Jun 23, 2014
The Bodhisattva Marshall Plan, Part 3: Eliminate Self-Identification of Americans as "Consumers"
by Charles Carreon
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
As the Twig is Bent, So Grows the Tree
From childhood we are taught that we are "social beings." This of course means about as much to a kid as it would if a tuna said to its offspring, "We live in the sea." Our social environment is so all-encompassing that as children, we cannot perceive it as a discrete phenomenon. Children, who are on the front lines of the useless-crap consuming that has driven the U.S. economy since the fifties, can't imagine what life would be without the orgiastic overproduction of those highly desirable objects we call "toys."
Every ToysRUs is a temple where parents go to acquire ritual objects so their children can become adepts in the religion of childhood. Those children who acquire the right toys will become high priests of the backyard and the playroom. When parents club each other in an effort to get the right toy for their little prince or princess, they don't think they're acting insane. They are trying to secure for their children the status that they know the right toys will bring. After all, what heartless parent would send their child into the psychic mosh pits of kindergarten and grade school without the armor of owning the right toys?
The right toys are the ones that confirm that you have been watching the same TV shows as your friends. We'll know that TV is no longer an effective medium for programming children when ToysRUs closes down. I discovered how much my children were programmed by the damn boob tube when I threw away the TV in my third year of law school. We had our best Christmas ever that year, because none of the kids knew what they were supposed to get. They mostly opted to get new clothes, Josh got a skateboard, Maria got a phone, Ana got Hello Kitty stuff, and everybody was happy. None of them complained that their toys were Chinese knockoffs of the real thing, which had been a problem in the past. I still love the picture of them all that Christmas, holding their self-chosen toys, happy consumers all, but a little less programmed than their friends.
In our society, the primary common activity is "consumption." With so many of us laid off, it certainly isn't "production." The production mindset was useful during the Second World War, when we needed to bomb the living daylights out of Europe and the Pacific, but nowadays, it's not good for business to be too productive. I suspect someone in government decided that having a nation full of "producers" is not inherently good for business, because low unemployment puts upward pressure on wages, and high productivity puts downward pressure on prices. As a result, a nation full of producers would be a nation full of people demanding higher wages and lower prices, which is of course just the sort of nightmare to make the head of your local Chamber of Commerce wake up in a cold sweat next to his trophy wife. But of course we know that when that man wakes up in this world, he relaxes and goes back to sleep with a smile on his face. And when his trophy wife says, "What's the matter, honey?" he snuggles up against her and says, "Nothin', baby. They're all consumers."
Everyone seems to accept the definition of Americans as "consumers." What the heck? Is this a good social self-image? Visualize a consumer. I don't know what you see, but I see a big, fat, white baby in Pampers with a bottle of formula in its mouth, suckin' on that plastic nipple and gettin' fatter 'n fatter. Pretty soon it's gonna fill those Pampers full of shit, and then it'll cry until it gets changed. Then it'll start over again. As consumers grow, they acquire consumer skills, i.e., the ability to shop, open the mail, perform simple tasks in the service economy, get payday loans and invent numbers to put on credit card applications.
During the adult stage of a consumer's life, called the "prime of life," because most consumers spend it watching prime-time TV, the consumer reaches their peak level of utility. The consumer becomes maximally useful when their consumption hits its peak. In our debt-driven economy, they do this because they have "consumer optimism," i.e., the belief that things are going to get better. People who think things are going to get better will borrow money, knowing that someday they will have it to pay back. Thus, believing that one day they will get out of their dead-end job, they will borrow and try to start a family. A couple of consumers may become the father and mother of other consumers, thus employing doctors. Inevitably, they will have a divorce, and their children will get into trouble, thus employing lawyers. Tough as life is, thanks to their unrequited consumer optimism, the hardest working will give "employment" their best shot, and cook up a TV-dinner version of the American dream that will saddle them with high-interest debt for years, thus producing revenue for bankers.
For most consumers, the primary benefit to having a job is that they get to say they are "employed." This legendary condition is said to confer a sense of self-respect, but as many a formerly-employed consumer will tell you, employment is not all it's cracked up to be. At all events, employment rarely lasts for long these days, and losing it forever has turned into the final horizon for many people whose odometer has gone past 55.
The aging consumer, having served the economy to the best of their consuming ability, having been put outside the realm of employability due to their lack of cutting-edge skills and youthful charm, is statistically likely to fall prey to anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other expensive illnesses available cheap from WalMart. Thus, consumers must consume tranquilizers, insulin, heart medications, and painkillers. They pass from being youthful consumers of entertainment and trivial junk to being aging consumers of "health care," i.e., drugs and expensive procedures, thus providing revenue for the all-important "health care industry." Finally, the vital spirit will leave the consumer, and the corpse they leave behind will give employment to the death industry, which as we know, is thriving.
How different is the life of a consumer from that of a producer! What could a person produce? Anything, really. It's not that we don't have the impulse to produce, but we have been frustrated by a society that makes our creativity irrelevant. It's almost like a conspiracy to make people useless. Thought you could fix cars? Try to tune up a new car without a large manual and a computer. Thought you could program computers? People in India can do it better and faster. Thought you could sing? Who cares -- the airwaves are cluttered with voices. Want to spread a political idea? Go talk to yourself in the free speech zone.
We've accepted our individual identity as consumers, so what are we in the aggregate? You're not going to like this, because consumers, in the aggregate, do not form a social grouping. A nation-sized group of consumers is simply referred to as "the economy." There are no reports on the creative achievements of consumers, unless of course eating contests, stock car races, and school shootings are considered consumer achievements. If you are puzzled by my inclusion of the last, just consider that each school shooter buys a great deal more ammunition than he uses, due to the tendency to stockpile more guns and bullets than can realistically be deployed in one's last stand against the evil society that has oppressed one since childhood. And every school shooting provides a powerful impulse for more police expenditures, more militarization of the schools, and more belief in the need for high-powered weapons in the hands of -- consumers! Obama's response to the crisis of juvenile time bombs going off all over the country is tailored for mass consumption -- give them more tranquilizers.
So a society of consumers is not a society at all. It's just an aggregation of people who are totally hypnotized by material appearances, who identify themselves exclusively with the space contained within their skin, and pursue their individual desires on an ad hoc basis from moment to moment, based on commercial prompts. They lurch from one BigMac Attack to the next, pitting their resources against the menu in an effort to acquire what rudiments of self-respect can be discovered in a Happy Meal. They do not know what it is to experience themselves as members of a group that they feel accepts and appreciates them. Mature consumers thus experience life as the freedom to purchase in an environment where everything truly desirable is beyond their reach, i.e., poverty.
Mature consumers are politically neuter, true "swing" voters who provide the ignorant weight that keeps our ship of state listing to the stupid side. They know nothing about their own interests, because they have never considered them outside the structure of consumerism.
To take our leave of consumerism, we must identify our own interests, and align with people of similar interests. Perhaps this seems obvious, but few people practice it. Indeed, those people most convinced that they have joined a group that will advance their interests are mere dupes. Political parties provide an excellent example of this phenomenon. Most Latino voters vote Democratic, and most pundits say the Latino vote sent Obama up to play God, giving him omniscience and putting hellfire in his hand. He gets to see where you were when you made your last phonecall, in case he needs to dispatch a drone to kill you, so the rest of us will be a little safer.
But does Obama show any gratitude to Mexicans for helping him get over? No, Mexicans are the new negroes. Does Obama invite any Mexicans to come and do a fiesta in the Rose Garden? No, he's not a Republican, so he can't advertise his love of enchiladas like Bush did. Does Michelle go to the Mexican border to see if she can make the Immigration and Customs policies a little more humane, and stop separating families like slavers once separated black American families? No, no, no. They don't give us Mexicans a fuckin' plate to admire our beans on.
During the 2008 election, my wife and I were so lonely that we went to the Nader convention in Denver. There we saw thousands of people who were all equally underwhelmed by Obama, enough to rally around the only man with the courage to call phony democracy by its true name. We had great speeches by Ralph and Jello Biafra, we had great music from Nellie McKay, we raised our spirits and raised some money for Ralph. What others called our futile gesture was not futile. To find a suitable quote for our group sentiment, I will quote the Spaniard who, through four years in litigation, forced Google to take his name out of the search engine -- "Resistance is victory!"
But back in 2008, Nader was not the man to support if you wanted to keep your liberal friends and relations happy. There was a project on to make people feel that Obama would be their president. Black Americans rallied to the man they thought was their man, and young people of all ethnicities came along, ready to believe that the man who talked like a high school basketball coach, who believed every player counted, was going to coach their team. Obama's social media meisters had the numbers, the email lists, the fast-response polling data that it takes to morph a message minute by minute, day after day, nudging public opinion into a pocket, until you almost have to win. "Exit polls revealed that Obama had won nearly 70 percent of the vote among Americans under age 25the highest percentage since U.S. exit polling began in 1976."
Obama appointed Chris Hughes, twenty-something Facebook co-founder, to run his Internet marketing campaign. Smart move. Hughes copped User ID Number 5 at Facebook as a people person who focused on user issues, and volunteered his way into the number one Internet job in Obama's campaign machine. By 2007, Obama's Facebook page had 250,000 likes to Hilary's 3,200. Today, BarackObama has over 44 million likes and Hillary2016 has under 400,000. Having helped his man capture the White House, Hughes capped his Facebook tenure by taking $700,000,000 out of the IPO, and bought the New Republic with some change he fished out of the sofa cushions.
Considering how quickly Hughes built a competitor-crushing political machine using social networks, makes you wonder just how much social networks can do to influence politics. I found the answer on the first page of NewRepublic.com. A recent experiment showed that Facebook postings increased voting in a recent election by .39%. When the numbers get into the thousands, those percentages start to decide elections. Attorney Jonathan Zittrain wrote the article, in which he identifies the potential for "digital gerrymandering" by social networking platforms that could send a "get out the vote" message exclusively to people who are voting their way.
Zittrain suggests that for Twitter, or Facebook, or any social network to engage in digital gerrymandering would be so far beyond the pale that ... well -- he doesn't say it won't happen. Let me tell you -- it will inevitably happen unless steps are taken to prevent it, because American consumers are Facebookers.
Facebook has turned out to be a wonderful place for unemployed consumers to while away their time without burning up gasoline driving around looking for a job that doesn't exist. It concentrates all the vulnerable people who are struggling with the collapse of the American economy that began in year 2000 and has never ended, who find themselves in need of some face-saving activity to soak up their excessive spare time. While being addicted even to something as innocuous as chocolate is a private sin indulged in secrecy, being a Facebook addict is openly confessed, as if it were not an admission that, as the alcoholics put it, "we have lost control over our lives."
But on Facebook, you say, we have found our true communities! Oh yes, enough to fill an Arab jail! More about foreign policy later, though. Let's focus on domestic consumers. Yes, you can find people of like mind on Facebook, but you will find it easiest to talk about consumption. The primary purpose of Facebook is to track consumer likes, compile the data, and sell it to advertisers. Zuckerberg didn't choose that word "like" carelessly. The one important thing a consumer does is to like things. Because first you like them, then you buy them. If you don't like them, your opinion's not going to help make a sale, so that explains the missing "dislike" button upon which so many Facebookers have commented.
If you seek to join political speech on Facebook, you will discover that most activist Facebook pages are dominated by whoever happened to be tech-savvy enough to start the page. These self-styled technorati use their power to ban, delete, and censor posts freely, so the Pizza Effect goes into operation, and Facebook speech turns into an exercise in groupthink. Sure you can organize the next meeting handily, and extend the geographic reach of your group for fundraising purposes, and all that other stuff that Chris Hughes is so good at, but you know who he's working for, and he's not an activist.
Since all good liberals know that Obama would never send a hellfire missile down a domestic chimney, we make it a practice to ignore all of the bad news coming from the NSA, the CIA, and the Pentagon. Nothing bad will happen due to our wholesale revelation of our lives on Facebook. Really? Of course you're not a child porn fan, so you don't need to worry that the FBI is trolling for people of that ilk. But they got a much longer list of bad deeds than "child porn" to investigate. Being an Arab, and friending websites that criticize U.S. Middle East policy would be a smart thing only if you are planning your own martyrdom. Would they be talking with real people or FBI agents? Maybe just some down-on-their luck Arab student who overstayed his visa and is working for the FBI hoping to avoid deportation by tending Internet honey pots.
Back in 2012, the FBI was pressuring Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech data giants to install a digital backdoor to allow their agents access to all their user data. In 2013, Snowden told us they had done it, and we got a snow flurry of doublespeak from Zuckerberg, Brin, and Obama that just knocked it right out of the consumer attention zone. We now can be pretty clear from what we've seen in Egypt, that all that digital, online networking helps oppressive regimes pinpoint dissidents with GPS-level accuracy.
Facebook is a store of personal data so tasty that it is drawing hackers to it like a bowl of fruit attracts gnats. Facebook is attacked by hackers continuously because the rewards of a single good hack can be substantial. Just having a friend with a weak password can expose Facebookers to malware attacks that do things like send out messages asking your friends to wire money because you got mugged in Istanbul. Many of those hackers work for the government, doing things the government isn't supposed to do, like Sabu, one of the Occupy founders who farmed out work to young hackers who hacked for the FBI without realizing how their anarchist efforts had been redirected. Facebook is really nasty territory in which to deposit your life secrets.
Not only is it unsafe, it's a bad deal. By opening a Facebook account, populating it with your life history, and linking to your friends, you turn your relationships into Facebook's property. Your relationships are the map of your motivations. Facebook doesn't care about you at all, but it really loves your motivations. As soon as it has them figured out, it will take away features you "like" and sell them back to you. Take for example the right to have your friends hear you. Used to be a post was a post, and all your friends would see it. But now, only one out of ten friends sees your post -- unless you pay. This is so unfriendly.
The nastiest blow, to a nation that once saw itself as capable of overcoming any obstacle, will be the death of the salesman. Sellers of products and services have never liked salesmen all that much. Google killed most of the world's advertising agencies and its largest media outlets for pre-Internet advertising -- the newspapers and magazines. Now Facebook is closing in on the marketers. Consumers will take the job over. In exchange for a makeup kit or some lingerie, a young person can now find gainful employment tweeting or Facebooking the proof of their satisfaction with the product. The practice is taking off, and is said to generate more sales than standard advertising. When Facebook and the other online "communities" are done, the last bastion of American employment -- salesmanship -- will collapse. Consumers will do all the selling, and Willie Loman will take his last bow. Poor bastard. He wanted to be productive.