Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Indeed, there is no such word as Consumerization - I just made it up to describe the process of us turning consumers. One can argue that we are all consumers now, already, the process of transformation is already over before I made up the word. However, while the consumer identity is all pervasive, the process of turning into consumers isn't over yet. Just as it seems that everything that could be 'consumerized' has been 'consumerized', a new area opens up, and the process starts in all earnestness.
However, I am not trying to arrive at a value judgement, whether it is good or bad, or should we keep doing what we are doing. The point is it is happening: Numerous transformations, citizens to consumers, students to consumers, patients to consumers, pensioners to consumers, is going on around us all the time. Zygmaunt Bauman bemoans the waning of 'producer ethic', the deferment of consumption and working to produce, and the rise of 'consumer ethic', the culture of instant gratification and private gains; however, this is what capitalism is all about, its greatest symbol and proclaimed achievement being the disappearance of bread queues and maintenance of stocked shelves.
Marx thought the terminal crisis of capitalism will come from a crisis of consumption: The sucking out of surplus value will leave the workers with too little to consume with, collectively creating a demand problem which will bring down the edifice. The system of consumption became more refined since his day: The system of credit and credit scores tried to pull everyone into a system of consumption and creation of surplus in perpetuity, at least till the credit bubble burst in 2008. And, as in other modern economic crisis, capitalism didn't die but shifted. David Harvey saw capitalism's journey of flexible accumulation, shifting geographically in a predatory search for new consumers and new areas of generation and accumulation of surplus. Consumerization is a process, however, within the developed societies, where it must expand what the traditional remit of market economy is.
This leads to a process of defining education solely for private gain, medical treatment solely for private well-being, religious service for a membership of heaven etc. Taxpayers' money, for the first time in history, becomes taxpayers' money, rather than the state's, and the citizens are expected to turn consumers and vote on how their money is spent. The creation of consumer society is a global phenomenon, but the transformation, changing our relationships with everything else we are surrounded by, is an ongoing phenomenon in every society.
Should we be concerned? Public services meant bureaucracy and sloth, lack of 'innovation' (another consumerizing process), which we have learnt to hate. However, the current encroachment of market capitalism trivialises the nation states, not a bad thing perhaps given that nation states were responsible of so much human misery in the last two hundred years. However, one would fear the passivity of the consumers, a tendency to leave rather than voicing their outrage and fighting on. As the relationship between the state and its citizens change, we shall firmly be in the 'exit' territory. Hirschmann saw the process of converting 'exit' to 'voice' as the process of creation of loyalty; the opposite, 'voice' to 'exit' is underway now, somewhat deliberately, and this may then be the start of the process of alienation.
It is only appropriate, then, that queues at the polling centres are disappearing. Citizens are checking out of their states. The great election victories are being scored with 30% who bothered to turn up. Elsewhere, the state is slowly being dissolved not in the dreamlike international governance, but in street gangs and suburban ghettos. The transformation of desire is somewhat complete: There is nothing money can't buy anymore, but there may be no one left to desire them.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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