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click opera
February 2010
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:36 am
Capitalism: doesn't it make you (mentally) sick?


Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC)

It's something I've been very conscious about since reading Alain de Bottons's Status Anxiety. I bought it when I couldn't afford to buy a house (not as somewhere to live, but in the hope that reading about my own Status Anxiety in the housing market may make me feel better about renting).

I then went on to examine my life and its relationship with consumer culture. Around the same time a nightmarish relationship with a woman who was somewhat insane came to an end, and eventually drove me to Buddhism just to get some peace and quiet.

Anyway, in the process I found out something about myself.

I stopped watching TV, and as you mention in your post, I started to feel happier and more 'anchored' in the real world. I stopped comparing myself to everyone else, and worrying about how much stuff I had compared to others. Cancelling my Esquire subscription meant missing out on articles about £3,000 watches, but meant I stopped worrying about getting one.

I'd messed about with my PC, and in the process installed a Hosts file which somehow blocked loads of those annoying banner adverts too.

This meant I had a life largely free of advertising.

Not watching TV meant I had time to do other things, such as paint and write music (or rather: learn about writing music). I bought music software, graphics packages and suchlike to help me with these things.

From this it occurred to me that whereas I really can't be bothered with the 'latest must-have' gadget, I do like those aspects of modern technology which allow me to express myself creatively. Anything that will help me on the path to Self Actualisation (as Maslow put it) actually seems worth the money. An iPod or an indoor remote-controlled hovercraft somehow seems a bit crap in comparison.

I can see how capitalism can make us very ill indeed though. When you consider that much of marketing is about generating demand for a product, and that (according to Buddhism) desire is the root of all suffering, advertising starts to look genuinely nasty.

Most adverts dig into some sort of latent insecurity or need. Buy one thing and you'll be more popular, better-looking or more attractive to the opposite sex. If you don't buy it, you'll stay ugly and unpopular (unlike the impossibly perfect model we used on our billboard). Oh, and your house is filthy and riddled with dangerous bacteria too. Soak it in this, and you'll never have to worry about catching Necrotising Fasciitis ever again...

Basically the message is that our sad little lives in their natural state are pathetic and full of dangers, and we can only redeem ourselves by purchasing certain goods or services. It's almost akin to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and serves the same purpose: to keep us in check, under control and make a small minority very rich indeed.

Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)

Buy one thing and you'll be more popular, better-looking or more attractive to the opposite sex.

This is something Oliver James has a nice riff on. He's always boosting Denmark (having researched Affluenza there, amongst other places), and he says that mating rites are different in Copenhagen than in New York. In Copenhagen, people don't advertise their attractiveness to the opposite sex via Ferraris and short skirts, but by promises that they will make a good parent, will dedicate time to child rearing.

The Ferrari guy is obviously telling us he will be absent, earning the money to pay for the Ferrari. The short skirt woman is telling us she will be spending a lot of time on her appearance (or will stop caring about her appearance and be a very different person than the one currently advertised). Removed from a hypercapitalist environment, these people would find each other attractive for different reasons, reasons more suited to what couples actually are, and actually do. (Obvious hypercapitalist relationship prognosis: breaks down quickly, followed by embittered lawsuit in which the richer partner is stung for several million.)

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