Thursday, April 07, 2005

Shopping your way to Anti-consumerism

I was reading the great website Path To Freedom which has great references, thoughts and articles on voluntary simplicity, permaculture and living off the grid. Anyway, this article caught my eye and away I went.

The Rebel Sell Why is it that we hate consumerism, but we continue to shop?

One of the most important quotes in the article is the following
In fact, the critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumerism for more than 40 years.

So, why is it that magazines like Adbusters, movies like the Fight Club, social critiques, enforce consumerism? The article posits the theory, from the 60's about what consumerism requires to succeed.

1. Capitalism requires conformity in the workers. Capitalism is one big machine; the workers are just parts. These parts need to be as simple, predictable, and interchangeable as possible. One need only look at an assembly line to see why. Like bees or ants, capitalist workers need to be organized into a limited number of homogeneous castes.

2. Capitalism requires conformity of education. Training these corporate drones begins in the schools, where their independence and creativity is beaten out of them—literally and figuratively. Call this the Pink Floyd theory of education.

3. Capitalism requires sexual repression. In its drive to stamp out individuality, capitalism denies the full range of human expression, which includes sexual freedom. Because sexuality is erratic and unpredictable, it is a threat to the established order. This is why some people thought the sexual revolution would undermine capitalism.

4. Capitalism requires conformity of consumption. The overriding goal of capitalism is to achieve ever-increasing profits through economies of scale. These are best achieved by having everyone consume the same limited range of standardized goods. Enter advertising, which tries to inculcate false or inauthentic desires. Consumerism is what emerges when we are duped into having desires that we would not normally have.

Later the article goes on to show how in the movie "American Beauty" the anti-hero Lester does when he rebels against modern consumerism, is still purchase goods... the car he buys makes him a man. Again, from the article
American Beauty illustrates, with extraordinary clarity, is that rebelling against mass society is not the same thing as rebelling against consumer society.

So, how does this relate to Singapore? What you mean the country whose national hobby is "shopping"? When you can't get a good enough deal here in Singapore on Soap, Toilet Paper and Toothpaste you get in the car, drive over the border to Johor Bahru Malaysia, the whole citywide equivalent of Costco? What JB too passé? Well, jump on a plane to BKK (Bangkok) on a 99 Sing dollar return so you can do your shopping there.

Living in the heart of a city of 4 million people, in an 1800 square foot apartment, with a balcony of only 3 foot square, does not allow us to be self sufficient. We must shop for certain things or we can not survive. How does one draw the line between needs and wants in a consumer society? A some what rhetorical question perhaps, but one I should do a better job of exploring.



1 comment:

Medjool said...

So this is a really good point. When I was in my college social action group sponsoring "Buy Nothing Days" we always seemed to believe that Americans were the worst of the consumers, that the rest of the world was satisfied in their mud huts. While surely Americans are still the worst...the Taiwanese are quite impressive shoppers. I not only see a lot of buying here, but buying of the very, very best, most expensive, most fancy (or fangy I should say).

I find myself wrapped up in it, too. It is so easy to say, well I'll just stop over at the mall and pick something up. The thought processes behind buying crap begin to go unchecked.

Sometimes I wonder if this inner drive to buy weighs me down more than the stuff itself.

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