I feel so dirty.

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at gte.net
Thu Dec 31 12:35:24 PST 1998

Snit wrote:

> Doug wrote:
> >Barbara Ehrenreich used to have a very convincing rap that the usual left
> >line about the desire to consume was horribly moralizing and austere and
> >missed the pleasurable aspects of buying stuff.
> She developed this further in _Fear of Falling_ where she points out that
> there is this tension between this moralizing Puritanical ethos that says
> "save, don't spend, and if you must do it 'properly' by investing" and the
> late capitalist consumer ethos of spend, spend, spend. We need both under
> contemporary conditions.
> >But I can't imagine left
> >politics ever being popular if it remains so drenched in the hair-shirt
> >ethic of the Adbuster/voluntary simplicity crowd.
> Well, the voluntary simplicity crowd have their own form of consumption do
> they not? Look, it's lke this. When I was playing Suzie Homemaker I very
> much loved coupons, rebates, and figuring out ways to save money -- or
> rather, figuring out ways to rip off the system. For what could be more
> satisfying than figuring out how to get something for nothing. I was
> elated when I'd see Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo on sale for $2.00. I'd
> gather all my $1.00 off coupons, buy me up a few bottles, and then soak of
> the UPC codes and get my $1 refunds too. Thrilling. I got them for free!
> I cheated the system. And Peter, I love asserting my consumer rights and
> getting things for free, even though I know how absolutely NOT the point it
> all is, in the end anyway.
> That's how I understand the voluntary simplicity crowd. They're playing
> games within the context of a system of rules that they never really
> ultimately question or challenge. If they didn't have all of us pathetic
> consumers to define themselves against and feel superior to, where would
> they be?

Certainly there's some truth in what you write, Snit (isn't there always?) but I think you're under-estimating what going on, at least with some of them.

The fact is, materialism DOES have it limits. The hippies were one expression of that realization, and look how much a couple thousand of them scared the bejezus out of the big cigars, until a new wave of bc-wannabees showed how readily hippiehood and its spin-offs could be marketed to the millions.

It's one thing to have the have-nots revolt against a system that exploits them and denies them satisfaction. It's far more devastating to have the heirs of affluence turn their backs and say the game is just a waste of time. It delegitimates the whole affair from a truly unexpected direction.

Now, this is not to deny what either you or Doug has to say. There's a lot of baggage with this movement, plus the tendency to impose "simplicity" on those who aren't volunteering for anything. But if we're clear enough ourselves on the limits of this viewpoint, we shouldn't be so deeply, reflexively dismissive that fail to take advantage of the questions it raises, and the breaking of ranks it represents.

After all, the whole move from manufaturing to services, from hardware to software, etc. is a reflection of the higher value that lies in experience as opposed to things. (Provided you've got enough things to eat, of course!) This shift undermines and exposes some of the "commonsense" assumptions about the nature of property (you don't own any of the software you use, whether you 'bought' it, stole it, are using freeware, shareware or monopolyware, whatever). There's nothing *inherently* revolutionary in any of this, but there's plenty of destabilizing potential, and failing to recognize it simply allows strategic possibilities to slip away...

I mean, let's not get *too* consumed with snobbish superiority to the snobbish voluntary simplicity crowd. Investing a little more thought in the matter could yield surprising dividends. I'm not talking merger. I'm talking acquisition.

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at gte.net

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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