Recently, I began posting about the current crisis of corporate imperialism in the context of the war in Iraq. Like every crisis for a dominant ideology, the current crisis is not limited to that isolated problem. Global warming likewise presents a set of contradictions which serve as pressure points on the global corporate elite. Let us explore those contradictions as they relate to global warming, including finding ways to exploit those contradictions. As you may have guessed, I have found a big one.
We start with a recent diary entitled Edged Off The Earth by AudreyShulman. This is one I actually read — and recommended — before it got rescued.
Within three generations is also how soon the bears will be gone. The ice on the arctic sea has thinned more than 40% in the last five decades. By 2100, because of global warming, scientists predict not enough ocean ice will remain for the bears to get to the seals to hunt them. And even this prediction is fairly optimistic. Given the way the arctic is melting so much faster than expected, the bears will probably starve to death a lot sooner.
So what do we about it? AudreySchulman has an answer, specifically, “consume less.” It is an answer so obvious as to be almost trite. But of course it isn’t trite. In fact, it is an answer that strikes right at the heart of the dynamics that drive corporate imperialism. That is why flying monkeys expend so much energy battling the very idea that manmade global warming is even possible. What ought to be a straightforward scientific question, in fact threatens the very existence of their entire social and economic system. Here’s how.
At the heart of capitalism is a machine — both literally and metaphorically. This “money machine” is based on a simple principle called “turnover.” Each transaction represents one turn of the wheel. Everytime the process cycles to create a product, profit is generated in the sale of that product. The more frequently the process cycles, the more rapidly profits accumulate. There is just one thing you need to drive the whole system forward, and that one thing is called “consumers.” It’s real simple, folks. No consumers, no production. So when Audrey Shulman says “consume less,” you should faintly hear every investor on Wall Street give a little shudder. In fact, corporate capitalism has an entire subsidiary industry called “advertising,” which exists to deliver one simple basic message. “Consume more, not less.”
All of which explains the irrational denial of corporate conservatives to the very possibility of global warming, peak oil, or any other structural economic problem arising out of corporate capitalism and its consumer culture. These ostriches can’t even consider the possibility of climate change caused by our industrial production processes. They can’t consider it for the simple reason that it’s straightforward solution — consume less — undercuts the consumption engine that drives corporate capitalism. If global warming demands that we all “consume less,” corporate capitalism demands the exact opposite.
In fact, the problem is pervasive, affecting everyone who lives within our advanced industrial consumer economy — including specifically, you. You see, all those capitalist enterprises require something else, besides their capital equipment. They require labor. Meanwhile, the vast majority of our urban populations have a rather basic requirement to keep body and soul together. It’s called a “job,” and most of them are found inside the very same corporate production machine. In other words, it isn’t just corporate capitalists who have an interest in keeping this production machine going. You have the very same interest. When that machine slows down, because people are “consuming less” that usually leads capitalist enterprises to “employ less,” which means unemployment for more people.
But wait, here is where it gets interesting. I don’t know about you, but “work less, consume less” has a certain appeal to me. I know I’m not alone when I say that I don’t particularly enjoy working as a part of some corporate money machine. Most employees don’t much like working in it. They don’t like producing something that belongs to somebody else, where that corporate owner of what they produced pays them as little as possible, and keeps the profits from their labor for himself.
Hence, we have the very definition of “freedom” in our late industrial corporate economy. Freedom means freedom from that tyranny we call “debt.” How does that bumper sticker go? “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” As a matter of fact, debt is what keeps vast numbers of people chained to the production system — a system they leave the split second they get the chance. But wait, it gets even more interesting. Most of that debt-slavery is self-imposed. If you want your own house you’ll need a mortgage. You will probably — though not necessarily — need to finance a car, if you want one that is reliable and will last a while. If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of nowhere with car trouble you will also appreciate the utility of having a credit card. People also tend to use them to buy pretty much every kind of consumer product imaginable. Take note, that corporate capital profits coming and going. They profit when you work to produce those goods and services — the one’s you don’t own that they sell. Then they profit on the interest you pay.
This brings us back to the advertising industry, and indeed the entire corporate media. The entire television industry, not just the commercials but the programs too, deliver one consistent continual message, 24 hours a day on 500 channels. That message is “buy more shit.” How does that definition of prosperity go? That’s when you buy stuff you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t like. If you put enough of that shit on your credit card you get “reward points.” Those enable you to get even more shit you don’t need. “Consume less” runs counter to the nonstop exhortation of an entire multibilion dollar industy telling you to consume more, more, more. The hell of it is that if everybody took the advice to “consume less”, and slowed down the production machine, many would lose the job they need to pay for the shit they already bought. In fact, today’s big economic question — the one that caused another Wall Street meltdown today — is how we’re going to keep everybody buying shit, and what’s going to happen when the American consumer, at long last, finds himself tapped out. With housing prices collapsing — drying up the equity people use to keep the spend-o-rama going — that moment of truth may be upon us.
Now let’s shift gears a little bit. It turns out that corporate America may have an interest in your continued mindless consumption. However good it feels when you go shopping, the fact is that all that mindless overconsumption may not be in your best interests. It turns out that if “consuming less” is good for polar bears, it might be good for you too. Spending less, paying down your debts, and establishing a little economic independence from the corporate consumption treadmill is in fact a worthy goal of millions of haggard American wagearners/consumers. By the time most of us are in our thirties, we’ve figured out that there isn’t a god damn thing at the mall we can’t pretty well do without. What we really need — all of us — is for the entire system to slow down so that we can all spend less, owe less, oh, and work less.
All of which brings us to the payoff, the ultimate mind-fuck you can lay on your favorite flying monkey.
You are probably familiar with one George Will. Every once in a while, Mr. Will feels compelled to write an elegy to the superior culture and character of the wealthy. It seems, according to him, that the wealthy really are a better grade of human being than you and I. They practice a list of virtues Mr. Will furnishes, including virtues like “hard work, delayed gratification, and thrift.” That last one, “thrift,” is usually counted among the basic virtues of capitalism, right up there with the “work ethic” in its sanctity. As it turns out, “thrift” is also the solution to the polar bear’s problem. You see, “thrift” and “consuming less” are THE SAME GODDAMN THING. It turns out that the solution to global warming is a fundamental capitalist virtue. Meanwhile, apologists for capitalism are positively apoplectic over the very notion of global warming. Why? It might encourage people to start being “thrifty” — you know, the way good capitalists are supposed to be, the way the conservative global wamring denier, George Will says we should be.
You do believe that don’t you George? You do believe that “thrift” also known as “consuming less” is a good and virtuous thing for American consumers to do? Right?
They’re whipsawed. The straightforward solution to global warming turns out to be a bedrock bourgeois value known as “thrift.” Whether human driven global warming is a fact or not, “thrift” is a good idea regardless. Consuming less has any number of benefits, starting with basic debt relief for your average American consumer. It also has environmental benefits beyond any question of global warming. Oh, and consuming less petroleum, thus reducing dependency on a strategic resource found in foreign countries, also strikes me as being, well, downright patriotic. As for conservative rhetoric about the virtue of thrift, we now have their number. They don’t really believe in it. Corporate imperialism is in fact based not on thrift, but on profligacy. As a matter of fact, too much thrift and the whole capitalist edifice will collapse. Instead of presenting the growing edifice of evidence — to which they are impervious — just tell them that.