Follow-up to ‘Conformity and consumption’

2004/12/16 at 15:06

In my recent post, Conformity and consumption, I linked to and quoted from The Rebel Sell. The article’s authors argue that our attempts to reject mass culture just lead to different types of consumerism. The authors believe that there is no real way to avoid this trap:

It is tempting to think that we could just drop out of the race, become what Harvard professor Juliet Schor calls “downshifters.” That way we could avoid competitive consumption entirely. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. We can walk away from some competitions, take steps to mitigate the effects of others, but many more simply cannot be avoided.

Maybe we cannot avoid all forms of competitive consumption, but I want to believe that we can consciously avoid many of them.
Today I received an email from someone who had read my earlier blog entry. This correspondent lives on a kibbutz in Israel, and writes:

We are 20 families, living in smalltown Israel. Each of us has his/her professional life. All salaries go to one bank account and split
No member owns a private car. Not owning a car makes you indifferent to what make and model and year it is, as long as it goes from here to there with minimal comfort. It makes you indifferent to cars as objects.
What counts in this kind of life is what kind of a person you are to
your friends and kibbutz members, and not what you own.

Living in such a communal intentional community certainly seems to be one way to avoid many forms of competitive consumption, but it’s a pretty radical step for most people. From my research a few years ago into intentional communities, it takes a pretty strong commitment to withdraw together from the mainstream (it helps that so many intentional communities have a spritual basis, I think).
Many intentional communities just don’t make the break successfully. Or at the least, instead of competing with everyone in the culture, the members end up reproducing the same types of issues within their much smaller community.
The question is still open if and how I can ‘downshift’ in meaningful, though less radical, ways.