Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Attack of the Consumerist Zombies!

As is usual on our shared ride to work on Tuesdays, Miss Tessmacher and I got into a lovely discussion this morning. With appropriate tangents and other meanderings, this conversation centered around the idea of capitalism, consumerism, and a benign, nonspecific spirituality. Pretty heady stuff for a 30-minute ride, no?

We started off by bitching about capitalism, relating to a news article one or the other of us had recently read. Capitalism, in its basic (pure?) form isn't inherently bad, or evil, or whatever. It's just an economic system which suggests that people with stuff to sell - products, services, ideas, etc. - can sell that stuff openly, in a "free market," and that people who desire those products or services or ideas pay for them…again, of free choice and in an open market. Not a bad idea. I like it better than the concept of "from those according to ability, to those according to need." Where I balk at capitalism is that concept of "desire." Basically, the "I wants." You know the "I wants," dontcha? "Oooh, look at that (fill in the blank bauble)! I want it!" And so we set about fulfilling that immediate desire, maybe by trade (the bastion of childhood: "I'll trade you a copy of What If? #1 for 12 of your Kiss cards!"), but usually by purchase. Which turns the whole experiment kind of on its head, as the desire for immediate gratification becomes a soulless exercise in the accumulation of money that's used to buy shit.

Decide on your own how to feel about pursuing money in order to gratify commercial urges. Gene Simmons always claims (never jokingly, never) that if you have money lying around you don't need, please, send it to him. That's all well and fine as a cutesy soundbite, but I find the underlying principle to be a little crass. No, more than a little crass, actually. For me, it comes down to this: do I need more money? Nope. I live a great life, one that is rich by almost every conceivable standard. Would I take more money, if it was offered to me? Sure! I'll tell ya, if you're gonna walk right in and say, "Hey, you know that job you used to do for X amount of dollars? Well, we're going to DOUBLE it, with no extra requirements on your part!" then you bet I'll take it. No questions. But, I don't really need it. I'd find ways to spend it, and I'd certainly sock more of it away for retirement, but the blind pursuit of moneymoneymoney! isn't really all that interesting to me.

But SPENDING money IS of pronounced interest to the government! Since citizen spending accounts for two-thirds of our GDP, shit really hits the fan when we stop spending our dough. That's part of what has made this recession so tough: things were generally bad anyway, and then we all kinda just stayed home with our money, at exactly the time we should have been out spending it. And the worse the reports of the recession, the more we stayed home and didn't spend. Vicious circle. But, if our financial train runs on the dollars we pour into it, then we really have become a society of glassy-eyed consumers. "Must go out…spend money…keep economy going!" That's kind of the whole plot of the terrible, terrible John Carpenter movie They Live!: zonko aliens have us asleep and enslaved, only allowing us to survive for what we can do to make their lives better. Only, in real life, zonko aliens have been replaced by actual government people, who tell us basically the same thing. Following 9/11, tons of local and federal leaders urged us to "go about the business" of being Americans, knowing that if we all stayed home for fear of terrorist attacks, the economy would flush down the toilet. That's the most patriotic thing you can do as an American, apparently: go shopping.

What I'm getting at here is that a (perhaps) unintended consequence of capitalism - our American experiment in capitalism - is that we've turned our society into (largely) a mindless pool of consumerist zombies who go and buy things because government and fat-cat profit-driven businesspeople TELL us that that's the only way to fill the empty hole in our soul. And when that hole remains unfilled - and our true needs unfulfilled - then we just…what? Go to the mall. Or, in recent years, shop online. 'Cause, y'know, you don't even need to put on pants to do that. Rather than actually engaging in some sort of spiritual activity (which might run the gamut from meaningful conversation with friends all the way over to daily Mass attendance), we shamble along and shop. Driven to it because government and business tells us that if we don't, the economy will collapse. Sheesh. I think what I'll try to do is go ahead and shop for those things I "need," and avoid the temptation to just go hog-wild and stimulate the economy all on my lonesome. 'Nuff said!


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