Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crises of consumerism


[T]he fiscal crisis in Greece has shown the price that governments pay when they lose credibility in the markets.

Like every culture, consumerism has its own language, and every time it speaks, it speaks of capital.

Consumerism, having discarded its conspicuous pose, is capital in its populist form. Subsequently, consumption became life, and work its sustenance. Everything that is real is realized through the market.

The democratization of capital was the inevitable outcome of that threat posed to capital by democracy, which was met in the crucible of 20th century politics.

In the great contest between cultures, a power culture emerged which consolidated capital between two populist forms: a socialism, and a consumerism. Where socialism played to certain needs, consumerism invented them.

The totalizing impulse of capital broke free from the state, and an unfettered consumerism marked "the end of history."

History begins anew with each autonomous culture met by capital; it records no greater threat in its past.


In every society where a culture of consumerism prevails, the whole of life succumbs to that class of investors enlisted to further the aims of capital.

In the United States, the accumulation of capital through the health care system created a commodity so expensive that the government assumed the cost of purchasing it for everyone. This price paid to investors contributed directly to the very deficit now cited as justification for cuts to those portions of the health system not yet paying dividends. Such "entitlements," consumerism asserts, are really just commodities that the public have mistaken for rights; after all, no one is "entitled" to commodities.

The ballooning federal deficit expands upward from a landscape cratered by capital. "National security" at every level is cleared through Wall St. -- which is precisely why there is no price too great to pay for it: "freedom," after all, "isn't free"! The kind of labor arbitrage accomplished through the free mobility of capital makes tax revenue the luxury of whatever developing dictatorship can guarantee growth at 15 percent, while every other government depends on loans from the very investor class they go deeper into debt to enrich.

The same force that was once conspicuous in its consumption has since recruited us to its cause, having defeated its cultural rivals. But history begins anew with each effort at an autonomous culture.


Jack Crow said...

Christ, this is good.

Jack Crow said...

Linking consumption, gaming and messaging:

Michael Dawson said...

Christ, this is terrible. The democratization of capital? WTF are you talking about?

And there is no such things as a "consumer," at least not in the sense you're attempting. Hence, "consumerism" and "consumer culture" are not merely idiocy on stilts, but also a very deep and destructive penetration of rank capitalist bias into purportedly leftist analysis of how the world works.

Look before you leap, please.

Coldtype said...

Michael read more carefully.

Michael Dawson said...

Read what more carefully? There is no such thing as a "culture of consumerism" and its wasn't the general will that invited capital to dominate the whole of life. There is corporate marketing, and there are people trying to live their lives under its onslaught. There most certainly has never been any "democratization of capital."

This is confused gibberish that buries the point. Alas, this is what has passed for analysis on this topic among us lefties ever since Marcuse thought every Negro had a Cadillac...

JRB said...

This must be one of those posts where you either love it, or you hate it, or you think it's just okay!

Richard said...

Well, to say there's no such thing as a "culture of consumerism" is itself just fucking stupid. I'm not sure about the "democratization of capital" point myself--I'm not sure what it means, for one. But perhaps there might have been a marginally less dickheaded way you could have argued your point?

Anonymous said...

that link seems to imply that filling an empty gas tank means the car will never be an abandoned hunk of metal. it will. our desire to stretch our own capital doesn't change that.
regarding figure 1, i don't intend to wipe my ass every time i decide to take a shit. but alas, it keeps happening.
further, language is dynamic, not static. the fact that consumption was a disease at the turn on the 20th century does not prove that it's contemporary meaning is somehow meaningless or wrong.
finally, i tend not to trust writers who ride the term "big business". if you wanna play "kill ideas with semantics", i'd say "big business" is a better target that "consumer", which denotes something we all clearly understand. (even YOU understood the intended meaning!!!)

JRB said...


The image that comes to my mind concerning a "democratization of capital" is a mob trampling a security guard at a discount department store. Somehow, this sums up the spirit of the age, in contrast to those that came before it.

I also have a technical definition to offer, but let us content ourselves to reflect on this image for right now.

Jack Crow said...

It's taken me a while to understand the direction from which Michael appears to be coming. I write "appears," because I'm only really guessing.

A while back, MD really took rather violent umbrage with a SMBIVA sentiment I expressed, namely that whimbling about the evils of television doesn't do much about the existing effects of television.

I had no context for how vociferously he responded, didn't see it coming, and as a fan of his website, was a bit taken aback.

MD's approach seems superstructural - that is, he places the entire onus of degradation on the ruling class, and in the superstructure of relations they enforce. On the two occasions where I've seen him overreact to positions, it's been a reaction to perceived assertions that the laboring classes bear some responsibility for their own conditions, most specifically as consumers (consumers of imagery, and consumers belong to a consumptive culture).

In neither case has the assertion actually been how MD read it, but I think he's honestly responding as if these objects of his ire are describing the material conditions of laborers and consumers as self-victimizations.

JRB said...

It is wise to inquire into the meanings of others; it is foolish to insist on your own.

Michael Dawson said...

It is also wise to inquire into the logic and origins of one's concepts, not to mention one's arguments. People are product users, not consumers. If you can't get that into your head and see why doing so matters, well, I've said my piece. Is "employee" your chosen term for talking about workers, though?

A democratization of capital, if the phrase has any meaning, would be a spread of serious investment stakes and interests throughout a population. That has not happened.

As to blame, Jack and I can't make minds meet, as he says. He thinks putting most of the blame on the overclass is somehow saying the masses have zero. He can't seem to free himself from that loop.

Meanwhile, talking about "culture" rather than power being the engine of "consumption" (meaning off-the-job activities) is a thesis. To say it is to blame the masses more than the capitalists.

This post is both wrong and sloppy, despite the familiarity of its pseudo-leftist jargon-tossing.

Jack Crow said...

"As to blame, Jack and I can't make minds meet, as he says. He thinks putting most of the blame on the overclass is somehow saying the masses have zero. He can't seem to free himself from that loop."

I've neither thought not said that. That's you reading into it.

But thank you for at least confirming my reading of your complaint, or its origins:

"To say it is to blame the masses more than the capitalists."

JRB said...

This post is both wrong and sloppy, despite the familiarity of its pseudo-leftist jargon-tossing.

Well, perhaps it departs from your preferences, but I like to think that's because I'm not you, and subsequently have preferences of my own, thanks to my own circumstances and concerns. Hence a blog in which I articulate them!

Anyway, that's normal. What is abnormal to me is your strange insistence on conflict where there needn't be one, as is the case when two people don't understand each other's meanings in the first place!

Coldtype said...

JRB this episode neatly sums up what I find most tiresome about many of us on the left.. we're precious, delicate creatures who are far too easily offended.

Richard said...

Who exactly is it that you think you're talking to, Michael?

JRB said...


This is why I don't really identify "left": left and right are positions in parliament, and it's only in parliament (or analogous institutions) that you get this kind of posturing.

I do think it's necessary to support left positions in parliament, at least insofar as you have that and nothing else, but increasingly I don't identify with "the left" at all -- only to the extent that others do in their pursuit of basic survival.

I think the spectrum of concerns we should really be focused on is vertical, not horizontal.

zencomix said...

So, I don't "consume" a taco, I "product use" a corn based commodity?

It's a dessert topping and a floorwax!