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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » The Tyranny of Consumerism and Other Modern Ailments

The Tyranny of Consumerism and Other Modern Ailments

'Fashionrexia' is a Tyranny For Many - Alpha du centaure
People’s behaviour has long been conditioned by dictators, time, crowds, addictions. Now fashion, shopping and consumerism join the list of life’s traps.

Dictators have subjected/enslaved others for as long as humans have lived in tribes. The tyranny of crowd behaviour at sports, grabbing the latest must-have (like Cabbage Patch Dolls in 1978) or lynch-mob gladiatorial responses like at executions, is well documented.

The tyranny of the urgent is addressed by ACTS International from a Christian perspective, citing Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal … a time for war and a time for peace’, as the antidote.

Indeed, a number of spiritual leaders say they welcome economic crisis as an opportunity for people to reappraise the price humanity has paid for living with man-based priorities.

Political Tyrannies

Professor David Pion-Berlin, Professor of Political Science at the University of California Riverside ran a course called ‘Modern Tyrannies’. He said the 20th century was one of ‘political repression’, with more people dying at the hands of their own governments than from all wars in the previous 100 years. Governments that abuse power to inflict such suffering are styled tyrannies.

His course traced development of the nation state, war/nationalism/ideology and tyrannies across the political spectrum. He included Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Pinochet’s Chile, Videla’s Argentina and Duvalier’s Haiti. While barely scratching the surface of tyrannies in the political sense, it’s part of a current reconsideration of personal/individual freedom in a world facing new economic, climate, food, shelter, fuel and ideological meltdown.

Modern Tyrants: The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age (1994) by Daniel Chirot, a dictatorship sourcebook, described ideologically-driven tyrannies like those of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, and tyrannies rooted in corruption, brutality and elite/minority concentration of power, such as Idi Amin’s Uganda, with what Publishers’ Weekly called ‘a volatile mix of angry and resentful nationalisms, economic misery and intellectual extremism: a disquieting and ominous road map of the last century’s political horrors’.

The Library Journal commented that the book discussed the ‘decline of East-West politics which has allowed closer scrutiny of the polities and their leaders who lived and sometimes profited in the shadow of the cold war’. Revisiting relatively recent history is not just an exercise in postmodernism, but is necessary to understand how tyrannies can be survived.

When fear of life of self and/or loved ones is the force, how many people can actually prevent tyranny taking hold? Can the political system devise sufficient safeguards? Democracies would say they do, but, for example, Hitler was elected to office.

The Tyranny of Security

Paul Joseph Watson writing on Prison in February 2010 wondered whether much increased security levels in a democracy on ordinary US people didn’t jeopardise the Fourth Amendment. In just one example from Tampa, Florida, he used an ABN News report on how local police and security forces implement random searches at bus depots, as an example of how ‘airport tyranny is being rolled out onto the streets’.

He warned that bomb-sniffing dogs, pat-downs, metal detector wanding, gloved inspections of hand-carried bags are to be part of everyday life, as if almost everyone is a criminal. It’s called VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response), and since 2005 this ‘counter-terror’ surveillance has arrived at many mass transit facilities across the US.

Similar illustrations are appearing around the world. Continuous camera surveillance, recognition systems, internet and phone records, the holding of detailed data and body scanners are becoming everyday elements of living. Watson’s point is that authorities are likely to abuse such power over people, and harassing old people, children, the disabled and anybody who doesn’t ‘conform to the norm’ is getting out of hand. Few people argue against being alert to terrorist attacks on daily life, though.

Fashion, Consumption, Image

Charty Durrant, fashion editor and lecturer, wrote in 2009 in Resurgence Magazine: “adornment and embellishment through our clothes, jewellery and hair are natural and confirm humankind’s creative capacity’. She argued that some social injustices like sweatshops and child labour are still not addressed; the fashion industry personifies half a century of ‘unrestrained greed, a daily diet of advertising and rampant over-consumption’.

She said that people’s looks have never been so important and that human identity is defined by what one owns rather than who one is. People spend most leisure time and resources (even to the point of cultural neurosis) on shopping and reshaping their bodies, images, teeth, hair, faces, breasts. Celebrity-obsession and self-obsession she cited as illustrations of this point.

Miniskirts and psychedelic prints of the 1960s, ‘served as a cultural barometer’ as other styles have done in other periods. She claims that today’s designers look constantly backwards for inspiration and today’s catwalk size zero models reflect ‘the cultural distortion of our times’. Psychologists dealing with low self esteem, eating disorders, self-harm and body dysmorphia have coined the phrase ‘fashionrexic’ to describe heavily addicted style/image obsessives.

Durrant said ‘the consumer is now tyrannised by trends’. Television programmes about house, body and lifestyle improvements dominate schedules. The market is ‘saturated by choice’, yet shopping centres conform the world over; the internet and mass television ensure globalisation and fashion addiction by ever more people. ‘Modern fashion is made from many seemingly incompatible ingredients, but the cornerstones are built-in obsolescence, fear of humiliation, and sexual attraction’.

In his book Affluenza (2007), British psychologist Oliver James put forward the notion of a connection between some people’s increased wealth and others’ poverty; between the inequality of society and the unhappiness of citizens. The growth of high-demand top-end fashion items is testimony to that, and equally the ingenuity of the forgers and fakers who cash in on labels, selling ‘genuine fakes’ cheaply in a market where everyone wants to be unique. Just like everybody else.

First published on Suite 101, 30 August 2010.

Photo: ‘Fashionrexia’ is a Tyranny For Many – Alpha du centaure

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