Saturday, 3 August 2013

CONSUMERIST CULTURE, GLOBALIZATION, AND REVOLUTION

When we live in a culture of consumerism, when our identity is inexorably linked to consumer products and services,even those we do not need but feel that we WANT, when we feel better because we shop, when our social status and social circles are determined by our consumerist lifestyle, then of course this means that people as consumers will tolerate exploitation of wage laborers and destruction of the environment because their value system is all about consumption.

Is the mass consumer necessarily dumb, or apathetic at best? My view is that the consumerist culture permeates society and social classes across the broader spectrum. One reason is that the consumerist culture is now one and linked with the popular culture. It is not that people have no free will, to the degree that human biology and societal constraints permit, but that they have been born into a culture that has thoroughly indoctrinated them.

While I am not suggesting that the solution to consumer culture is to replace it with a spiritual one, I am suggesting that in worshiping consumer products and services people have lower regard for humans, animals the earth itself. Moreover, they give meaning to their lives quantitatively in terms of what they are able to purchase. Again, I am not suggesting that people live in shantytowns and eat meat once a year. However, the quest for accumulation of wealth, the bottomless pit of consumption is a disease that the West, and much of the rest of world as well, are selling as triumph of the marketplace. Where is the triumph exactly when there is no end to consumerism that absorbs the individual and does not permit her/him to see outside these perimeters?

Consumerist nations, presumably democratic with employee rights and regulations, import products from nations that have no such regulations and are lacking in environmental laws. Not all nations have signed on to the various international environmental treaties, largely because they argue to do so would be costly and hold them back from rapid industrial development. The argument is why should the consumerist West dictate to the producing Asians how to regulate labor and the environment?

Moreover, the nations trying to industrialize note that the West has already industrialized, so it is now using environmental issues after it has already made the most detrimental damage to the planet ecological system. The consuming Western nations have no problem buying products from non-Western countries with few labor and environmental laws because Western corporations are either operating directly or through subsidiaries in China, Bangladesh, India, etc. This make the Western corporations richer, so the mother country of the Western corporation is in a difficult position to complain that one of its companies is a polluter and abuses labor rights. In short, globalization, the thorough integration of the world economy makes it difficult to blame a nation for specific policies when in fact it is specific corporations to blame because they are the ones benefiting, as do their consumers.If the West define success by pushing on the rest of the world a consumerist culture, why is it complaining that the rest of the world is trying to catch up by polluting the environment and abusing labor rights? 

The contradictions and hypocrisy with the culture of consumerism do not end with the West demanding that the non-Western nations pay closer attention to labor rights, human rights, safety in the workplace,etc. The biggest contradiction and hypocrisy is that the economic system itself is such that it promises more consumerism but makes less of it possible to the mass consumer because of the appropriation process built into the system and backed by the state. The poor unemployed person in Detroit, Manila or Madrid knows very well that the system is pushing consumerism like a drug dealer is pushing crack. However, only the wealthier individuals can afford the pleasures of consumerism. It is as though the system itself is toying with the individual, playing with her/his mind.

Now with globalization, the instant communications networks, and varieties of information and consumer outlets, the individual around the world feels the pressure of consumerism and its inherent contradictions more than ever. If the system cannot deliver on its own promise, then do people have the right, indeed the obligation as subjects under a social contract, to overthrow it by revolutionary means? The English philosopher John Locke certainly made a case for revolution by arguing that the subjects in the social contract know when the sovereign ruler has violated their rights and interests, so they have the right to demand a new social contract through revolutionary means. Of course, it sounds absolutely absurd that people would carry out a revolution because the existing political economy is not delivering on its promise to permit the majority of the people to enjoy in the bounty of consumerism. But is this not what the capitalist apologists themselves have created as a value system, a culture, a mass mindset? 

2 comments:

prateeksha sharma said...

This is a very fascinating piece of writing and I agree with the rampant consumerism and how it benumbs the mind even to question it.

And of course people have no idea what a revolutionary change entails or how to bring it about because they feel that their media is already doing the needful, whereas the media is only bringing to light more and more of the consumerism- to the extent that even when we see hundreds die infront of our eyes, on our TV screens, we are simply consumers who think- 'thank god it is not us!!!"

prateeksha sharma said...

This is a very fascinating piece of writing and I agree with the rampant consumerism and how it benumbs the mind even to question it.

And of course people have no idea what a revolutionary change entails or how to bring it about because they feel that their media is already doing the needful, whereas the media is only bringing to light more and more of the consumerism- to the extent that even when we see hundreds die infront of our eyes, on our TV screens, we are simply consumers who think- 'thank god it is not us!!!"