Thursday, March 5, 2009

Angry Reactions: Neo-Consumerism

By Matt Silbernagel
I usually don’t have strong feelings of distaste for anything, but every now and then I get really worked up about things. Such was the case last weekend when I was standing in line for food, and the guy in front of me went off on a rant about the ethical treatment of animals to the person behind the counter. He didn’t have to say more than a few sentences before it was obvious his intent was not to reprimand the shop for running out of tofu or spout out a coherent argument; rather, he was seeking self-fulfillment through the degradation of the worker. It was then that I looked down and saw his shoes: old cowboy boots, made of leather. Because of his blind rage, I clearly wasn’t going to make any impact by challenging him there about how his choice of foot apparel didn’t correlate with the words coming from his mouth. So, I just smiled and went home to write this blurb about trend hippies, what a friend of mine calls “neo-consumerists”.
The corporate system we live in is inherently oppressive in nature; it discourages free thought in lieu of boosting profit and maintenance of the status quo. Thus, the corporate system can be called fascist without hesitation. But what happens when the system molds itself to control the thoughts of the subversive population? When the seditious themselves become targeted customers of corporate heartlessness, we arrive in the present, where being “borderline socialist” becomes the norm, even as those who embrace this trendy, brand-name ideology support a system fundamentally at odds with true leftist ideals. In the reality of neo-consumerism that surrounds us, organic hemp tee-shirts are made in East Asian sweatshops to sell to susceptible “activist” youth, and self-actualized moral vegetarians carry around leather purses and iPhones adorned with peace symbols. We’ve entered a new era of corporate manipulation. Consequently, we’ve entered a new era of fascism.
Fascism is an idea neo-consumerists like to throw around a lot. Phrases like “fascist propaganda,” “fascist oppression,” and “corporate fascism” are tossed in the wind without thought to what meaning lies behind them. It’s because of this that the word has lost all substantial value, since those who use it are the very patrons of the ideology they claim to despise. The resurgence of this defunct and oppressive belief structure isn’t a good omen and says something about the concerns of the masses. When a community is more interested in wearing the “Save Darfur” shirt for aesthetic pleasure than with actually fighting on the front lines for change, society loses.1
With environmentalism becoming an everyday product, the public is not at all hidden from the facts of greenwashing companies. Rather, reports like Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics attempt to give consumers a relatively objective view on how many prominent companies with pro-conservation programs (Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.) measure up to Greenpeace’s high standards. This isn’t to discredit companies like Apple’s progress, but rather to give them a little nudge to get them further along by pointing out the hazardous chemicals contained within the accessories we use every day.
However, the ignorance and affluence of the American version of neo-consumerism are the main problems that keep the facts hidden. Complacency is easy to manage, and the façade of important daily tasks consumes most of the population’s endeavors. Inconsequential ordeals take up too much time for the elite, and, therefore, thinking and seeking the facts takes extra effort which self-important individuals put off and replace with easy labels (e.g. 100% organic) that they can stamp on their forehead to make them seem more in tune with reality and peace. This is not supporting a cause; it’s furthering the cause of the elite few of this nation. Don’t let corporations capitalize on this narcissistic view and further the creation of the trend hippy culture which is already adhered to by a sizeable portion of the emerging adult population. Stop neo-consumerism.

1 I realize that standing against genocide is important, and fundraising for a cause is easier if more people want to purchase your product. However, this is a problem within the system, as it is the system that pushes for competition and attention in an individualist society that drives the people to act in such a way. Peace is neither a commodity to be bought or sold nor a fashion statement; it is a state of mind and being.

“Peace may sound simple - one beautiful word - but it requires everything we have, every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal.” Writer/Musician Yehudi Menuhin

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