An Anarchist Dream, Consumerism and Some Questions by Phillip Reynes
An Anarchist Dream, Consumerism and Some Questions
Originally writen for NIO found on line at http://negotiationisover.com/
Take a moment to imagine a different sort of life for the average man or woman. Take a moment to dream as an Anarchist would dream. Imagine that you live in a safe pleasant and unpolluted place where you actually know your neighbors and interact with them, it might be a small town, or a suburb, or maybe even a city neighborhood. You can easily walk, bicycle or take effective mass transit to your nearby job, giving you time to think or read as you get there.
The job that you have improves our communities and your personal future, benefits and means something to you and those with whom you interact. Your neighbors and friends value the contribution you make to your community. You actually look forward to Monday. The longer that you are employed the more you learn and the more valuable you become to your employer with a level of pay based upon your needs and the needs of all who both work with you and who use the services or products your job supplies.
Your work schedule leaves you sufficient time to enjoy your friends, family and outside interests. Money isn't a controlling influence in your life because your needs are easily met. Your possessions are few, yet of high quality, thus allowing your home to be smaller and less expensive to own or rent.
You're connected to your surroundings, rather than just dwelling in them, your backyard, for example, provides most of the produce you might need plus a surplus that you can trade with neighbors. You have a stake in your community and participate in local decision making at the Town Council, P.T.A. and other grass roots organizations.. You buy what is necessary in nearby establishments whose owners are known to you and live in your community. If you have children, they walk to a nearby well-funded neighborhood school in safety and then learn authentic social skills.
Occasionally you need to travel to a large store on the edge of town. You do this on a free shuttle bus or perhaps in a simple, older vehicle, the use and costs of which you might share with others or a car that you rent only when you need it, thus preserving for yourself the weeks or months that it takes to earn the thousands of after-tax Dollars that owning a new car would take away from you each year. Your interests, the things that you really like to do with your mind and your hands, all the possibilities of your life, are there to be explored because you have the time.
Yet this is just a dream, a flight of fancy, for today in America this is not a reality or even possible for the average man be you rich or poor. Powerful force work to squash this dream of a sustainable world. Jading people who will then simply dismiss the thought of it and say that this dream is but a utopian fantasy. Whether you live in an isolated small town or prefer your anonymity as well as the multiplicity of things available to you in a big city, these same forces will, no are, eroding your security and ability to make choices for yourself.
Do you think what's outlined at the beginning of this note can only occur in some mythic long-past small town? Before the hegemony of consumerism and bottom-line, Wall Street economics, you could do all of these things anywhere, including in our cities. There is no reason that we cannot live like this again if sufficient people work to identify and dis-empower the forces that promote and profit from limiting our social and economic horizons.
These forces are manifested in our lives as consumerism. People voluntarily hand over their sovereignty as Americans and citizens, as members of the world, in exchange for things and conveniences that sap and paralyze our ability to fight the forces that are weakening our real economy and our ability to affect change in it.
The process began innocently enough. At first they were a growing number of pleasant conveniences for housewives in the 1950s, then a car for everyone with the gradual and inevitable erosion of mass transit, then the ubiquitousness of things and chemical products technologically unimaginable a few decades earlier.
With this came a growing a availability of consumer credit and debt to make things available, the over-dependence on labor-saving devices, total dependence on the car and absolute necessity of full time work, the two income household to pay for more and more, then the importation of cheaper and cheaper goods and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, the com modification of labor and the discarding of loyalties to our citizens and now the decline of service work with professionals next to be downsized....The ongoing disenfranchisement of people from our own community, replaced by commercial transactions with distant strangers...where will it end? When America looks like some faded Third World fragment of the old British Empire? An overpopulated wasteland of pollution, eroded landscapes, worn out infrastructure and hungry people digging into landfills for salvageables? With real unemployment above 20% and manufacturing being outsourced at new levels, this vision is looking more and more tangible. The Middle Class is dying.
We shouldn't allow this to happen. Things may be starting to turn around in our favor. But it takes work and time and attention to details and a willingness to try new things for our own and our children's benefit. There are serious changes ahead. We can control some of these for our benefit or we can just react to them after they have happened—or worse yet, ignore the changes and pretend that they do not matter.
Simply stated, there is a lot of money being made and a lot of power being gathered by the people that promote consumerism. By the capitalist. You pay for it in gradually limited economic mobility, pollution, threats to your health and a declining standard of living, not to mention in the way you and I are made to treat the environment—the animals and plants and ecosystems, as measured by the things that really matter. This is all to say that at the heart of all anarchist thought there is in the end only one principle that counts and that is the elevation of all people to a condition where they can really have the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the hallow tease that opens the declaration of independence but unattainable in a system flawed by capitalism and the worship of consumerism.
Consumerism is economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new goods and services, with little attention to their true need, durability, product origin or the environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal. Consumerism is driven by huge sums spent on advertising designed to create both a desire to follow trends, and the resultant personal self-reward system based on acquisition and the constant need to live for some materially better and richer future. Materialism is one of the end results of consumerism. It inevitably take you outside yourself and the present. It is never about we or us and is always about the “I”
Consumerism interferes with the workings of society by replacing the normal common-sense desire for an adequate supply of life's necessities, community life, a stable family and healthy relationships with an artificial ongoing and insatiable quest for things and the money to buy them with little regard for the true utility of what is bought. An intended consequence of this, promoted by those who profit from consumerism, is to accelerate the discarding of the old, either because of lack of durability or a change in fashion.
It is an often stated that the economy would improve if people just bought more things, bought more cars and spent more money. After 9-11 Bush told us all to go shopping after all. Financial resources better spent on Social Capital such as education, nutrition, housing etc. are spent on products of dubious value and little social return. In addition, the purchaser is robbed by the high price of new things, the cost of the credit to buy them, and the less obvious expenses such as, in the case of automobiles, increased registration, insurance, repair and maintenance costs.
Many consumers run out of room in their homes to store the things that they buy. A rapidly growing industry in America is that of self-storage. Thousands of acres of land good farm land are paved over every year to build these cities of orphaned and unwanted things so as to give people more room to house the new things that they are persuaded to buy. If these stored products were so essential in the first place, why do they need to be warehoused? An overabundance of things lessens the value of what people possess.
Someone said—I don't remember who—that: "You work in a job you hate, to buy stuff that you don't need, to impress people that you don't like." This is what anarchist fight against. Malls have replaced parks, churches and community gatherings for many who no longer even take the trouble to meet their neighbors or care to know their names. People move frequently as though neighborhoods and cities were products to be tried out like brands of some sort—and so moving from one neighborhood to the next is now like switching from Safe way to Whole Foods. .Just one more market choice.
It is impossible to win a war against yourself or your uncontrolled desires. A good example of this is the simplistic materialist psychosis of the bumper sticker: "He who dies with the most toys wins"
Is psychosis too strong a word to use here? I think not. Appreciate the following line of reasoning: "I can imagine it, therefore I want it. I want it, therefore I should have it. Because I should have it, I need it. Because I need it, I deserve it. Because I deserve it, I will do anything necessary to get it." Is this not crazy? We as anarchist are not alone in seeing this but we have a history of aposing it, of calling this what it is, insanity!
This is the artificial internal drive that the advertisers tap into. You "imagine it" because they bombard your consciousness with its image until you then move to step two, "I want it...etc. " This is one of the things that allows people to surrender to consumerism. As a society we have gone from self-sufficiency based on our internal common sense of reasonable limits to the ridiculous goal of Keeping up with the Jones then to stampeding for the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or at least as far as our credit limit or home equity line allows us to go.
Money, relationships its all just a commodity. The environment is now capital for the future of consumption. Animals are just a resource to be exploited, as are eco-system. So to is your mate, after all she is an asset to your social capital as you clime the economic ladder in the quest for more and more.
I have written all this to make you think and, with these thoughts in mind, ask you some questions. Where are your alliances with your mate, with your community, with the ones you love? What would happen to them without money? Would they exist anymore? Would they survive? Would in the end the people around you who are in your life act out of an assessment of risk vs benefit? Is money the basis of your community?
The answers to these questions, if you ask them honestly, will tell you how to be a better anarchist. They will tell you how to be a better person. They will lead you to a better life. If you ask these questions of others what will they answer them? I have asked these questions often of myself and the people around me. I also dream. I dream an Anarchist dream, of a better world.