Marx and consumerism

Consumerism is something humans can’t escape. We are biological consumers – we don’t make our food internally. The goal of thrift and sustainablilty and simplicity is to consume as little as possible to be comfortable.

I have been studying sociology and decided that the explanation that I like best is the Marxist theory of society. Wealth equals power. Society is divided into Capitalists and consumers. The Capitalists control the means of production and the consumers work for them and consume their products. Society will never be equal until the consumers realize that they have power and reclaim it from the Capitalists. Yes, it’s what communism was based on. No, I don’t think communism is a viable solution or even that there is a solution. Eventually, capitalism will fade, as have all the societies of the world. What comes next is anyone’s guess.

Ok, let’s be serious for a minute. Playing with Marxism is fun and it’s a bit like navel gazing. It is fun to do but doesn’t really get you much of anywhere. So what if Marx was right? Knowing the division exists can’t convince the populace to rise up. And, if the populace did rise up, unless there was an organized system in place for after, it would be a god awful mess. And any political system is given to corruption and inefficiency eventually. I know, optimistic, right.

I am reading Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel as well. Sustainability and sharing.

Maybe I’m just in a navel gazing mood, but I can’t see that it’s workable. Sure, some of us can and will voluntarily decrease our footprint. Some of us will try our best to live green, thrifty lives. But, let’s face it, the vast majority of people have been raised to believe in the capitalist system. Much of the world believes that more is better and more money is better than anything and makes you a better person. While pockets of resistance are good, they don’t do much against the prevailing socialization.

I’m not saying we should give up. We have personal as well as societal reasons for being green and thrifty. Mine are saving money and the health of my family.

Oh good grief. I can only be pessimistic for so long, then I start refuting myself. If the pockets of resistance didn’t matter, the “green revolution” wouldn’t be happening. Marx’s Capitalist class has always been at the mercy of the consumers. Every once in a while the consumers realize it for a second and things change in a measurable way – worker’s rights, safety measures, corporations at least pretending to go green. Yes, in a capitalist society, money equals power generally. But, if enough people cause enough of a stink, those in power must respond or risk losing that power.

As a society we are remarkably oblivious. We are scandalized by the greed of those who have power and wealth. We are blind to the fact that we are using resources at an alarming rate. We are lulled into complacency by the story of the ones who achieved the dream of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to a better life. We believe that if we work hard and follow the rules, we too can be rich and powerful. It’s an attractive story. Increasingly though, it’s one that people are questioning. Especially the Gen Xers and after, are realizing that working hard and following the rules won’t get you to that better life necessarily. Benefits are eroding, pay is stagnant, costs are increasing, and jobs are scarce. So it becomes a question of alternate ways of measuring success. We still want creature comforts. We believe our hard work deserves that, but we are learning to be content with less. Some of us are considering the effects of our consumerism. The Boomers started it with the counterculture of the 1960’s and it’s really taken hold in the last decade.

Ok, this has become a huge mish-mash of theory and thoughts. I’ve lost track of what I meant to accomplish with this post. I guess really, just an exploration of the competing thoughts in my head. What do you think? Was Marx right and money equals power? Is the revolution in progress? Or are we too set in our ways and any change is surface and somewhat temporary?

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