Colonialism, indigenous peoples and the split in European socialism

seanno at seanno at
Sat Nov 27 02:35:18 MST 1999

On Fri, 26 Nov 1999, Maureen Silos wrote:

"The picture is much more complicated and requires that we begin to take
our biology, especially the mammalian brain seriously.  I do not want to
make this mail too long, but capitalism democratized luxury consumption
and brought new status objects to the masses.  I am not denying the ususal
stories about advertising, not at all (see a powerful and novel critique
by James Twitchell "Lead us into temptation: the triumph of American
materialism), what I am pointing to is the dialectics between the supply
and the demand of consumer goods.  Human beings have a need for status
that is programmed in our mammalian brain.  There is research that shows a
strong correlation between levels of serotonin and relative rank."

I think Twitchell has the same truth value of a USA Today article or a
John Stossels reporting on the ABC show 20/20. *Adcult* and *Lead Us into
Temptation* are propaganda pure and simple, they don't even rise to the
level of distorted partial and inadequte bourgeois ideology.

Twitchell's argument that consumerism is democratic is simply pathetic.
How is it that a 200 billion dollar industry dedicated to serving the
interests of the owning class with only incidental attention paid to the
working class is somehow democratic?  Consumers are free in the same way
workers are.  Looked at from the merely apparent confines of individual
choice consumers are free to choose between brands of consumer goods in
the same manner as they are free to choose between republicans and
democrats as the ruling party.  In both cases the structural and
institutional forces which shape the range of "choice" in the first
instance is entirely absent from the analysis.  In fact advertising people
themselves are far more honest about their social and economic role than
Twitchell is willing to admit.  David Lubars, Chief Executive of the Los
Angeles Office of BBDO Advertising admitted the the Wall Street Journal

"Consumers are like roaches - you spray them and spray them
and they get immune after awhile"

And William Oberlander, executive creative director at Kirshenbaum, Bond
and Partners said in a *Business Week* interview:

"No one's really worrying about what it's (sic) teaching impressionable
youth. Hey, I'm in the business of convincing people to buy things they
don't need"

This stands in stark contrast to the picture you draw about individual
choice and human nature as the causes of consumerism. Twitchell's (and
your) comments about consumerism being human nature simply don't hold up
to the light of ethnography or history.  It is insufficient to claim that
since mammals are status oriented creatures it necessarily follows that
the organization of such status granting and displaying activities operate
in the acquisition and display of specific types of commodified goods and
services as opposed to other non-commodified activities.  All societies
have hierarchies of prestige, but they don't all have capitalist economies
and high mass consumption.  A better approach to consumerism would look at
the growth and increased importance of the marketing/sales effort as a
business strategy for producing firms.  The growth of this business
strategy has had important consequences in the accumulation process as
well as promoting a consumerist culture.  Taken together the increased
marketing/sales effort and the consumerist culture it has induced has
become one element (operating in tandem with others) in the reproduction
of capitalist relations of production which serves the specific interests
of the capitalist ruling class.  When the determination of use-value takes
place in an institutional context tightly circumscribed within the logic
of capital it is a very bad thing for the working class.

Sean Noonan
seanno at

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