Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Befuddled by Consumed

UPDATE: Now reading "Barbarians at the Gate, the Fall of RJR Nabisco," by Bryan Burroughs and John Helyar." It's a great companion piece to "Consumed," as it outlines capitalism's shift from civic good to a culture of consumerism through the eyes of one company that got too interested in money rather than doing good. It's a re-read, of course. I re-read most of my books. It's a fascinating tale, well-told.

Taking on consumer capitalism and finding a “solution” for its woes is, of course, a tall order.

But after reading Benjamin Barber’s captivating yet confusing “Consumed,” I feel at a loss as to what I can do to combat consumer capitalism and – worse yet – what Barber’s solutions are to begin with.

If I’m reading his conclusion properly, he advocates things like massive boycotts – doomed to failure even before they take the vows – and some kind of new-fangled, extra-national, citizen-oriented, world-wide group or consortium meant to circumvent capitalism and thus bring it to its knees.

I guess I’ve got a simpler solution: Turn off the TV and buy only what you need.

That seems rich coming from a guy who bought a trampoline and a love seat this weekend. Did we really need either item? I suppose not. Could the money have been better spent combating hunger and such? Yeah. Am I more of a “culture jammer,” one operating against the grain of consumerism by eschewing TV and most advertising? Yes, sir. Proud of it.

But to Barber, this kind of behavior is part of the problem, because it’s not civic enough. I’m not doing things to help my fellow man avoid the onslaught of advertising, especially that oriented towards children, nor am I encouraging them to cut down on their consumerist ways. Barber goes on at length about how we need a civic solution but succeeds in alienating those who adhere to any religion, painting them all as part of the anti-civic problem and turning to Big Civics – in the form of a nebulous non-national NGO to take on the role of the strict father/nurturing mother that he decries so much in politics.

So I’m confused. His solution seems to just be a retread of what he sees as part of the problem. At least by doing what I’m doing, I’m living in a world that is virtually free of the evils of McDonalds and the Nike Swoosh. And I know there are many like me out there.

I guess what it comes down to is that he’s proposing a secular version of the scriptural advice to live in the world, but not to be of the world.

And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
(Alma 41:11)

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