Saturday, July 26, 2014

Welcome to Consumerist Hell

During a recent visit to California, I attended a party at a professor's house with a Slovene friend, a heavy smoker. Late in the evening, my friend became desperate and politely asked the host if he could step out on the veranda for a smoke. When the host (no less politely) said no, my friend suggested that he step out on to the street, and even this was rejected by the host, who claimed such a public display of smoking might hurt his status with his neighbours … But what really surprised me was that, after dinner, the host offered us (not so) soft drugs, and this kind of smoking went on without any problem – as if drugs are not more dangerous than cigarettes.

This weird incident is a sign of the impasses of today's consumerism. To account for it, one should introduce the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment elaborated by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: what Lacan calls jouissance (enjoyment) is a deadly excess beyond pleasure, which is by definition moderate. We thus have two extremes: on the one hand the enlightened hedonist who carefully calculates his pleasures to prolong his fun and avoid getting hurt, on the other the jouisseur propre, ready to consummate his very existence in the deadly excess of enjoyment – or, in the terms of our society, on the one hand the consumerist calculating his pleasures, well protected from all kinds of harassments and other health threats, on the other the drug addict or smoker bent on self-destruction. Enjoyment is what serves nothing, and the great effort of today's hedonist-utilitarian "permissive" society is to tame and exploit this un(ac)countable excess into the field of (ac)counting.

Enjoyment is tolerated, solicited even, but on condition that it is healthy, that it doesn't threaten our psychic or biological stability: chocolate, yes, but fat-free; Coke, yes, but diet; coffee, yes, but without caffeine; beer, yes, but without alcohol; mayonnaise, yes, but without cholesterol; sex, yes, but safe sex …
- Slavoj Zizek, "Fat-free chocolate and absolutely no smoking: why our guilt about consumption is all-consuming"
Artist - Hong Hao


FreeThinke said...

__________ An Ironic Truth __________

Cawing, yapping, droning everywhere,
Enrapt with Unreality they're blind.
Looking blankly into space they grind
Loose lips ludicrously in mid air.
Packets clasped to ears their elbows bend,
Holding haplessly to each connection ––
Oblivious to tangible affection.
Nothing could this misdirection end,
Except the advent of a cataclysm ––
Annihilating new ways warped and curled ––
Built denying truths the catechism
Used to keep our wayward notions furled ––
Stifling acts and impulses towards schism ––
Enabling more delight in Nature's world.

~ FreeThinke

-FJ said...


FreeThinke said...

To that beautifully laid out, circular "starburst" image, I can only say AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!

FreeThinke said...

I do believe the Cellphone-Smartphone Phenomenon is an excellent example of consumerism run amok -- especially considering the dismal effects it's had on social intercourse.

Human beings will always find myriad ways to abuse and misuse the potentially helpful discoveries and inventions that enter our lives.

If it weren't so pitiful, it would be funny.

FreeThinke said...

Hong Hao!

Might that not better be transliterated as How Hung?


Thersites said...

All it needs is a question mark...

Hung How?

Thersites said...

...and I, for one, don't have a cellphone, and never intend to carry one. :P

Thersites said...

btw - "Lifestyle" consumerism is the hidden subject of this post...

I think that we "buy" our ideologies from either WalMart or Macy's.

Thersites said...

To recap, we thus primarily buy commodities neither on account of their utility nor as status symbols; we buy them to get the experience provided by them, we consume them in order to make our life pleasurable and meaningful.

Here is an exemplary case of "cultural capitalism": Starbucks' ad campaign "It's not just what you're buying. It's what you're buying into." After celebrating the quality of the coffee itself, the ad goes on: "But, when you buy Starbucks, whether you realise it or not, you're buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee. You're buying into a coffee ethic. Through our Starbucks Shared Planet programme, we purchase more Fair Trade coffee than any company in the world, ensuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work. And, we invest in and improve coffee-growing practices and communities around the globe. It's good coffee karma. … Oh, and a little bit of the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee helps furnish the place with comfy chairs, good music, and the right atmosphere to dream, work and chat in. We all need places like that these days. When you choose Starbucks, you are buying a cup of coffee from a company that cares. No wonder it tastes so good."

The "cultural" surplus is here spelled out: the price is higher than elsewhere since what you are really buying is the "coffee ethic" that includes care for the environment, social responsibility towards the producers, plus a place where you yourself can participate in communal life.

To recap, I hear that a "fungus" has destroying the Guatemalan coffee harvest these past few years (blame it on climate change), causing many of the poor coffee farmers to migrate/send their kids to the USA. It kinda makes me wish that the "coffee Karma" Starbucks buyers would have paid a few dollars less for their beans... so that the Coyotes and drug cartels wouldn't have been tempted to enter into the human trafficking business.

Thersites said...

Source for above.

I'm reminded on the Bengal famine of 1770.

Instead of growing food, the peasants are planting "corporate" crops for resale. If the coffee growers HAD food, they would stay in Guatemala.

FreeThinke said...

I started to say this nearly fifty years ago. It erupted spontaneously one day from my subconscious, as it suddenly dawned on me what the still-quite-new medium of television was about to do to our lives.

The World Rotates on an Axis of Bullshît!

Now isn't that profound?


FreeThinke said...

Good for you! I too proudly eschew the cellphone.

One must take a stand somewhere, though rising tides of absurdity must eventually overwhelm and wash thee away to that Great Big AppleStore in the sky -- or would that be Where the Goblins Go Below, Below BELOW?.