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Too many toys is a virus in the bloodstream (16 July 2009)


Michael Lerner

Photo by sduffy

If progressives, whether in unions, activist groups or political parties, don't soon begin doing politics differently -- radically differently -- they will fail to show that "a better world is possible."

And the price of failure will be catastrophic.

We have known for years that our consumer culture is out of control and our obsession with having more and more stuff has reached the status of a virus. Our consumer-driven global economy is a lethal threat to the planet and every one of its eco-systems.

The lock that consumerism has on Western so-called civilization is formidable -- a virtual death-grip on our culture and our future as a species. It is a kind of madness but one which we can apparently adapt to. This manufactured addiction to more and more stuff undermines community, threatens the planet and doesn't even make us happy. Consumerism, driven by the most sophisticated and manipulative psychology the advertising industry can buy, has had the effect of atomizing us. We are defined more and more by what we have, less and less by our relationships to family, friends, colleagues and community. (Murray Dobbin, “Left Needs Soul Searching,” The Tyee, 9 July 2009)

Things are "out of control." We have a "virus." Our problem is our sinful and ongoing want for "more and more."

If this sounds about right to you, just a word-or-two of caution, if I might: this rhetoric is very much akin to that spouted by those Michael Lerner would, be very assured, not rightly so very happy to be likened to: those darned Nazis.

Nazis?--Yeah, Nazis. When Germans got in the mood to vote this unsavory fellow in, their complaint was that Germany had gotten much too greedy (oh how the Nazis hated those free swinging swing-dancers!), that it had a virus in its bloodstream, that it needed to become pure again, in touch with primal Germanic, masculine, simple and communal purity (does this have anyone thinking of another recent Tyee article?), and this required people enjoining together and organizing some kind of very substantial purge.

So who was it in Germany that was prospering most, that engaged most successfully in professional, commercial affairs, that tended to treat their children in a more liberal, permissive fashion? And guess who got purged so the nation could feel all stoic manly again?

Commercialism isn't the problem. Rather, it's many people's tendency to feel dislocated, out of touch, when society moves ahead too much; it's people's intrinsic discomfort with abundance, with getting what they want and deserve to possess. (For those interested in the sort of language that presaged Hitler Germany, check out the link:

If some other someone wants to put forward a vision of a society that suggests that life is about accumulating, realizing growth, love, friendliness, playfulness, but that it just isn't well represented/encouraged by the kind of culture we're "in," I'll very much be listening, by the way. For what we got now, certainly ain't all that much of what I really want. I just trust about no one who rails talks "viruses" and rails against greed, even from someone as worth attending to as lovely Lerner most certainly is. And getting together in most any group can make you feel a sense of belonging, purpose, vitality; but group-think can make a lot of what later is understood as hugely abhorrent, look in the moment all too very "hit-the-right-spot" right, virtuous, refreshing--meaningful.

Is the Tyee going to prove a vehicle for some to reclaim their lost manliness, their solid heritage of once-upon-a-time simplicity? If it does, some may stop thinking of it so much as a friend to the Left, who have historically been seen as a bit feminine and foreign, a bit luxurious in their tastes, by their more "prosaic" peers. Please don't go there. It may be that all good left-wing communal efforts talk in ways akin to how Lerner manages here. But I think it would do good to have someone write something delineating/detailing how historically, it is always the Right that most loudly rages/riots against things like commercial excess, about the ill-offerings of ostensible societal progress'. Offer some History.

Useful, perhaps, will be some offerings from the British 18th-century, when the isles got really wicked commercial, when it became a nation of shopkeepers, where everyone pretended to be gentry, in no small part owing to their possession/accumulation of all the right assemblage of fashionable goods. The Right, then--the conservatives, then--all said society was becoming soft, loosing all sense of real purpose and meaning, and that as consequence it would prove militarily weak and earn collapse owing to invasion, or some other widespread and total calamity. Turns out they didn't know what the hell they were talking about, with Britain fairing not so bad, overall, in subsequent centuries--even without them giving up their taste for domestic, pretty, niceties.

Of course, as mentioned, my taste for shopping excess would never, ever involve West Edmonton Mall--that elephantine pleasure-house for taste-crippled proles.

Nighty, night.

Link: “Left Needs Soul Searching” (Murray Dobbin, Tyee)


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