Harbingers of revolution: economic crisis or General Consumption Strike?

AdBusters corporate logo mashupA significant factor in the current financial crisis, so the newspapers tell us, is people spending less money in the marketplace. Conventional economic logic describes this as uncoordinated and irrational behaviour, a kind of emergent phenomenon that pushes the system into recession. [image by BdR76]

The culture-jamming movement would like to suggest otherwise, though. To these economic activists, what we’re seeing is a conscious decision by a growing section of the population of the world to drop out of the consumerist lifestyle to a greater or lesser extent. And they see it not just as positive, but as a prerequisite to the revolution:

Ours is not a purely nihilistic campaign, we do not revel in economic collapse out of spite but instead because we believe that only after an economic decline will it be possible to bring about the necessary changes to capitalism that will assure a sustainable future. We are also taking steps to insure that the money we save by decreasing our consumption goes to organizing mutual aid societies that will provide services to our needy compatriots.

To join the General Consumption Strike is easy: spend less, live more. Consider doing without your high-speed internet, cell phone service, beer or wine, restaurants, gasoline, new clothes, fancy electronics and tourism. Think of the money you will save, the fewer hours you’ll need to work, and the more time you’ll have to live. […] Stay strong, this is a once in a hundred year opportunity!

I’ve a fair amount of sympathy with what’s being said here, but the language and rhetoric of revolution always sticks in my throat, no matter how close I am to the philosophy behind it – and imagine there are people with more to lose than myself who will be even more riled by it.

But maybe the culture jammers are right; tough times breed strange behaviours, after all, and rebranding a crisis as an opportunity is just one of many. [link via No Fear Of the Future]

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dumpster-dive for my lunch.

8 thoughts on “Harbingers of revolution: economic crisis or General Consumption Strike?”

  1. Language of revolution? I just think they’re over-analyzing the situation, just a tad. I think I’ve been doing something along these lines for years, not out of revolutionary fervor, but as a result of looking around and seeing nothing I want. What I see around me is the lifestyle equivalent of “56 channels and nothing on”. All these things that people do, and the things they buy, but they rarely stop to ask “why?”

  2. Yeah, I suspect them of coat-tailing on current affairs a little. But hey, why not? And I’m with you on conspicuous consumption; apart from my tech jones (which I can’t afford to feed anyhow), I tend to keep things until they wear out, and take advantage of life’s quasi-infinite bounty. I’ll be eBaying the ethernet switch I found in a pile of rubbish outside a refitted shop last night, for example. 🙂

  3. I’ve been in favor of revolution for nearly twenty years, however I tend to disagree with the analysis of the Adbusters crew. We cannot simply stop shopping and find our way out of the current crisis, but rather must organize together to take control of our workplaces, neighborhoods, media centers, and on and on. Without a collective attempt to wrest control from the top to the bottom this crisis will end up as a slide into the depths of what is already a feudal society. Economic security and general wealth brings power to the majority to make the changes needed for sustainablity, and more importantly, an interesting and fulfilling life.

    It’s easy to see why intelligent people are put off by the rhetoric of revolution in a time where we are more and more atomized and alienated. What kind of revolution could possibly come out of general misery and despair without a collective and compassionate response to the misery?

    While it’s true that we should turn away from consumerism and the building up of personal debt, turn away from replacing our real life relations with gadgets, we must also have a positive vision of collective action. We can’t just turn off our TV sets, but must also talk to our neighbors and work to support each other in what will inevitably be a struggle.

  4. Rereading the statement from the Adbusters crew I see that much of my prescription is also theirs. I would just ad that their emphasis on the positive aspects of an economic decline smacks of their security in the system as it was. Many are struggling to make rents, buy food, and so on, and while false needs don’t help, the drive to consume and participate in the images of a spectacular society is a trap, the starting point must be understanding the real material needs of people, and how the collapse of the false economy will have real and dire consequences.

  5. I think Doug is on the right track here. Adbusters always seems like great diagnosis (funny and sharp, albeit shooting at easy targets) but devoid of any viable prescription. They are definitely right about the crisis representing a massive opportunity for real change (though as of yesterday’s stock market recovery there seems to be a big collective “that was a close one” sigh of relief). I fear that change will just be a further consolidation of power in an autocratic (and increasingly privatized/nationalized) executive adept at strumming the hopes and fears of the masses, whether the figurehead be the cranky tortured hate monger or the every-race Kwisatz Haderach. Revolutionary rhetoric will be as important as ever as the pace of change accelerates, and science fiction needs to do its part to frame the debate by spelunking imminent utopias and dystopias. On that point, Doug, you might enjoy parts of this riff published in these pages last year: https://futurismic.com/2007/02/01/rpm-by-chris-nakashima-brown/

  6. Shop until you drop! Spend every cent you have and borrow until the absolute limits are reached! Be patriotic and support the system now it needs you most! Fill the pockets of the high-rollers until they are satiated and retired in Dubai! Buy Chinese products, we owe them! Go bankrupt, and then suffer the consequences, it really doesn’t matter, your government will print fiat based money until the dollar is worth less than toilet paper! The Great Depression is imminent!
    We are locked in to a doomsday scenario, ending with two classes in our society, Those who live in Dubai and only visit America to inspect their work-camps, and the rest of us! At the crux of the matter is our oil addiction. We must resolve this either by annihilating the populations of the oil rich countries and taking the oil, or by getting off of oil in our society and using Solar, wave, wind, nuclear etc., Those are our choices: pay off the oil barons and enslave ourselves to a dwindling resource or make the change to new means of transportation in our society!

  7. “…spend less, live more. Consider doing without your high-speed internet, cell phone service, beer or wine, restaurants, gasoline, new clothes, fancy electronics and tourism. Think of the money you will save, the fewer hours you’ll need to work, and the more time you’ll have to live.” Well, thanks Captain Obvious, but I thought I was doing that. I am sorry, but whoever wrote this is a naive rich kid who doesn’t understand what regular people go through to live and is a little confused about how to make this world better. Me, I’m down to the essentials and I’m still hurting. What now?
    Besides, I think readers of this blog would agree things like the internet are not luxuries. How to get a better job, connect with like minded people, learn and grow without it? Likewise travel is vital to the growth of one’s cultural IQ, something this country is sorely lacking.
    So before we all end up in shanties or on junks, hunting the local marsh for food, we should be working on reinventing the tools and building our own garage workshops to satisfy these means. And look at advertising as the background noise that it is, and learn the value of turning it off. Now I’m turning into Captain Obvious…

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