Regressive Narcissism and the culture of consumption;
the last man;
|Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)
|Compare below with neoclassical and institutional economics. The making of the strange new being--the postmodern "consumer" is really a bundle of patholigies and institutionally and ideologically constructed appetites. See also Wrangham et. al. re biology of consumption (competition for status). This is the organism as consumer. But also the organism as voter (not as citizen, which is meaningless in context of the questions raised by this site). These two pages shatters the complacent and simple-minded view of the voter, as Criminal Identities shatters the received view of the consumer and his sacred desires, and of consumption as the universal goal and the universal good. Freedom as consumption and unrestrained desire subverts freedom as scope for development. See CNN at any time.|
Nietzsche, The Gay
Science, Book Two, 86:
What now? One gives the mole wings and proud conceits--before it is time to go to sleep, before he crawls back into his hole? One sends him off into the theater and places large glasses before his blind and tired eyes? Men whose lives are not an "action" but a business, sit before the stage . . . . The whole process, including the theater, the audience, and the poet, will strike him as the really tragic or comical spectacle . . . . Theater and music as the hashish-smoking and betel-chewing of the European! Who will ever relate the whole history of narcotica?--It is almost the history of "culture," of our so-called higher culture.
from Nietzsche, The Geneology of Morals, I, 10:
. . . "happiness" at the level of the impotent, the oppressed, and those in whom poisonous and inimical feelings are festering, with whom it appears as essentially narcotic, drug, rest, peace, "sabbath," slackening of tension and relaxing of limbs, in short, passively.from Nietzsche, The Geneology of Morals, I, 11:
Not fear; rather that we no longer have anything left to fear in man; that the maggot "man" is swarming in the foreground; that the "tame man," the hopelessly mediocre and insipid man, has already learned to feel himelf as the goal and the zenith, as the meaning of history . . .
from Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, 5:
The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man, and the strings of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!
Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest.
We have invented happiness, say the last men, and they blink.
|from Michel Houellebecq, Whatever (at the mall)
I observe right away that people generally go around in bands, or in little groups of between two and six individuals. No one group is exactly the same as another, it appears to me. Obviously they resemble each other, they resemble each other enormously, but this resemblance could not be called being the same. It is as if they've elected to embody the antoagonism which neccesarily goes with any kind of iindividuation by adopting slightly different behavior patterns, ways of moving around, formulas for regrouping.
Next, I notice that all these people seem satisfied with themselves and the world; it's astonishing, even a little frightening. They quietly saunter around, this one displaying a quizical smile, that one a moronic look. Some of the youngsters are dressed in leather jackets with slogans borrowed from the more primitive kind of hard rock; you can read phrases on their backs like Kill them all! or Fuck and destroy!; but all commune in the certaintly of passing an agreeable afternon devoted primarily to consumerism, and thus contributing to the consolidation of their being. (68-9)
of the excerpts in the cell to the right express the conventional
consumerism that dominates the entire spectrum of public thought on the
"good life." The good life, in its "Fordist" formulation, is
about stuff, commodities, consumer durables especially. They are
presented in reverse chronological order, starting with Gene M. Heyman's Addiction:
A Disorder of Choice.
Heyman's argument is that addiction is not a disease, but a central characteristic of consumerism. Addiction is not a disease, but an effect of modern capitalism.
The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment, Joanna Moncrieff mel
Stanto Peele, The Diseasing of America
Amazon blurb for Peele
A Controversial Argument Against the Disease Theory of Addiction, Diseasing of America is a powerful and controversial rebuttal to the "addiction as disease model" that many vested interests-including doctors, counselors, psychologists, treatment centers, and twelve-step programs that specialize in addiction treatment-don't want you to read."I found the arguments in Diseasing of America persuasive and carefully documented. While I find current addiction-treatment models helpful, I think it is critical to look at Stanton Peele's work to question our fundamental assumptions and adjust them on the basis of data."-Jennifer P. Schneider, author of Back From Betrayal and Sex, Lies, and Forgiveness, and member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.The Lebow, Filene, and Brougham excerpts represent
"A provocative review of the uses and abuses of the disease model in the past three decades. This important book has significantly added to my education and clinical understanding of addiction in my professional practice."-Richard R. Irons, M.D., The Menninger Clinic
from Gene M. Heyman, Addiction:
A Disorder of Choice (Harvard Univesity Press, 2009)
Critics of consumerism have often blamed social institutions or "society." The analysis presented here does not deny that social forces play an important role in promoting excessive consumption levels. What it adds is the point that there would be excessive consumption levels even if advertising did not exist. As long as choices are made from the local perspective, and this is usually the perspective that people take, the favored good will be consumed excessively. Advertisers and merchants encourage this tendency, and conversely, ascetic movements counter this tendency. (p. 35)
from Gary Greenberg review of Addiction: A Disorder of Choice, in New Scientist, July 25, 2009
Heyman shows how the failure to sacrifice short-term gains (getting high) for long-term gains (sobriety-aided productivity) is endemic to a consumer culture.from Victor Lebow, The Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955, p. 7.
Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual saatisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption . . . We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.
from Edward Filene, "The New Capitalism, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 149, May 1930, p. 10.
It will be necessary for the consumer to want more things.
Among the recommentations to eliminate waste, prepared by the Hoover Committee of the Federated American Engineering Societies appears the following: "Productive capacity should be conservatively based upon a careful study of normal demand." A little further on the Committee urges: "Production schedules should be based on a carefully formulated sales policy, determined from an intensive study of markets, thus stabilizing production."
Planners of prosperity, not for individuals but for the nation, would turn thse maxims inside out. They would change the first maxim to read: "Normal demand should be based on a careful study of productive capacity, and should be steadily increased as capacity to produce increases."
The second recommendation would read, as revised: "The aim is not to stabilize production, but to expand production, and to remove any purely monetary hinderance to that expansion by providing that markets be supported by an always adequate purchasing power."
Thus private sales policy would be reduced to the welcome task of ascertaining the selective preferences of a patronage that is at all times able to buy the full output. Production would not be stabilized, but mobilized with a view constantly to raising the standard of living.
|add Veblen from further comments--bildung
Appetite and Entropy: Subverting Cognitive Development
Capitalism builds on two fundamentally opposed processes: organization and discipline, and appetite and desire. The former, organization and discipline, is the more widely applied conceptual framework. On the other hand, appetite and desire are simply taken for granted as the good, and the former is judged in terms of how well it serves the latter.
Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture: crime, exclusion and the new culture of narcissism shatters this complacent and simple-minded view that is at the heart of most thinking about modern politics. In my judgement this is one of the most important books of our time. Without a grasp of its major assertions no serious understanding of our own time is possible. Hence the lengthy excerpt to the right.
Before I came across Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture, I had written the following, much more limited and less analytical than this book, but at least I was on the right track. Here it is:
Capitalism builds on two fundamentally opposed processes: organization (as a form of discipline), and an entropic drive emergent out of the proliferating appetites and desires of a population driven by increasingly complex psychological needs, stimulated and expressed in the marketplace. Vast sectors of the mass consumer market are built out of and through the perversion of primal needs (Butler), and these perversions are the content of the semiotic atmosphere that shapes and limits most minds. These appetites and desires of postmodern capitalism gnaw away at the potential for self-discipline that is central to cognitive development.
The media penetration of the nooks and crannies of everyday life, its orchestration of desire, its deployment of demons and heroes, its influence on reconfiguring the reference points for self-discipline, has yet to be appreciated, for it is not only as a theater of desire that the media functions. It also functions as a theater of ressentiment. And most importantly, perhaps, it provides powerfully influential models of language use and cognitive processing for a large subset of the population.
One effect of exponentially increasing appetite and desire that is the central cultural/institutional/economic feature of late capitalism makes its appearance in United States: Obesity Rates, 1990 -- 2009. This graph is about appetite and desire, about cravings irrepressible and irresistible, about deeply buried needs that can never be met. Figure 2 is the history of these moments. How much of this is the ultimate outcome for an animal subjugated to the disciplinary order of capital but liberated to consume? Is it the price paid for the discipline endured, the secret out-creeping of what’s left of the animal man, the last place where one(‘s appetites) can roam free?
United States: Obesity Rates, 1990 -- 2009
1990 1995 2000 2005 2009
In the United States especially, an extreme culture of individualism and pursuit of instant gratification radically undermines the cultural disciplines that are essential developmental resources. [On the Edge, Getting Paid]
A weak public sector, a defeated and broken enlightenment, and a triumphant culture of ressentiment and demonization hegemonic at the level of the public transcript, are all negative factors undermining cognitive development.
The demonization of science, the permanent war against evolutionary theory and bans against advanced forms of stem-cell research, must also be counted as a negative force.
At the level of social and economic policy, a high child poverty rate and a sharply destabilized economy for the bottom half are major factors undermining development.
Under these circumstances decognification and cultural decay are not only inevitable, but already and irreversibly underway.
from Steve Hall, Simon Winlow and Craig Ancrum, Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture: crime, exclusion and the new culture of narcissism (Willan Publishing, 2008)
This specific mode of identification and desire, motivated by the terror of helplessness and insignificance that afflicts each prematurely born and maladapted human being in early childhood, is, of course, infantile narcissism, and it creates and sustains precisely the types of unconscious desires and drives that consumer culture and its para-political civic life require. Most cultures that preceded consumerism were equipped with functional Symbolic Orders replete with the moral prohibitions and reality-testing mechanisms that can engender a maturation process. As the individual enters such an order the unconscious can be brought under control, and consequently the incessant and insatiable demands of the infantile narcissist tend to be pushed back into the background throughout the later stages of the life course, to be displaced by passions for art, science, politics and love. The infantile narcissist does not die, and lapses must be tolerated, but its mode of desire is eventually outweighed and diminished by more important and mature concerns. Thus we must suspect that consumerism somehow interferes with the maturation process, preventing the individual's interest from being drawn towards objects and signs--especially those which are ethically, politically or scientifically charged and thus attractive only to the mature individual--that lie outside the consumer sphere. . . . Once fully unleashed, as it was in the 1960s, consumer culture simply betrayed, brushed aside and demolished the weak forces of the liberal-left, whose rather apologetic appeals to social justice and meritocracy and half-hearted support for the democratic socialist political movement that was attempting to properly replace the old order could not compete with consumer culture's immensely seductive imagery and economic dynamism . . . (173)
Despite this capture of the narcissistic ego by its sources of reflection and recognition in the environment, and the durability of the wish to sustain the attractive option of primary narcissistic identification, in a healthy culture with a rich and mature Symbolic Order all is not lost. The Symbolic is the site of language, the sludge of slipping signifiers that refer to each other and to the signified in the connotative order's receptacle. At the end of the mirror stage, although the primary fantasy does not disappear, accession to the Symbolic Order should at least provide the individual with the linguistic and conceptual means of reflecting critically on the fantasy itself, its source, its functions, its politics and its consequences for the self's autobiographical future. During the entry into the Symbolic Order at the end of the dominance of the mirror phase and the beginning of the Oedipal phase, the child, who has become accustomed to the pleasure of the primary narcissistic identification with his mother's body and her recognition of his identity and physical needs, must accept that the father's right to the mother's body takes precedence. This is the first experience of the deep prohibition of primary desire, much more profound than the minor behavioural prohibitions that the parents and significant others have already introduced. This is not the prohibition of affective bodily contact but the withdrawal of what the child imagines to be exclusive rights to pleasure and identification through pleasure and the traumatic realization that the primary object also recognises and gives pleasure to others. This paternal intervention, expressed verbally, is the first indication that the Law is constituted by prohibitions and taboos that disallow narcissistic identification as the primary sense of being, but in doing so it opens up the reflective, symbolic gap in the narcissistic connection between the Imaginary and the Real. In simple terms, this is a command to 'put away those childish things', to start growing up and engaging with symbolism that allows reflection of the self as a social being; to grow up and consider others. It demands entry into the structure of laws and language that constitute the Symbolic Order as a social code. Better the infant enter a conservative Symbolic Order--in the hope that he or she might one day turn its linguisitic-conceptual tools back on it in a dialecical challenge--than none at all. The alternative is the narcissist's joyride driven by the fetishistic command to circle permanently around objects associated with others who seem to offer vague recognition of the self and represent a concrete form of competence in the immediate environment. (185-6)
from Judith P. Butler, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth
Century France (Columbia University Press, 1987)
Desire is then, is the expression of a longing for the return to the origin that, if recoverable, would necessitate the dissolution of the subject itself. Hence, desire is destined for an imaginary life in which it remains haunted and governed by a libidinal memory it cannot possibly recollect. (pp. 186-7)
This primary repression also constitutes desire as a lack, a response to an originary separation . . . . Elaborating upon Freud's distinction between the object and the aim of the drive, Lacan understands the tacit project of desire to be the recovery of the past through a future which, of necessity, prohibits it; desire is the pathos of the cultural being, the posteodipal subject: "Desire . . . is a lack engendered from the previous time that serves to reply to the lack raised by the following time." The prohibition that constitutes desire is precisely what precludes its final satisfaction; hence, desire is constantly running up against a limit which, paradoxically, is what sustains it as desire. Desire is the restless activity of human beings, that which maintains its disquiet in relation to a necessary limit. (pp. 191-2)
from Robin Usher, Ian Bryant and Rennie Johnston, Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge (Routledge, 1997), pp. 107-108
In the postmodern, the educational is recast as the cultivation of desire through experience, both conditional and responsive to contemporary socio-economic and cultural fragmentation. Learning does not simplistically derive from experience; rather, experience and learning are mutually positioned in an interactive dynamic. Learning becomes the experience gained through consumption and novelty, which then produces new experience. Consequently, the boundaries defining 'acceptible' learning break down--in lifestyle practices learning can be found anywhere in a multiplicity of sites of learning. The predominant concern is with an ever-changing identity through the consumption of experience and of a learning stance toward life as a means of expressing identity. Pedagogically, experiential learning, sitting comfortably within the postmodern, gains an increasingly privileged place as the means by which desire is cultivated and identity formed.
Lifestyle practices centre on the achievement of autonomy through individuality and self-expression, particularly in taste and sense of style. Within a general stylization of life, the mark of autonomy is a stylistic self-consciousness inscribed in the body, in clothes, in ways of speaking, in leisure pursuits, in holidays and the like.
Lifestyle practices are firmly located within the play of difference that is characteristic of consumer culture. Unlike the mass consumption of modernity, consumption in the postmodern is based on choice as difference and difference as choice. In the postmodern, a lifestyle revolves around difference, the acquisition of the distinctive and the different within a signifying culture (Featherstone 1991) that summons up dreams, desires and fantasies in developing a life-project of self and where there is a contnual construction (and reconstruction) of identity and a trying-on of relationships.
Empowerment through autonomy and self-actualization (self-expression) becomes important but assumes a range of very different meanings, from the crumbling of hierarchy in new post-Fordist management to social and cultural empowerment in new social movements, e.g., the women's movement, and movements for ethnic and sexual awareness. One effect of this is that intellectuals, and indeed educators, are forced to assume the role of commentators and interpreters rather than legislators and 'enlightened' pedagogues. Educational practitioners rather than being the source/producers of knowledge/taste become facilitators helping to interpret everybody's knowledge and helping to open up possiblities for further experience. They become part of the 'culture' industry, vendors in the educational hypermarket. In a reversal of modernist education, the consumer (the learner) rather than the producer (educator) is articulated as having greater significance and power.
On the other hand, consumerism knows no boundaries nor does it respect existing markers. Image, style and design take over from modernist metanarratives in conferring meaning. The 'culture' industry, advertising and the media, both 'educate' the consumer and, through the bombardment of images with which people must experientially identify and intepret, also make consumption necessary and compulsive.
It is the promotion of lifestyle practices, the obligation to shape a life through choices in a world of self-referenced objects and images, that influences the self in postmodernity. Autonomy becomes a matter of expressing identity through the consumption of signifying choices. The project of self, rather than being unidirectional and governed by instrumenal rationality, becomes one of the possession of desired goods and the pursuit of a lifestyle governed by the incitement of desire. Pleasure, once the enemy, is now considered indespensible. Rather than life being seen as a search for coherent and lasting meaning, it is construed as the pleasure of experiencing--from the immersion in images, from the flow of images in consumption and leisure and their combination in postmodern pursuits such as shopping. Here, experiences are valued as experiences--for example, one does not shop for the sake of satisfying 'real' needs (since needs are defined by the demands of lifestyle practices, there are no 'real' or 'underlying' needs), let alone for the utility of the goods purchased. As we have noted, consumption is a matter of consuming signs, it is the experience itelf that counts, i.e., that signifies and defines.
|S.A. Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History (Cambridge Univesity Press, 2008)
•Becoming conscious entailed not only sloughing of the corrupt habits of the 'dark masses'--drinking, fighting, gambling and so forth--but also the religious 'superstition' and political conservatism that befogged their minds. In their struggle to forge a 'personality', conscious workers typically embraced the platonic ideal of self-mastery through reason, convinced that reason could liberate the people from the shackles of religion and monarchism. Science magazine and brochures for the mass reader, dealing with topics such as astronomy, evolutionary theory and geography and new technologies, such as radio and powered aviation, were immensely popular. 78
•We have seen that for 'conscous' workers in Russia and, to a lesser extent, in China reading was an activity that was central to self-fashioning, constitutive of what it meant to be a cultured and autonomous individual. By contrast, the relation of the newly literate and semi-literate readers of the lower urban classes to new forms of commercially produced mass literature, produced with an eye to entertainment rather than education, was far less earnest. . . . 100
•In Russia the appearance of commercialized forms of culture aimed at the urban masses alarmed both the tsarist government and many of the intelligentsia. . . . The apperance of a literature designed to entertain rather than edify affronted the sensibilities of the intelligentsia, since it posed a threat to its aspiration to raise the cultural level of the masses and its ability to determine the value of ideas and images in circulation. In 1908, the children's writer and literary critic Kornei Chukovskii, despite making a successful career as a commercial journalist, described the prospect of a 'culture market' as 'horrifying', since 'only those [products] that are most adapted to the tastes and whims of the consumer' would survive. The Copeck Newspaper (Gazeta Kopeika), founded in 1908, epitomized what many intellectuals most loathed and feared. The most popular newspaper among St Petersburg workers, it had a circulation of 250,000 daily by 1910, and as its title indicates, cost one kopeck. . . . Squeezed within its four or five pages were advertisements, domestic and foreign news, photographes, crime reports, accounts of low life and high life in the capital, and stories of success and hard luck. Crucially, it published serialized fiction, much of it sensational in character, which allowed its readers vicariously to experience worlds of adventure, luxury, sexuality, crime and depravity. 100-101
Indeed, without denying the real potental for tension between individual autonomy and class-based collectivism, we may conclude that genuine forms of collectivism and cooperative action are possible only where class solidarity is grounded in autonomous individuals capable of demanding the recognition due to them as thinking, feeling persons. Without that, new forms of group coercion based on weak individuality are likely to be the result . . . 110
|(Smith, Revolution and the People in
Russia and China, on consumerism)
CBC Eat Food Love doc. on individual freedom . . . to do what? To eat! (me! me! me!) Holbach on freedom . . . to become (bildung) intellect, culture, public service
(Gary Cross, An All-Consuming Society)
In the context of the above, a must read: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (Cannongate, 2003)
Also see Robert Pattison, The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism (Oxford University Press, 1987)
For a different, more expansive (but not contradictory) view of narcissism see Marshall W. Alcorn, Jr., Narcissism and the Literary Libido: Rhetoric, Text, and Subjectivity (New York University Press, 1994): chapter 1. "Political Ties and Libidinal Ruptures: Narcissism as the Origin and End of Textual Production."
Alcorn, it seems, is presenting a theory of naricissism (based heavily on Kernberg and Kohut) that could be characterized as developmentally progressive. Hall et. al. use the term narcissism to refern to a more limited--and pathological--process that is developmentally regressive. More on progressive narcissism in Bildung: Was Mozart a Communist?
The Novels of Michel Houellebecq: The Map and the Territory (2010), The Possibility of an Island (2005), The Elementary Particles (1998), and Platform (2001), provide a portrait of late capitalism consistent with the inner logic of this site (developmental divergence/Bildung, ressentiment, and desire).
A note on Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture vs. Houellebecq: the differences can be seen as sociological not psychological. Houellebecq is upscale, Criminal Identities downscale . . . but are there significant (psychological) differences?
Charles Murray's sequel to The Bell Curve (Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010) applies his racist methdology to the white working class, ignoring all of modern social science, focusing instead on the moral failings of non-elites whites. While taking note of the growth of narcissism among poor whites, he views it not as a major cultural trajectory of modern capitalism, but as the moral failings of a newly designated underclass. Jim Capatelli's comment in WSJ article above:
Jim Capatelli Replied:
. . . Charles Murray has never "gotten it". He's written essentially the same book, over and over again, for more than 30 years. It goes like this:
"Rich people are just smarter than everyone else. What you make is always what you're worth. Whites are smarter than blacks in general, but an individual black can be smarter than an individual white, but not very often. Government programs never work, unless it's a program that my backers approve of. Food stamps cause hunger. Head Start is for bad mothers. Public Schools cause ignorance. The sixties ruined a perfect country. Taxes cause government deficits. Tax cuts cause government surpluses. Environmental protection laws cause pollution. The minimum wage makes people poor. Unions create unemployment. Shipping jobs to China creates more and better jobs in the US. Men were always reliable before the sixties. Girls never had sex before marriage, until the sixties. People who go to church are better people than those who don't. The ultra wealthy who own and control almost everything don't cause any social or economic problems. The REAL Social and Economic Elite are liberals working as teachers, social workers, professors, government employees, trial lawyers, scientists, writers, artists, journalists, photographers and child care workers. Why? Because they're stuck up and act like they know more than everyone else and they don't smoke or like fast food and they look down on those who do. And the only mistake the very rich are making is overlooking their obligation to righteously lecture the lazy, shiftless, bums who could also be rich if they just went to work, joined a church, and waited until they were married before having sex.
I only wish I were exaggerating Murray's claims. But I'm not. If anything, I'm understating them.
It gets old.
Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, robert whitaker
The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment, Joanna Moncrieff mel
Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, baldwin
HEALTH 616.89 WATTERS
|philosophy and consumption: another take on freedom and self-fulfillment
||Eli Zaretsky, Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis (Vintage, 2004)
Gene M. Heyman, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice (Harvard Univesity Press, 2009)
Joanna Moncrieff, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Pyschiatric Drug Treatment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
Anne M. Fletcher, Inside Rehab: The Suprising Truth About Addiction Treatment--And How to Get Help that Works (Viking, 2013)
Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (Simon and Schuster, 1982)
The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food (New York Times, February 20, 2013)