Friday, April 18, 2008

Consumerism and Its Discontents

"The marketplace of ideas, like any marketplace, is fit only for looting.

"Our rebellion is a rebellion against the commodity, against the world of the commodity in which worker-consumers are hierarchically subordinated to commodity standards. We take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. We want to possess immediately all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because we want to use them. Through theft and gift we rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. Looting is the most direct realization of the distorted principle: "To each according to their needs" - needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects.

"Once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasingly unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.

"Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what the commodity ultimately implies: the military, the police and the other specialized detachments of the state’s monopoly of armed violence.

"What is a policeman? He is the active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity, whose job it is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity, with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigerator or rifle - a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it.

"In a world where everything already belongs to someone else, where we are expected to sell away our lives at work in order to get the money to pay for the minimum we need to survive, where we are surrounded by forces beyond our control or comprehension that obviously are not concerned about our needs or welfare, shoplifting is a way to carve out a little piece of the world for ourselves - to act back upon a world that acts so much upon us.

"It is an entirely different sensation than the one we feel when we buy something. When we pay for something, we’re making a trade; we’re offering the money that we bought with our labor, our time, and our creativity for a product or service that the corporation wouldn’t share with us under any other circumstances. In a sense, we have a relationship based on violence: we negotiate an exchange not according to our respect or concern for each other, but according to the forces that we can bring to bear on each other.

"Shoplifting is a refusal of the exchange economy. It is a denial that people deserve to eat, live, and die based on how effectively they are able to exchange their labor and capital with others. It is a denial that a monetary value can be ascribed to everything, that having a piece of delicious chocolate in your mouth is worth exactly fifty cents or that an hour of one person’s life can really be worth ten dollars more than that of another person. It is a refusal to accept the capitalist system, in which workers have to buy back the products of their own labor at a profit to the owners of capital.

"We must rediscover the pleasure of giving: giving because we have so much. What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see - whether it likes it or not! - when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift. The growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, software, music and movies simply for the pleasure of giving them away gives us a glimpse of what the Will to Live has in store for consumer society."

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