Saturday, November 27, 2004

Critiquing Buy Nothing Day

Here is an interesting posting criticizing Buy Nothing Day, as well as the related analysis of consumerism as the source of the problems of society and anti-consumerism as our salvation. It argues that such an analysis and such events are anti-worker and anti-woman.

I have to admit, I have celebrated BND with street theatre-type actions before, though not in a number of years. The first critique I read of it was an essay advocating that we celebrate Steal Something Day instead by some anarchists up in Montreal — they captured the class-related problems, though if I remember correctly there wasn’t a gender component to that analysis as there is in the link above.

Anyway, I agree that the consumerism/anti-consumerism paradigm has problems, and treating it as the problem/the answer leads to limited and even oppressive goals and activities. However, I think perhaps the above post throws the baby out with the bath water, as it were. I’m only tentatively adopting this position as I need to think about it more, but I do think there is still value in problematizing unsustainable consumption. Obviously there are environmental implications, and I think fostering awareness of that is important. I think there are also solid radical reasons for activists within working-class and poor communities to problematize it — encouraging collective resistance and solidarity not by demonizing consumption and consumers, as some BND-related activity does, but by honestly pointing out (in the process of creating alternatives) that it is never really going to fill the void created by alienation. And I think it is also important to problematize it amongst the middle-class because sooner or later we are going to have give up that level and kind of attachment to consumption — giving it up won’t create the change, as the Adbusters folks claim, but an openness to giving up consumption-related privilege might make the inevitable middle-class insistence on a repressive response to the movements that will ultimately demand radical changes (workers, women, national liberation movements in the global south, and others) a bit less unified and strident. It won't prevent repressive responses, but even weakening repressive responses can be important to supporting those who are being beaten down.

The problem, I think, is not problematizing excess consumption per se but doing it (a) in a way that is not conscious of the broader context of power and privilege and exploitative relations of production, and (b) in a way that uncritically reproduces the puritanism that pervades so much of North American culture (including many other facets of activist culture, unfortunately).

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