P O S T E D B Y S A L L Y
Sally Wilde, a retired philosophy professor and frequent contributor to White Courtesy Telephone, lives in Colorado where she blogs, tends to her six beautiful grandchildren, and earns beer money at the Naughty Bits Internet Café.
1. Susan Herr at PhilanthroMedia* writes:
Myriad messages now confirm that you don’t have to give up your life of comfort to make the world better. You don’t have to go to the convent or work at your local nonprofit. Neither donors, nor corporate employees, are immune to this emerging gestalt.
This massive PR campaign is something we could never have afforded but the result is that our troops are growing. Highly-resourced and skilled reinforcements are being sent to the front lines in this convergence of profit and social good.
I have to respectfully disagree. I believe the game is essentially lost unless we begin to question and, in some cases, challenge the structures that lead to unequal opportunity—to joy for some and misery for others. This might indeed entail giving up our lives of comfort. I’m especially concerned about the implication that unchecked consumption might be sustainable. Worse still, the highly-resourced and skilled reinforcements Susan mentions will attempt to answer the questions, “What is wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?”, but they’ll leave unanswered the most fundamental question of all: “Who really cares?”
2. The great liberal theorist Isaiah Berlin championed what he called a negative conception of liberty, one that left unconstrained the actions of citizens. The state was to remain neutral on questions regarding the ultimate Good, providing a framework of rights in which individuals would be free to pursue their own visions of the good life. He imagined, perhaps, a society of knowledgeable and engaged citizens, deliberating, arguing with one another, holding their political leaders accountable. Their deliberations would inflect the teachings in their schools, the conduct of their businesses, the prayers rising from their houses of worship. Did he ever imagine that the Great Axiological Machine—the generator and clarifier of values—would not be the polis but Madison Avenue, funded by powerful interests to maintain the value of their investments?
3. Our ability to deliberate as citizens has been lost. We’re no longer citizens but consumers who identify ourselves to one another by the products and services we buy. I’m a Macintosh kind of woman, you’re a Starbucks kind of guy. The checkout line has replaced the Forum as the primary nexus of citizen participation and expression.
4. The American Dream is a dream about ownership. And in this dream, the home represents not a base from which we set off to engage the world and make it better, but a place that we pack full of the crap we unceasingly purchase. We’ve harnessed technology not to provide us lives of enhanced contemplation, but of greater consumption.
5. We’re consumerist sheep vaguely aware of the cost to others of our American way of life. Poorly educated about our own history, anesthetized by marketing, beguiled by the illusion of news, we slip inexorably into barbarity. The civil rights movements of the 50s and 60s—those great efflorescences of human consciousness—have not been able to save us from ourselves.
6. We don’t exercise democracy in the voting booth: We purchase a product shaped as much by polls and focus groups as the flavorless bran flakes in our cereal bowls.
7. The health of our state is measured not by the growth of our GDP but by how many times each night, across this country, we’re moved to shout angrily at our television sets.
* Thanks to Phil Cubeta at GiftHub for flagging this post.