Politics: January 1993

Politics: Pigeonholing of the American Mind or the Nature of the Capitalist Beast


A smokescreen envelops each and every one of us. A smokescreen of words and beliefs which, although we may not recognize its existence, would cause us to choke in disbelief were we to finally recognize its existence. The origin of this smokescreen emanates from the very structure of our democratic society, and I propose to show how this is ultimately the single most destructive element (psychologically, sociologically and environmentally) in our “free” United States. His monumentally destructive force is none other than the capitalist business venture itself.

In and of itself, the capitalistic venture can only do so much harm. But combined with the principles necessary to its success (i.e constant growth and expansion–more aptly termed with their inherently negative connotations, exploitation and depletion of the Earth’s resources) the capitalistic venture becomes a force which definitely needs to be reckoned with.

What makes this capitalist creation of demand (and thus consumption) doubly destructive is that it is then in the best interest of commercial business to condition us to consume, which in turn allows them to grow, “progress” and succeed. You can feel the success of commercial advertising in the harsh reproach directed towards people who do not conform to this dictated “norm”—especially in physical appearance. YOU can feel the pressure to succeed, to maintain composure and to make a name for yourself that capitalism has successfully instilled in practically each and every one of us. As you see people rush crazy out of their minds to get to work on time every morning, to pay their debt to society one can witness, first hand, the successful installation of the drive to produce and consume.

The very fact that our culture found it necessary to coin the phrase conspicuous consumption points to our socially conditioned need to prove ourselves financially successful to each other. Where did this need come from? As human beings, we all need some degree of self recognition to remain stimulated and interested, a part of life, but the competitive nature of the business world has perverted this need in requiring us to show that you’re one up from the next guy, succeeding in life and making the better grade. Live simply so that others may simply live is a phrase which then can be seen to go completely against the American worldview. This in turn hints at the distinct possibility that we must be a nation largely devoid of any great spiritual strength and an inner reality because, if our society had even the slightest grasp of such concepts, the term ‘conspicuous consumption would have never found the need to emerge.

So enter the world forum of action and ideas. Look at the squares, look at them run—tense and driven to perfection. See the fire of conviction in their eyes, knowing that the race is on, grabbing all they can get, righteously proclaiming amidst the smug satisfaction of their financial success that this is the right way to progress and freedom! Amen!

But is it? The book and bust nature of capitalist expansion and exploitation does more to me than simply hint at its eventual collapse. We are a nation out of balance despite our forefathers well-intended application of a federal system of checks and balances. Considering ourselves to be higher and mightier than any creature on Earth, by virtue of our oversized brains only, we have lost touch with the Earth itself. We are unable to confront the environmental destruction that our technological “progress” has wrought upon the world head on lest we have to admit that 200 years of capitalist, technological “progress” wasn’t really progress after all. We forget that the Earth fared well enough alone, before we ever inhabited it, and now we surround ourselves with metal, glass and Formica, cordoning ourselves off from each other on this spaceship Earth that we share. But more importantly, soon our minds have cordoned themselves off in this competitive, judgemental society we live in and “the race” itself has won. Environmentalism is a trend. Language/media a subtly subversive tool.

We are a nation of consumers, and consume we must if we are to expand, profit and succeed. The more, the better. we largely define ourselves and each other by where we shop, what we eat, what we read (if anything), what music we listen to, what kind of car we drive, where we work and then, not surprisingly, find ourselves to be most comfortable with people who consume the same interests as we do.

But what we might not realize is that big business lays these choices out for us and that these choices have already then, in a way, been made. Consumption is almost completely a passive, non-creative activity as wild, sexy and exciting that commercial enterprise would like us to think otherwise. Consumption is tailor-made to our needs. Demographic analysis. The information age has arrived. Just in time for Christmas. Hurry while supplies last. So much so that Judith Williamson makes the point in The Politics of Consumption that “The great irony is that it is precisely the illusion of autonomy which makes consumerism such an effective diversion from the lack of other kinds of power in people’s lives.”

The very nature of the patriotic ideal almost forces us into this consumptive, capitalistic mode. Patriotism doesn’t allow room for the idea that other people’s cultures and governments may not be too ill-considered after all. Our system is the best and will always be the best in the world (or so we are led to believe). This “patriotic ideal” point can be argued conversely in the same way skinheads argue that they don’t defame other races but simply have pride in their own. But the moral majority is finally, albeit begrudgingly, admitting at least an iota of defeat. Our president-elect now pays silent testimony to our need for ‘change’ in a system that is slowly defeating us. We couldn’t rest on our laurels forever.

Despite Bush’s ousting from office, we’re still going to need Sure deodorant tomorrow. We’re still going to need to buy GE light bulbs to create our artificial day even though the technology exists to manufacture a bulb that won’t burn out. We’re still going to have to continue buying compact discs tomorrow since vinyl is an inferior, passe medium now even though the next technological step past CDs is a reality, big business will have to squeeze this medium for all its worth first. We’re still going to be conditioned into mowing our lawns and trimming the hedges in this world that we are taught is unordered and chaotic and therefore needs tidying up. And women are still going to be coerced into thinking that the hair that naturally grows under their arms and on their legs is gross and should be shaved off. And still the fact that the world’s ecosystem is going to hell in a handbasket due to this overabundance of needless waste will be sheened over with a high-gloss, water resistant polyurethane plastic commercial finish that doesn’t stain, shrink, tear or mar no matter how many environmentally -caused cancer cases you throw at it.

Initially I wanted this article to be solely about the environmentally destructive phenomenon of  “planned obsolescence” or the practice of marketing products which are intended to break down or become quickly obsolete thus insuring a relatively quick repeat sale (cars, being one of.the grossest violations of this practice). But upon closer inspection, I realized that planned obsolescence wasn’t entirely a factor of corporate greed. Planned obsolescence is an appanage which leads right to the very heart of the capitalist beast itself which is to create demand and need (via mechanical breakdown and human vanity) where there was none before. This produces the massive consumption by the population that is needed to sustain this burgeoning disaster waiting to find an excuse to happen called a Capitalistic society.

Be pissed. Be very pissed. For what it’s worth, upon closer inspection one can discern that our reactions and responses to a variety of naturally occurring and commercially induced stimuli are nothing but societally conditioned responses brought about by the controlling interests—namely money. They bear no direct relation whatsoever to who we might really have been inside, before the commercial communal mind and its knee-jerk responses took over.

In a way, we live our lives vicariously through the media. We become what they tell us we are. Baby boomers, yuppies, delinquent, minorities, nuclear family. Capitalism destroyed the natural community and isolated us as singular producers and consumers, pitting us against each other. It’s no wonder people are so fragmented from one another. There is no cohesion when we are trying to market ourselves as better than everyone else to get that job. Not only did the new technology change the world of work, it changed the very way we think. To succeed, capitalism had to destroy the traditional community and instill needs and fears that we never knew we had. To move beyond capitalism, we need to reinvent community, restore trust in ourselves and respect for one another create our collective reality anew.

So rise. Rise above the smokescreen, prepare the psychic attack and transmogrify in the eyes of the status quo. The terror only exists within. It’s time to let it go—it’s only been instilled. The life you live may finally be your own. Instantaneous worldwide communication already exists. Time to slow it down, look at what we have done. Time to find time to live and love again because here is time enough for love. It all becomes just so many words after a while but … did you ever feel like your possessions owned you and not the other way around?

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
In The Middle Of Nowhere for Peace: May 1992
Politics: The Rodney King Show