Friday, December 26, 2008

"Consumerism is not the problem—capitalism is."

"I think that Christians should stop yakking about consumerism. Consumerism is not the problem—capitalism is. Consumerism is the work ethic of consumption, the transformation of leisure and pleasure into duties. Talking about consumerism is a way of not talking about capitalism, and I've come to think that that's the reason why so many people, including Christians, whine about it so much. It's just too easy a target. There's a long history behind this, but the creation of consumer culture is very much about compensating workers for loss of control and creativity at work, and those things were stolen because capital needed to subject workers to industrial discipline. (I don't, by the way, believe that we inhabit a post-industrial society. Our current regimes of work are, indeed, super-industrial.) Telling people that they're materialistic is both tiresome and wrong-headed: tiresome because it clearly doesn't work, and wrong-headed because it gives people the impression that matter and spirit are antithetical. As Christians, we should be reminding everyone that material reality is sacramental, and that therefore material production, exchange, and consumption can be ways of mediating the divine."

- Eugene McCarraher
Britney Spears and the Downward Arc of Empire
from The Other Journal


Sheae said...

Did you hear about the Church of Stop shopping. They raise awareness about mass consumption.

Michael Conti said...

this is pretty sweet.
if capitalism is the problem, is socialism is the answer? or should we wait and see what monster evolves out of the current times?

Michael Serra said...

Reverand Billy is hilarious, but I think the joke needs to be finished by a vision of what the world would look like alternatively. Perhaps that's our job.

Michael, I think neither. I think part of the answer is continuing to create pockets of resistance to global alternatives to community-centered economies and charitable giving that defy the patronizing paradigm of giving that destroys communion and solidarity, but I cannot feign to be able to answer that question, even in part.

Liberal Protestant intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century produced a vision of the social gospel that, like most forms of Marxist socialism, needed the supervision and direction of the stalwart professional-managerial classes to direct the workers. This certainly is not the right answer, as we have seen what has happened as a result of this. Workers, not stockholders, should direct the futures of companies and families who are supported by those companies through their workers. The thousands who are now jobless did not choose to be jobless.

But at these times, when the West Bank looks as if it will be targeted as the final, ethnocidal solution to Israel's inability to share, your question becomes even more slippery.

I do not celebrate the hope of the advent of Barack Obama on the 25th of December each year, but on the 28th of this year, I am praying and hoping more than ever that government a month from now will not destroy all it puts its hands to. Whether or not this is the case, I, as McCarraher says, anticipate a radically different world through practice in this one.