Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bring back the opium dens

Hong Kong has been malled to death...the mall saturation is such that you can walk half a mile and go through three malls that sell the same brands. There is virtually no escape. If you walk at street level you choke on traffic pollution, if you take a footbridge you are herded through a mall. The city is designed around her malls...and pedestrians can't avoid the visual pollution of wall-to-wall advertisements and consumer goods on display.

Consumerism is a devastating addiction. Marx called religion 'the opium of the people', if consumerism is the new religion, i wonder what the old fellow would compare it to.
Because in my opinion, opium seems a fairly benign substance, and processing poppies to extract a numbing substance produces little waste. I am no expert on the extraction process, but I would rather walk through a poppy field than by an oil refinery, or a river that has turned red because of toxic waste. As to those who smoke opium...well, they are probably so content that they can easily do without the latest mobile phone or Gucci bag.

No, consumerism is not the opium that paralyzes the masses, it's more like cancer.
I would say...bring back the opium dens...

An important contribution to the critique of consumer capitalism has been made by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler. Stiegler argues that capitalism today is governed not by production but by mass consumption, and that the techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle, leading to hyperconsumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery. Stiegler discusses consumer capitalism in his article "The Disaffected Individual".

Consumer capitalism has a more pernicious effect on the planet than any other stage of capitalism ever had. In this lies its weakness.
In the 60s,70s and early 80s the labour movement was well organised and successfully fought for better working conditions and higher salaries. But then capitalists exploited the opportunities offered by globalization, and simply transferred their production lines to poorer countries, where workers could be paid less, were less organised and had less bargaining power.
Now capitalism can only survive by exploting new markets, by cohercing people to absorb its over-production through reckless consumption. The ball is now in our corner again. Our class identity has been undermined, but some weapons are still in our hands. We have been turned into consumers, but this doesn't mean total subjugation to the diktats of consumer capitalism. As consumers we have a huge power, we can fight corporate capitalism more successfully by not buying than by demanding higher wages (we all know how impotent the unions are, and how difficult it is to achieve our goals as a working class) But we could work less, if we drastically reduced our demand for consumer goods. They make us work 8/10 hours a day to afford stuff we could do without. We could live more happily if we stopped working ourselves to death in order to satisfy a desire that has been manufactured and imposed on us.

If we stopped buying all the useless junk that fills shopping malls around the world, capitalism would enter in a state of crisis.
Yes, they can brainwash people in developing countries, but again, wages in those countries would have to be raised for them to afford the latest electronic product or designer bag. In the long run, the profits made by the fat cats would be seriously affected.

Stop buying...and put the fat cats on a diet!

Link to Bernard Stiegler's book The Disaffected Individual. You can read a translation of the third chapter here.

No comments: