacted over a period of many years, starting near the end of the nineteenth century (Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 and Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, for example) and continued through several administrations of both political parties (see Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson in particular) prior to the Great Depression and FDR's election to the Presidency. Many of these reforms laid the foundation for FDR's actions by expanding the traditional role of the Federal government.

Posted by: tobacco road fogey at 8:30 PM on 30 September 2003

Bruce, you wouldn't have needed to study Marx -- a lot of his foolishness got taken up in less radical schools of economics and we are to this day still trying to stamp some of it out.

Speaking as someone who actually (tried to) read Capital, true Marxism is not a method of analysis, it is a dialectic -- a filter through which its adherents view reality so that it will better fit their preconceived notions.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:47 PM on 30 September 2003


Any approach that tries to define truth in such narrow terms will fail to do so, much in the same manner that all religions have.

The marxists I have met remind me of the engineers I have met. They just know how the darn thing works. The communists I have met however tend to be more glassy eyed and idealistic.

I doubt we'll ever stamp out Marxism because quite fankly it has been incorporated into modern economic thinking. Even the more ardent pro-capitalists use marxist terms in their dialogues about economies. Its become another tool but one that we don't openly acknowledge... shhhh!

Posted by: bruce at 12:54 AM on 1 October 2003

How the hell did this conversation end up from a posting on Burger King to a post-graduate course in social and political philosophy??

Go have a Happy Meal.

Posted by: Vickie at 5:14 AM on 1 October 2003

And pay for it. With a smile goshdarnit! :-)

Posted by: McGehee at 9:00 AM on 1 October 2003

>How the hell did this conversation end up from a posting on Burger King to a post-graduate course in social and political philosophy??

Ya know, I wonder about that too Vickie.

I've noticed topics about free trade, corporate corruption, business influencing politics, etc., stir a disproportionate amount of interest by readers compared to most issues. I think folks realize something is wrong with the system, but aren't quite sure what to do about it.

Posted by: Mike at 9:51 AM on 1 October 2003

I doubt we'll ever stamp out Marxism because quite fankly it has been incorporated into modern economic thinking. Even the more ardent pro-capitalists use marxist terms in their dialogues about economies. Its become another tool but one that we don't openly acknowledge... shhhh!

I just said it was incorporated into modern economic thinking, though I suppose you might have been confused because I used different words.

That incorporation is what I said needs to be stamped out -- what did you think I was saying?

As for "shhhh!" -- speak for yourself.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:55 PM on 1 October 2003

Socialists believe that a larger bite of a pie makes a smaller bite for someone else. Capitalists believe we can bake enough pies for everyone.

I'll have fries with that, thanks.

Posted by: Kathy K at 7:01 PM on 1 October 2003

The long-winded (would he were more so) Bill Whittle said this today:

"Those that would have us disarm, withdraw, apologize and retreat make the assumption that by removing American Power from the world, the planet will become a harmonious village of diversity and mutual respect. Remove American capitalism, and the world's people will trade solar cars for indigenous beads, our European moral betters will hand over their cash to the third world until all are perfectly equal, and everyone will live in a sustainable ecological paradise. Remove American cultural power and Britney will be replaced with Beethoven, and an exquisite and reasonably priced Pate de Foi Gras Existentialist Meal can be had at a corner drive in where the former McDonald's once stood.

"This is utter nonsense. It has never been true for a single page of the history of the Damned Human Race. There has never — never — been a day in human history when some form of power has not flooded the world, or competed to do so; and those times when the power was most one-sided reveal themselves to be the times of greatest relative peace, stability, and advancement of that quaint notion known as civilization."

Pax Americana may seem suspicious on the face of it, but almost anything you can imagine to replace it will turn out to be far, far worse. Count on it.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:00 PM on 1 October 2003

CG, re: Bill Whittle

Because history has been so before does not mean that it will be so hereafter. That closes the book on human progress. Pre-american revolution there was no precedent for the society we live in today. This line of thinking leads us back to the glory days of Kings. Then, I am sure it was argued that the pipe dream of a society of elected representatives operating by the mandate of a free populace was absurd and would never happen, because it hadn't happened yet.

We did not move from fuedalism to utopia just as we should not expect to move from capitalism to utopia either, but we cannot close our minds to the dream of something better just over the horizon.

The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, he didnt just assume that it would be worse did he?

Have a little optimism people!

Posted by: bruce at 11:48 PM on 1 October 2003

McGehee, it would like trying to stamp out genetics from modern biological thinking because you find evolution repugnant. Marxism for its faults gave social and economic thinkers new tools to work with.

grok that.

Posted by: bruce at 11:52 PM on 1 October 2003

I have as little optimism as the situation warrants.

A substantial number of people want you and me and our neighbors dead. Not restricted, not restrained, not cowed: dead. If you want to trust these people, and the people who back them up in exchange for whatever, feel free to go right ahead. Think of it as a cultural exchange. I suggest, though, that you start memorizing verses from the Qu'ran; it's going to be mandatory in the world of which you dream.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:59 AM on 2 October 2003


Posted by: bruce at 1:36 PM on 2 October 2003