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).