Tag: consumerism

A-C Meetup: Poor Lovers Like Us–Illusion, Japan, and the Wholly Walton Empire by Galtisalie

Some illusions are not good. Keeping up appearances can be dangerous. We should have the courage to admit that we or those we love or should love are in need. A political party that is too afraid to speak this message is nearly worthless.

I love the honest moment many critics hate in Akira Kurisawa’s One Wonderful Sunday (1947) when the director, through the female co-lead, confesses the act of creating for the public good by turning to us, the viewers, and begging for help for the poor lovers of post-WWII Japan: “There are so many poor lovers like us.”

Generations later, the Japanese left is by and large retaining its moral courage against a denialist onslaught that would have fit right in with Fascist days gone by. In a vicious campaign of moral inversion that would make Karl Rove proud, those who dare to stand by the historical veracity of the exploitation of “comfort women” are themselves scandalized. The current conservative Japanese effort to expunge from history the Japanese military’s mass brutalizing of women during WWII is, needless to say, itself deeply shameful. But this need for maintenance of societal illusion is by no means a new creation. Nor can the U.S. exempt itself from criticism with respect to its own deep and wide illusion at home and abroad, and in particular with respect to Japan.  

In these sad days it is difficult to remember except with sadness that not too long ago a first term presidency was won on a simultaneously discomforting and audacious vision

The title of The Audacity of Hope was derived from a sermon delivered by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright had attended a lecture by Dr. Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, on the G. F. Watts painting Hope, which inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 based on the subject of the painting – “with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope… that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.”

While “her” audacity is commendable, where is “ours”? Can we look on at a person in such a condition and not ask why and then do all we can to change those conditions?

This vision, which was ultimately an appeal to honestly assess the requirements of justice in the service of love, has been diminished through a societal psychosis brought about only in part by an opposition party strategically incapable of telling the truth on anything serious. The Republican Party is built on lying, to be sure. But it has received decades of assistance from the pathetic unwillingness of the U.S.’s so-called liberal party to have the audacity to honestly call even for old time liberal religion and from the pathetic unwillingness of the so-called liberal media to have the audacity to expose lies on a prolonged basis except of the inconsequential variety–such as the covering up of the pathetic sex life of a president with a consenting intern. While I hope most of us would agree that Bill Clinton was a putz, our collective political lives should not turn based on what he does with his. Had he turned to the camera and said “There are so many poor [so to speak] lovers like us” we all should have clapped, laughed, or yawned, but certainly immediately moved on.

It is worth pondering who is really running this sickly thickly syrupy daytime theatre of life in the U.S.–so comfortable with societal psychosis once reserved for dreams of a heavenly one–while we put on our daily generally modest costumes. We have lost the will to pray, oh Lord, for a Mercedes Benz or even a new pickup, although we may still feel this unexplained ungratified compulsion to purchase new gizmos with whatever is left over after the tank of gas that will get us from our trailer to our part time jobs if we can get them.  

It can sometimes be difficult, however, to tell the actors from the playwrights, for even the playwrights have to play dress up, or, more typically, dress down. When you are an imperial family, it is important to look the part, which will vary according to the needs of the occasion. If your power is mainly cultural, with pretentions of divinity, your plumage may need to be bold. While living large you may feel compelled to use your women and children more like props than actors on the stage of your pampered world.

If your power is economic, you may need to dress like regular small business folk on the way to the quaint grand opening of a new five and dime, complete with soda fountain. Your appearance should reflect the business needs of your milieu, even if that means you too must look like you eat tons of that processed corn-shit you sell to us at everyday low prices.

Before I come back to them, I want to mention the customers. You may wholly or partly not realize it, but, if you are reading this, you are likely sitting or standing (pray not driving) in the Wholly Walton Empire. You won’t actually get to “[m]eet the 6 Walton Heirs at the [t]op of the Walmart [e]mpire,” but it is important to their tight hold on power in the U.S. that you and hundreds of millions of species-beings like you remain alienated and not develop class consciousness of them and moral consciousness of the ends and means of their empire.

Now back to our story …

The Walton family are just regular folk, plus lots of money and power. They are at the pinochle of a homestyle capitalist family built on the illusion of choice. They are mere country vendors.

Other small town folk make the stuff that they vend, which we stuff into our bodies and souls to the limit of our credit and physiological and psychological capacity to intake stuff.

These ultra rich “regular folk” use slick mercenary politicians from both U.S. ruling parties to carry out their policies in exchange for chump change and neoliberal-circumscribed political power implemented through the kabuki theatre of “aw shucks, pass me them taters” known as U.S. “democracy.” A broad spectrum of “regular folk,” sometimes already wealthy but usually not “ultra rich,” compete within this mercenary class. Enter folks like Jeb (make no mistake, Jeb does not come to Arkansas because he cares about education)

and “our” very own HRC.

Now what in tarnation does this have to do with Japan?

Drifting Over the Edge 2

We can blame “them” all we want but as my first teacher in politics Walt Kelly had his main character Pogo say “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Leaders and media personalities all have their own motivations and little cabals and interests and careers but in the end they reflect who we are. It isn’t just because we are, a democracy (more or less) but that the cultural ambience always has an effect at least for those who interact on various levels with the world. The more rarified and wealthy a person, of course, the more likely they will be out of touch with everyday interactions. But even then there are influences of the media, the music, the arts (both good an bad) and even the language itself. In fact, as an aside, language itself carries inherent values not only in the meanings but in the rhythms and sounds as well. We are, also, influenced by each other in other ways, body language, facial expressions, clothing, hair styles even moods and “vibes.” We are far more connected than we think. Yet, part of that connection involves a culture that is focused on what I describe as narcissistic isolation. To be more precise, the culture encourages people live separate lives focused on fulfilling fantasies. Work life and “personal” life are largely segregated-a person has to put on a work mask and take it off and be “real” when they home. Work is, usually, a place where arbitrary and often inexplicable goals and values are pursued where mysterious and all-powerful hierarchies largely frame your work life. When we get home we play, like children, at life-play fantasy sports, watch porn, shop for clothes so that we can be our very own dolls, and “unwind” (does anybody wonder why we have to be wound up in the first place).  

Fashion, photography, sexuality and social anxiety?

I probably shouldn’t pull punches here.  I find some of the rhetoric and claims in this video a bit suspect.

Perhaps the oddest part for me is that the videomaker is using imagery that she considers disgusting at least, while arguing (it seems to me) that the ads for children’s clothing used by American Apparel are somehow pornographic.

Now there’s a part of me that sympathizes with this view.  And then there’s the part of me that thinks… didn’t you just manage to make an unpaid ad for this company by using the same images as part of your critique?  Aren’t you also exploiting these children by showing the images, and not only that, but unlike the company that paid the models and their parents, you’re exploiting them without any compensation.  (Then again, by embedding this and drawing attention to it, perhaps I’m doing the same thing?)

It strikes me as a very slippery slope, to say the least.  Before I sound like a pontiff from a religion that doesn’t institutionalize child sexual abuse, let me just embed the video I’m talking about, so you can make up your own mind before I continue my rant.

Don’t view the following video if you think it might contain soft-core pron.

30 Rock and the Arrival of Late Capitalism

Ordinarily I’ve avoided referencing pop culture in my posts, but forgive me again for doing so once more.  I’ve been inspired to write on this topic based on watching this past Thursday’s 30 Rock episode.  Its main idea implies that this naggingly persistent Great Recession was largely a result of those in big business who went for the easy, predictable sell and in so doing completely eliminated the idea of risk.  In the episode, a fictional company that has recently bought NBC’s parent company, General Election, has devised a scheme to generate an endless supply of guaranteed income–namely, hundreds of channels of pay-per-view internet pornography.  The revelation doesn’t sit well with Jack Donaghy, the Alec Baldwin character, a top ranking executive who is used to committing brainpower and elbow grease to creating innovations that sell, regardless of whether they are environmentally friendly, exploitative, gimmicky, or completely useless.  As he puts it, the new company has made his entire skill set obsolete and reduced making money to a robotic perpetual motion machine.

Many pertinent issues are raised in the episode.  Among the most notable is the suggestion as to whether or not consumerism and consumer capitalism ought to be viewed as some sort of necessary evil.  Jack Donaghy is frequently an unsympathetic character on the show, but he does represent the very American idea that buckets of money can be made for those clever and resourceful enough to come up with a product or concept the public will clamor for, regardless of how stupid, pointless, or wasteful it might be.  This has indeed been the criticism many of us on the Left have made over the years when we contemplate our obsession with the acquisition of possessions to no real positive end.   When played off the idea that even necessary evil has been corrupted by an unimaginative scheme which promises guaranteed rates of return and no possible margin for error, the larger question is whether our current economic downturn was, in part, caused by risk-averse thinking.  Have we exchanged necessary evil for unnecessary evil?

Instead of taking a chance and risking gaining either great wealth or a setback, it appears that some have ventured to circumvent the old ways.  Though I am certainly no fan of the capitalist system, it is my understanding that, based on its rules, anyone and everyone is given the opportunity to try their hand at making money.  Some efforts succeed and some efforts fail, certainly, but that’s just the nature of it.  Many have made fortunes and lost them outright and many have achieved much in the way of capital through the process of trial, error, and dogged determination.  But when that enterprising spirit and simultaneous revelation that one achieves when realizing that life itself is a series of ups and downs—when that become obscured by a desire to take the easy way out—then we all are simultaneously inhuman and poorer in the end.

Whether or not we believed that the American Dream was a dream deferred or a bad dream in the first place, it is interesting to ponder whether it has been royally short-circuited.  To be sure, there were certain economic theorists and historians who had long proposed that something like this was an inevitability.  Those in particular who espoused the theory of late capitalism would seem to be validated by the episode’s premise.  We who have long spoken out against the injustices and inequalities of the existing system have nonetheless learned to live with it, and the idea that a brand new enemy may have taken the place of the old is certainly worth contemplating.  Still, predicting the ultimate demise of capitalism is a bit like setting a date for the end of the world, if not the Second Coming.  As it is written, brothers and sisters, you don’t need anyone to write to you about times and dates.  For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  

Examining Happiness Beyond a Gendered Lens

Commentators have variously chimed in over the years, and from a variety of different ideological persuasions, regarding the question of whether the Feminist movement has done women and society at large more harm than good.  Recently, the argument has been couched in terms of whether women’s collective happiness has suffered with increased equality, and as a result, whether efforts towards gender parity are to blame.  Some columnists have returned to the same old arguments against women’s rights that have been used for centuries and others have placed the yoke upon basic human selfishness, greed, and societal narcissism.  I myself fall into the latter category.

To begin my remarks, I don’t honestly believe for a second that Feminism has made women more unhappy, or that somehow the old ways were superior, or even that women are innately less able to survive in a draining world of leap-frog and sharp elbows.  The survey data cited which indicates that basic life satisfaction has declined over time must be qualified first.  It must be noted that so must of the conclusions drawn are made as a kind of blanket accusation upon everyone, when they really only apply to a relatively limited slice of the population—professionals, middle class and above, usually white, highly educated, big city residents.  Yet, since regrettably so much dialogue in mainstream woman-centric media is dictated by the privileged, if not in all mainstream media, the accuracy of the results are taken as gospel and never thought to be extended to anyone beyond the immediate audience.  Who knows if this same attitude pertains to working class women, for example.  

If one is seeking blame, of course, it can be safely assigned to consumerism, which states that one is what one buys, or rather what one wishes to buy.  If one is seeking blame, one can place it upon the shoulders of a kind of toxic materialism whereby some arbitrary standard of living is the ultimate goal.  In that vein, I recall the story of a close relative of mine, who was raised in a family where love was purely conditional, and was only granted at all when she jumped one hurdle after another—first rising up the ladder, then making more money, then accumulating another in a series of never ending status symbols.  The expectation turned into a  sibling rivalry between herself and her brother that led to a most unfortunate competition between them, whereby those who wished to have the affections and blessings of Mom and Dad knew that it only arrived in the form of dollar signs, new houses, new cars, and a thousand others ways in which those who have money flaunt it.  Her case may be extreme, but I think even muted forms of this disease are prevalent among many.

In the column I cited above, Madeleine Bunting writes,

The problem, Twenge believes, derives in part from a generation of indulgent parents who have told their children how special they are. An individualistic culture has, in turn, reinforced a preoccupation with the self and its promotion. The narcissist is often rewarded – they tend to be outgoing, good at selling themselves, and very competitive: they are the types who will end up as Sir Alan’s apprentice. But their success is shortlived; the downside is that they have a tendency to risky behaviour, addictive disorders, have difficulties sustaining intimate relationships, and are more prone to aggressive behaviour when rejected.

The narcissism of young women could just be a phase they will grow out of, admits Twenge, but she is concerned that the evidence of narcissism is present throughout highly consumerist, individualistic societies – and women suffer disproportionately from the depression and anxiety linked to it.

In my own life among young professionals I notice similar findings to that of the survey, but not to such an alarming degree.  The disorders of those who live lives of quiet desperation rarely lend themselves to screaming headlines and panicked rhetoric.  Rather, I see a group of overworked, highly driven, heavily motivated, but overburdened toilers desperately seeking to make a name for themselves.  At this stage in their careers, those in their late twenties pushing thirty like me are on the path towards greater visibility, an increase in salary, and the ability to achieve fullest satisfaction based on the fact that so much of their own self-worth is heavily tied up in achievement.  If they don’t already have a Master’s Degree at this point, they are surely already enrolled and taking courses, or are at minimum making plans to be enrolled somewhere very soon.  Self-worth is a positive thing at its face, but I have always felt it needs to come from within, not from the accumulation of merit badges, skill sets, and embossed pieces of paper.        

Yet, as they put in unnecessarily long hours and place their careers first, many end up also denying their basic needs as humans.  To be sure, I am not arguing that women who put their careers first ought to return to the days of subservient housewifery.  I think that as we have had more equality in the workplace, to say nothing of the rest of society as a whole, the results have been overwhelmingly positive for all.  What I am saying, though, is that letting one’s work consume one’s life is an excellent way to reach burn out and to sacrifice one’s health in the process.  A recent article in Politico detailed the sad demise of a Congressional staffer who put in 100 hour workweeks and eventually perished from the stress of her occupation.  For about two days the topic was incorporated into some modest debate, then everyone moved on to something else entirely.

I firmly believe we are meant to be social with each other, we are meant to date and be in close relationships, and we are meant to find a balance between our obligations and our free time.  I myself have engaged in conversation with many people my own age who haven’t just pushed back the date at which they intend to be married, assuming that they even want to be married at all, they’ve also filled their schedules so full that they simply don’t have time to devote to look for a relationship or to socialize with friends.  Delayed gratification is fine, of course, within reason.  If this were some temporary state of being, much like buckling down at college and studying for finals, it could be excused, but far too many people live their lives as though they are preparing to take their final examinations.  I don’t think the Grim Reaper makes one take the Death Preparation Test (DPT) upon condition of being accepted into the world of the deceased.

We are a highly individualistic people, yes, but I have long believed that this degree of individualism works against us time in and time out.  More recently, the reason we can’t seem to agree upon the most basic of reforms is that too many of us are looking out for number one.  Over the course of my life I have personally observed a thousand inspiring speakers, each saying some variation of the same thing, namely that we have got to think more collectively rather than individually if we ever wish to make the next leap forward.  They have some fine old company in this endeavor, beginning arbitrarily with Jesus, and moving as far forward or backwards in time as one wishes.  And yet, the problem persists.

What is the solution?  Well, solutions are easy enough, provided people adopt them.  Learning that we are finite beings with a finite amount of energy is a beginning.  Closely linked with it is the realization that work ought to be provide us a sense of satisfaction of having achieved a job, a paycheck, of course, and a resulting sense of pride in having done a job well rather than a ceaseless Sisyphean struggle.  Acknowledging that it really doesn’t matter how many committees you happen to be a member of is another.  Recognizing that one shouldn’t settle for good enough while also taking into account that learning how to say no is an essential life skill is still another.  After a time, some people really think that they are their resumes or the letters either before or after their name, and you can be sure they’ll want you to know it, too.  But namely, we’ve got to understand that it’s not about us:  it’s not our careers, or our paychecks, or our starter homes, or the Holy Grail of the corner office someday, or any of these superficial concerns.  

For too many of us, for every step up we take, with it comes the compulsion to accumulate accessories.  Our possessions often weigh us down; they do not enrich us.  Rethinking the idea of achievement and success is where we’re really lacking and until we even consider dipping our toe into the way things could be, expect more unhappiness for everyone concerned.  We might not be equal, but we will be equally miserable until we choose to change.

Please join me in observing Buy Nothing Day tomorrow

Is there a tradition any more backward or disgusting practiced across America today than that of Black Friday?  Hordes of consumers mob stores for great deals on useless “goods” like new TVs or Playstations or clothes manufactured by Southeast Asian or Central American children in sweatshops.

We’re in a pretty messed up place politically and environmentally.  Multinational corporations and financial firms pretty much own the government.  Global warming is not only a real and present danger, but rapidly accelerating.  There is a plastic “raft” in the Pacific Ocean bigger than Texas.  And as people we’re constantly being taken advantage of to make this situation last longer so that corporate profits and bonuses can climb even higher than they are now.

The strong link between these two things – our society’s consumerism and the terrible political, social, environmental, and economic situations we’re in – demands action.  By buying things from these corporations and feeding into this model of an economy, we only encourage it.  So I’m asking you:  please join me in buying nothing tomorrow.

Bill Moyers Journal – Andrew J. Bacevich

If you missed the PBS Bill Moyers Journal, this past friday night, or if not on your local PBS station, this is an Interview that should be seen, absorbed and discussed!

For Retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich, Conservative, lays out, very clearly, the wrong direction this country has set it’s course on which is leading it towards destruction or a meaningless society as others fill the void of the real World Leadership!

Death by Consumption

As long as 2000 years ago, the Maya had a great empire- equal to the Egyptians.

Then suddenly, in fact VERY suddenly, relatively speaking, they left most of their cities and moved back to a very simple lifestyle, what was left of them. They left behind brilliant cities, great art, and the remains of a very rich civilization.

The reason? conspicuous consumption. Sound familiar?

If you’re as tired as I am of huge gas guzzlers, wasted resources, and other useless symptoms of excess, maybe it’s time to learn some history. In fact, it may be really important.

Significantly Insignificant

I hate malls.  And I especially hate what’s known in my area as ‘the mall’, although i live pretty much equidistant from two.  We only go when there’s a need.  And by ‘need’, I mean that we ‘need’ the right jewelry to go with our fancy party dress, or our ipod needs something specific that we can only get from the source.  These are relative needs, but if you’ve recently parented a 14-year-old girl, you’ll agree that ‘need’ is apt.  

So ‘the mall’ has decided to spiff up its image, courting some higher-end anchor stores to fill some pretty costly vacancies.  I understand that their need, also relative, is real.  The mall has been there for nearly 30 years, and those empty stores probably do cost us all in the long run.  I don’t pretend to understand such high-falutin’ economic principles….or the high-falutin’ anchor stores, for that matter…but I’m sure there is some truth to ‘the mall’ management’s need to fill those stores.

We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet . . .

Too many New Year’s Eves will come and go before humanity drinks from that Cup of Kindness Robert Burns spoke of in his classic poem, “Auld Lang Syne”.  Tragically, that moment may never come to pass, but if it does someday, it will be because people in this troubled world finally listened to poets, writers, singers and songwriters, and heeded the words of truth and wisdom they’ve been offering ever since the first warrior of the first king died for nothing on the first battlefield.        

In Artists of Resistance, Howard Zinn emphasizes the social and political importance of modern poets and painters, singers, songwriters, novelists and playwrights, for they can speak to the world with an artistic eloquence that transcends standard political discourse.  Their ability to communicate universal truths on a deeply personal level through compelling poetry, prose and music is not only inspiring, it insulates them against reactionary assault as they defend the oppressed and condemn their oppressors.

As our world descends into chaos, artists are struggling to reclaim the influence they once had on society, but their voices can rarely be heard above the din of distracting noise blaring day and night from several billion tv’s, radios, CD players, iPods, computer games, cell phones, and other electronic wonders purchased with such compulsion and “paid for” with plastic.  Artists will always strive to be the conscience of the human race, but hundreds of millions of human beings corporate propaganda targets have been psychologically conditioned with such pervasive intensity by Madison Avenue marketers that reactionary economic and political elites from Washington to Beijing no longer have to oppress them, they’re oppressing themselves.  

Eddie Vedder has some thoughts to share with us regarding this dehumanizing self-oppression that’s been spreading like a viral infection through the bloodstream of humanity . . .