Joseph Heath put it very superbly. The modern condition, modern marketing and how criticism of mass society ends up increasing the cycle of consumerism. How books like “No Logo” by Naomi Klein actually make us more brand conscious and how this societal dissent is which involves an careful weaving of the concept of individuality laced with traces of American exceptionalism acts a powerful economic-cultural motor:
We find ourselves in an untenable situation On the one hand, we criticize conformity and encourage individuality and rebellion. On the other hand, we lament the fact that our ever-increasing standard of material consumption is failing to generate any lasting increase in happiness. This is because it is rebellion, not conformity, that generates the competitive structure that drives the wedge between consumption and happiness. As long as we continue to prize individuality, and as long as we express that individuality through what we own and where we live, we can expect to live in a consumerist society….
…Once we acknowledge the role that distinction plays in structuring consumption, it’s easy to see why people care about brands so much. Brands don’t bring us together, they set us apart. Of course, most sophisticated people claim that they don’t care about brands—a transparent falsehood. Most people who consider themselves “anti-consumerist” are extremely brand-conscious. They are able to fool themselves into believing that they don’t care because their preferences are primarily negative. They would never be caught dead driving a Chrysler or listening to Celine Dion. It is precisely by not buying these uncool items that they establish their social superiority. (It is also why, when they do consume “mass society” products, they must do so “ironically”—so as to preserve their distinction.) Read More:http://this.org/magazine/2002/11/01/the-rebel-sell/
Centrally, an ideology whether conservative or liberal is built on decisions that generalize about human nature, history or the origins of the individual. As opposed to someone else’s similar efforts. We have had a cycle between left and right for some time now, though the right seems to hold the upper hand through taking over think-tanks and political parties. Ideology is almost almost indestructible. Its the basis of the modern service industry. The rhetoric of a Naomi Klein is not that distinct from a Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter. Is it possible for politics to be less ideologized and avoid the fear and terror buttons. Doubtful. Is there a whole other political language available, outside the left-right (and right-wrong) framework, that’s seems to assume a life of its own. But are not these wars, this lust to enjoy the tyranny of the majority simply acting as a reinforcement for our consumer culture? In fact, they are just competing visions of American exceptionalism, with the human being accorded the star role as center of the universe.
Salutin:Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French philosopher, psychologist and journalist, died in 1961. He lived through the intense ideologies of the Soviet and Nazi years. He was on the left. He went so far as to defend some of Stalin’s policies because they fit the requirements of History, capitalized. But he was willing to rethink, toward the end of his shortened life, when he said progress “is not so much a movement toward a homogeneous or a classless society as the quest . . . for a life which is not unlivable for the greatest number.”
What a modest, achievable goal. It’s strange how much harder it is to compose a phrase like that than to riff off some “liberal” or “conservative” clichés. If someone like Merleau-Ponty can get there, others should at least make the effort. Read More:http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/978758–salutin-enough-with-the-right-and-the-left
As Joseph Heath asserts,what we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction.For example,there’s no such thing as a green car. Spokesmen like James Woolsley has a special plug in Prius not available to the average consumer. That’s distinction. Consider that most pollution occurs not on the roads but in producing these vehicles. And the The pollution costs of making huge SU
e less than a small Honda. The car is the issue, not the type of car. Woolsely is distinct in his choice, but the message is still consumerist.As for Nissan’s claim of zero emissions on its Leaf its not true. Most of America’s electricity comes from coal. Satistics from the Dept. of Energy show coal producing about 2. pounds of CO2 per kWh electricity.
If the Nissan Leaf gets the full 100 miles per charge, the CO2 output will be 50 pounds per 100 miles.” In city driving, this represents about a 24% reduction over the Fit, but if we head to the highway, the carbon emissions of the Leaf are exactly the same as the Fiesta, which achieves 40 mpg fuel efficiency. The only difference at this point? A Fiesta can drive around 480 miles without stopping while Leaf owners enjoy 7 hour “fuel stops” as they sip energy with the 3.3 kW on-board charger.” Plus, the Leaf weighs a good 1,000 more than a Fit.
So, one can feel smugly superior to everyone driving gas powered cars. But, you must realize that mining, smelting and refining lithium is hardly green and the process alone is possibly just as destructive to the environment as the environmental damage electric cars will allegedly mitigate. But owning one will certainly be distinctive, a trophy and for men a substitute for a geek mistress.
Thomas Frank: As countercultural rebellion becomes corporate ideology, even the beloved Buddhism of the Beats wins a place on the executive bookshelf. In The Leader as Martial Artist (1993), Arnold Mindell advises men of commerce in the ways of the Tao, mastery of which he likens, of course, to surfing. For Mindell’s Zen businessman, as for the followers of Tom Peters, the world is a wildly chaotic place of opportunity, navigable only to an enlightened “leader” who can discern the “timespirits” at work behind the scenes. In terms Peters himself might use were he a more more meditative sort of inspiration professional, Mindell explains that “the wise facilitator” doesn’t seek to prevent the inevitable and random clashes between “conflicting field spirits,” but to anticipate such bouts of disorder and profit thereby. …
Tet, going back to Thorstein Veblen, the examples have changed in 100 years but the essential premise remains. property is accumulated, not just to satisfy our basic physical needs, but centrally, for its honorific qualities. It is to serve as a basis for invidious comparison, not just with respect to quantity, but also quality. Veblen said this sort of accumulation is collectively selfdefeating- even electric houses and green homes- for the simple reason that not everyone can be above average. The result is that, regardless of how much the standard of living rises, “the normal, average individual will live in chronic dissatisfaction with his present lot”(Veblen). The problem can be expressed through the notion of status: Status; self-respect, esteem, honor, and merit, even Maslows’s self actualization, is basically an ordinal ranking system, and the quest for status is a zero-sum game.
You can see that American exceptionalism contains a complicated and often contradictory set of assumptions. Do these assumptions stand up to the test of logical and empirical analysis? I do not think that they do, but one must face that fact that exceptionalism is an idea that has thrived in American society, though with many ups and downs in its levels of support. Ideas do influence human society, so in this sense American exceptionalism may be important in explanations of how Americans think and how they have acted.
The problem with cultural dissent in America isn’t that it’s been co-opted, absorbed, or ripped-off. Of course it’s been all of these things. But it has proven so hopelessly susceptible to such assaults for the same reason it has become so harmless in the first place, so toothless even before Mr. Geffen’s boys discover it angsting away in some bar in Lawrence, Kansas: It is no longer any different from the official culture it’s supposed to be subverting. The basic impulses of the countercultural idea, as descended from the holy Beats, are about as threatening to the new breed of antinomian businessmen as Anthony Robbins, selling success & how to achieve it on a late-night infomercial. Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/frank-dissent.html