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Entrapped!

May 24, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Economy, Randall Amster

Confessions of a Violent Consumerist

by Randall Amster

I have a confession to make. I am part of a vast international conspiracy that is bent on violently destroying our way of life and, ultimately, threatening our very survival itself. This cabal has as its unstated purpose the erosion of public institutions, theft on a global scale, and the decimation of democratic structures wherever they may be found. It is a relentless enterprise, rife with hatred and vitriol, and it will not rest until it eliminates all competing systems of ideology and belief.

You see, I am a consumerist.

I didn’t intend to become one; it just sort of happened. My parents were ones too, so I guess it must have started there. All my teachers were ones, and my role models as well. Looking back, pretty much all of my friends and family, and just about everyone I’ve ever known, were also consumerists. My recruitment started early on and was reinforced at every turn by those around me — and likewise by every highway billboard, television commercial, and eye-level point-of-purchase display to which I was exposed.

I remember once when I was younger and more impressionable, a guy came around, a real flashy type who talked a big game and always had all the coolest new gadgets and devices. He exhorted me and my friends to “amp it up,” telling us that we needed to learn how to “game the system” or we would just become pawns in it like the “mindless masses.” He plied us with expensive gifts and said he was recruiting us to become the next generation of “movers and shakers” who would remake society in our vision rather than go along with the mainstream. “It’s good to be the king,” he always reminded us.

A few of my friends succumbed to his overtures, skirting the boundaries of ethicality and legality in pursuit of wealth and privilege. They started to pick up the jargon about “low-hanging fruit” being there for the taking, “hostile takeovers” promising “quick and dirty” rewards, having access to “inside information” that would enable them to acquire “strategic targets” with accuracy and almost no risk to themselves. Everything with them began to focus on how to get the most “bang for the buck,” and their scorn for the rules of the game and structures of authority was evident at every turn.

I suppose I was lucky that I didn’t have the constitution for these sorts of mercenary behaviors. It wasn’t so much that I feared the laws or authorities, but more so that I recognized the potential dangers of failing to accept any social responsibility for the welfare of others whatsoever. It wasn’t about just “sticking it to the man” or “getting ours while the getting is good,” but this cavalier courtship with conspicuous consumption was also about showing disdain for working-class people (like myself, even though I tried to hide it) and using power to coerce others to do one’s bidding. I didn’t like it.

Still, the influence of these teachings stayed with me, and I could increasingly see them everywhere in society to greater or lesser degrees. I hadn’t joined the cabal full-on, but watered-down versions of its “power and profit” conspiracy were everywhere to be found. From the corner-grocery lottery to the gambler’s rush of online trading, the essence of “casino capitalism” has imbued a populace eternally in search of megabucks and the accoutrements of opulence that are the hallmarks of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” that hold so much fascination for so many people. Everywhere, everyday, people are plotting how to climb over others on the ladder of success.

A friend recently showed me their new handheld device and all of its cool apps. “It’s the bomb,” they said, in that “so fifteen minutes ago” vernacular. Indeed, I thought, it is an incendiary device. How many dead Congolese or Afghans were in that innocuous-looking gadget? How many ecosystems had been destroyed in the process of making it, and how many more would be done in when it wound up in the garbage dump as forced obsolescence set in around six months from now? How many exploited workers in Asian and Mexican factories were required to assemble this consumer item, and how much of their own health and wellbeing will they be compelled to sacrifice in order to produce nonessential creature comforts for our usage?

The supermarket mantra of “paper or plastic” might as well be a reference to explosive devices rather than just what sort of bag one prefers to haul their wares around in. We may try to mask it by calling them “consumer goods,” but they are in large measure undeniably bad, for people and the environment alike. The innocent, mundane purchases we make are like faintly ticking time-bombs, spin-offs of the same forces that produce military hardware, embedded with the nonrenewable resources that drive global conflict and climate change, taxing our health into skyrocketing maintenance costs, and in the process rendering us utterly dependent on and essentially complicit with the forces of destruction.

There are words to describe such behaviors: sociopathic, nihilistic, violent, terroristic. Despite this, groups of shoppers go about their business without infiltration or provocation, descending on cities and towns everywhere en masse to wreak havoc without penalty or prejudice. In the standard parlance, these are not the enemies, they are the “good people” going about their business; those who want to hold a mirror up to them or wake them out of their doldrums are coded as the real enemies, the ones who want to destroy “our way of life,” and they will accordingly be dealt with as such. In the end, there is really only one high crime in our lockstep world of conformity: Incitement to Alternatives.

I make this nascent confession today so as to alert the appropriate authorities of this ongoing plot to undermine the fabric of society, and to take a mea culpa for my part in all of it over the years. The wanted posters and enforcement bulletins may not yet be warning us to be on the lookout for the “violent consumerist” in our midst, and there aren’t really any news articles yet where neighbors are quoted as saying “gee, he seemed like such a nice guy” after someone goes on an unabashed shopping spree. Trust me, folks — the violent consumerist is hard to spot, and indeed probably looks just like you and me.

Now that the word is getting out, perhaps we can all begin to disavow any participation in violence as a way of getting what we need in this world. Most of us really are in fact “good people” looking to go about our lives without harming anyone or anything else. Unfortunately, we have become unwitting participants in the biggest criminal conspiracy in human history, and in the process have become the greatest purveyors of violence that the world has ever seen. The blood on our hands is like invisible ink, obvious only under ultraviolet scrutiny but displaying no indicia in normal light. It is past time to wash our hands of these inscribed behaviors, reduce the damage being done in our wake, and start to clean up our collective act.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is the publisher and editor of New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012) and Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008).

{Pickups: CounterPunch, Common Dreams, Truthout}

4 Comments to “Entrapped!”


  1. Randall,

    That’s a most wonderfully-crafted metaphoric journey into the heart of our modern (specifically American) culture. But it needs a chapter 2: How to get from material addiction to healing (for us and the world).

    Unfortunately, few are willing to take more drastic steps than simply doing without a few luxuries – but that’s the equivalent of modestly reducing the incendiary charge in the bombs we export to the world around us. Our victims will not notice the difference.

    What’s required is, as with any addiction, to get the community support necessary to go cold turkey. We must dramatically reduce our material lifestyles, and do so by significantly reducing our incomes – for it is also the act of working within the corporate consumer system that supports the violence, whether we take home the “goods” or not.

    Downward mobility and radical simplicity are the paths to surrendering our complicity in the cabal. And, as long as our federal government continues to prioritize weaponry and war, the security state, and corporate subsidies and bailouts over basic human needs, we must also refuse to render unto Caesar what is truly God’s.

    To sustain our bodies and spirits in this radical transition, we must rebuild community relationships and institutions, including non-monetary exchange systems, coops and credit unions, community land trusts, co-housing and communes, and the restoration of the natural commons. Then we will have the wherewithal and support to remain “sober”.

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    • iNgwazi says:

      Robert

      I think there is truth in what you say. But I have a question: How many year’s life expectancy would you personally give to achieve such an end? And the others in the cabal? For our mortality is ultimately the driver of materialism.

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    • JP Turcotte says:

      Thanks robert, well said. I totally agree with the end of ‘cash society’ – this in itself would curb much of crime. We, as a populace of the planet, must find the compassion to be responsible for each other. We do have the means, and there are many wonderful ideas from various perceptive individuals out there that could ensure developments to achieve this.

      Most of us here know that this planet is on a collision course with the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Whether this light is a train or the doors to proverbial paradise is again all up to us. I know that it’s the latter option that’s the most favorable but nothing like it will come easy.
      The problem, as I see it, may be the uncertainty in direction or objective though we might know the general heading. It’s a start. We had to get here to get where we want to go.
      We know better now who’s taken the helm and kept us on this course. And we know why: for power and greed. This has led to some rather visionless people at the helm. The question remains: will we accomplish this in peace or face bloodshed. The former ensures success, and the latter means starting over in the extreme, a new Atlantis is born and died.
      To begin with, again as I see it, all natural resources must belong to a ‘Commons” – that would be us and what we own in common on this planet. (hell, this should not be all that new to us; so many threatened cultures share these lessons with their truisms. Perhaps that is why they threaten authority so much, and why they are so oppressed.)
      Our fears have us all cloaked in ‘-isms’ and few of us see eye to eye. We challenge each other, without knowing why. Let’s consider one point that no one on this planet can deny: each of us are part of it. Each of us then are entitled to each our part if we truly believe in equality. In this sense each our parts of this planet makes up a ‘Commons’. In other words, as a living being on this planet you are entitled to your share. (And for those who would quote: “to render onto Cesar what is Cesar’s”, then I say, let be rendered onto you what belongs to you. God has nothing to do with it.)
      The mere mention of the word “Commons” has capitalists falling in tantrums where they will say and do the stupidest things. It’s a daily occurrence nowadays. It’s understandable, greed has enslaved them, and it’s our fault if we’ve allowed the ill to lead. Does that make for a healthy society, one of harmony? Absolutely not. Something else we know.
      When the ill-informed hear the word “Commons”, they hear ‘communist’ the way a ‘capitalist’ knows it – as a threat. That is mostly because to them ‘common’ and ‘commune’ are spelt the same and mean the same. To those of us who have been to the “Animal Farm” and learned how to spell, well, we know the difference, and it is this: there are certain resources that do not belong to one more than another, like the air we breathe.
      So let’s see: I’ll be ‘flagged’ as a communist by capitalists and capitalist by communists and I don’t care. (That’s what comes from the “isms” that I spoke of earlier.) I can’t claim to be very fond of either ‘-ism’, but between these extremes, (and extremes they are though both leading to the same point – the one of totalitarian oppression) there are parts that are available now that we can use to fix this ‘social machine’ and make it one of leaderless self-governance. One that will support the individual in free enterprise, but also one that empowers his responsibility. We now have the tools, but for how long? The timing, as ever, is everything. (from Manifesto for a transformation to leaderless self-governance:
      (Transformation to an open-source community).

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  2. Randall Amster says:

    Thank you, Robert — I’m in agreement with your much of your thinking here, and indeed have written along these lines in many other contexts and articles. This one was intended more to simply bring the addiction out to the surface, in the belief that the problem needs to be recognized before help can be accepted on any level. Chapter 2 is a more interesting one for me, but I didn’t want to skip the Intro and Chapter 1 in the process…

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