Saturday, August 28, 2010

Derivations on a Theme - Can't Buy It

There is a marvelous essay, "To save the world, the Left must reclaim utopia," posted on the blog Climate & Capitalism. One section really spoke to me.
The failings of economistic 20th century leftism have allowed capitalism and consumerism to run rampant to the extent that the biosphere of the planet is beginning to experience a catastrophic breakdown, best known in the form of climate change (although broader than that most pressing problem).

Climate change and the ecological crisis are demanding a reinvigoration of the left’s imagination. No longer can workers settle for demanding pay rises and economic advances. No more can the left settle for reactive campaigns calling to stop this or that crime, or to save this service from cutbacks. These are the defensive posturing of a movement that has put their visions of a better future off indefinitely as impractical or impossible just now.

Climate change demands action now. It demands solutions. They are feasible, and we can fight for them, but they are a radical departure from the consumerist life. This life is what the Western working class knows. It is largely what the third world masses aspire to. It is the dominant mass ideology. It’s a powerful ideology because it gives the appearance of having left behind the grim poverty of yesterday, and it gives the appearance of some return on the hours of workday drudgery that pay for it.

But at heart, consumerism is truly a hollow ideology. Even the commonplace sayings of the consumer era refute it. Consumerism says “you are what you buy” – but everyone knows, as the Beatles sang, “money can’t buy me love”. It can’t buy very much happiness either. There is an intrinsic gap in the ideological hegemony of the consumer ideal...
This last paragraph is so true! Though most of us build our lives around "keeping up with the Joneses," we know in our hearts that the material goods that we surround ourselves with do not bring peace of mind -- in fact, we know it often leads us in the opposite direction!

Why do we flock to substance abuse, religion, shopping malls and mental health centers? It's because we're looking for something -- anything -- to make us less afraid and to shield us from the emptiness we find in the way we live our lives. It is the inherent alienation of the ways our civilization has decided to order and define life on earth that lead us to be estranged from the cosmos.

Consumerism -- which lies at the heart of the capitalist system -- has deformed our ability to imagine possibilities. It has warped our creativity by placing all ideas within the context of a strict cost-benefit analysis. If any particular project or program doesn't pay for itself economically, it is immediately tossed into the dust bin.

And with it goes our hopes for finding sanity in an increasingly insane world.


  1. Hi Rambling,
    Really like your blog. I'm thinking this new Facebook Blog Networking thing is a really god way to get your stuff out there, if you're not afraid of Facebook.

    Love me do, this entry do. . .

  2. Makropoulos,
    My wife has an account on FaceBook and, from what I've seen, most of the postings are insipid. While not as bad as Twitter -- Hey everybody, just picked my nose -- it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would interest me.

    I do realize it might be good for pr, but that doesn't motivate me all that much. :-)

  3. perhaps you've already seen the following essay. i found it to be quite thought provoking. don't let his pagan "religious" terminology disuade you from reading it, but look beyond that and i think you'll find it useful. (i'm neither religious nor pagan, nor do i agree with all his politics, but it was still a facinating and useful perspective)

    from the first paragraphs, a succinct excerpt to explain how he uses his "religious" terminology:

    Dion Fortune (Violet Firth Evans), one of the most important magical theorists of the twentieth century, defined magic as “the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” [....]

    The relevance of all this to social change and society in general was pointed out powerfully by the late Ioan Culianu, [who] argued that modern advertising is a form of magic, and proposed that modern consumer societies can be seen as “magician states” in which social control is primarily maintained not by violence but by manipulation through magically charged images. It’s a crucial insight; when people treat, say, fizzy brown sugar water as a source of their identity and human value, their resemblance to fairy-tale characters under an enchantment isn’t accidental. They’re quite literally caught up in a spell.

    Getting Beyond The Narratives: An Open Letter to the Activist Community
    by John Michael Greer

    he also has a very interesting blog, "the archdruid report", which talks about peak oil and his guesstimate of the impact on society. the first day i found it, i spent the next 3 evenings reading the entire archive of posts. he rarely uses his "religious" terminology in the blog. but he knows how to turn a clever phrase, is extremely well read, and very thoughtful to boot.



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