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Fundamentalist Consumerism and an Insane Society

February 2009
By Bruce E. Levine

Originally published by ZMag.

At a giant Ikea store in Saudi Arabia in 2004, three people were killed by a stampede of shoppers fighting for one of a limited number of $150 credit vouchers. Similarly, in November 2008, a worker at a New York Wal-Mart was trampled to death by shoppers intent on buying one of a limited number of 50-inch plasma HDTVs.

Jdiniytai Damour, a temporary maintenance worker was killed on “Black Friday.” In the predawn darkness, approximately 2,000 shoppers waited impatiently outside Wal-Mart, chanting, “Push the doors in.” According to Damour’s fellow worker Jimmy Overby, “He was bum-rushed by 200 people. They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me.” Witnesses reported that Damour, 34 years old, gasped for air as shoppers continued to surge over him. When police instructed shoppers to leave the store after Damour’s death, many refused, some yelling, “I’ve been in line since yesterday morning.”

The mainstream press covering Damour’s death focused on the mob of crazed shoppers and, to a lesser extent, irresponsible Wal-Mart executives who failed to provide security. However, absent in the corporate press was anything about a consumer culture and an insane society in which marketers, advertisers, and media promote the worship of cheap stuff.

Along with journalists, my fellow mental health professionals have also covered up societal insanity. An exception is the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980). Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955), wrote: “Yet many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of ‘unadjusted’ individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself.”

While people can resist the cheap-stuff propaganda and not worship at Wal-Mart, Ikea, and other big-box cathedrals—and stay out of the path of a mob of fundamentalist consumers—it is difficult to protect oneself from the slow death caused by consumer culture. Human beings are every day and in numerous ways psychologically, socially, and spiritually assaulted by a culture which:

  • creates increasing material expectations
  • devalues human connectedness
  • socializes people to be self-absorbed
  • obliterates self-reliance
  • alienates people from normal human emotional reactions
  • sells false hope that creates more pain

Read the rest of this entry »


One of Philadelphia’s larger newspapers puts Paul Glover, local currency and mutual aid-based health care advocate, on its cover story. As always, Paul makes wise and witty proposals to help us solve our economic and ecological woes, and now people are finally listening!

My favorite solution: “Neighborhood watch instead of neighborhood watch TV.” [alex]

Prepare for the Best

A guide to surviving — and thriving in — Philadelphia’s new green future.

Published: Jan 28, 2009
CityPaper

The Dark Season closes around Philadelphia. Wolves howl, “Tough times coming!” Young professionals with good jobs study budget cuts, watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are laid off; college students wonder who’s hiring. Old-timers remember when Philadelphia staggered through the terrible Depression years without jobs or dollars, while crime and hunger rose. Some districts here never escaped that Depression — they’re still choosing between heating and eating.

As usual, the future will be different. Philadelphia’s responses to global warming and market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will decide whether our future here becomes vastly better or vastly worse. Whether we’re the Next Great City or Next Great Medieval Village. Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and natural gas.

But to hell with tragedy. Let’s quit dreading news. Take the Rocky road. There are Philadelphia solutions for every Philadelphia problem.

Imagine instead that, 20 years from now, Philadelphia’s green economy enables everyone to work a few hours creatively daily, then relax with family and friends to enjoy top-quality local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable. And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the planet. Pretty wild, right?

Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more practical than cynical. The tools, skills and wealth exist.

Mayor Michael Nutter foresees we’ll become the “Greenest City in the United States.” So it’s common-sensible to ask, “What are the tools of such a future?” “What jobs will be created?” “Who has the money?” “Where are the leaders?” “How will Philadelphia look?” “What can we learn from other cities?”

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily ridiculed, because they disturb comfortable work habits, ancient traditions and sacred hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are closing. They help us get ready for the green economy, and get there first. Big changes are coming so we might as well enjoy the ride. You have good ideas, too — bring ’em on.

From “Yes We Can” to “Now We Do”

As President Barack Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” Philadelphia’s chronic miseries suggest that primary dependence on legislators, regulators, police, prisons, bankers and industry won’t save us. They’re essential partners, but the people who will best help us are us. Read the rest of this entry »


Now I hope people don’t see this article as ‘support for the Soviet Union’ or something ridiculous like that, but I think this is a very insightful and amusing article, based on a powerpoint presentation.  The question is, was the USSR more prepared for the economic collapse it suffered than the US is for the collapse it will soon suffer?  Orlov lived through the former and seems to think that it was.

Also note that I strongly disagree with his recommendation to abandon politics – he’s right that politicians are swine but i think he’s wrong in overlooking people’s ability to build a resistance movement that can make real changes to our society, despite politicians best efforts to derail it.  So with that, enjoy the article! [alex]

Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US

by Dmitry Orlov
Originally published be Energy Bulletin, December 4, 2006.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist. I am more of an eye-witness. I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and I have tried to put my observations into a concise message. I will leave it up to you to decide just how urgent a message it is.

My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the “Collapse Gap” – to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War.

Slide [2] The subject of economic collapse is generally a sad one. But I am an optimistic, cheerful sort of person, and I believe that, with a bit of preparation, such events can be taken in stride. As you can probably surmise, I am actually rather keen on observing economic collapses. Perhaps when I am really old, all collapses will start looking the same to me, but I am not at that point yet.

And this next one certainly has me intrigued. From what I’ve seen and read, it seems that there is a fair chance that the U.S. economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won’t be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the U.S. economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act. And so I am eager to put my observations of the Soviet collapse to good use.

Slide [3] I anticipate that some people will react rather badly to having their country compared to the USSR. I would like to assure you that the Soviet people would have reacted similarly, had the United States collapsed first. Feelings aside, here are two 20th century superpowers, who wanted more or less the same things – things like technological progress, economic growth, full employment, and world domination – but they disagreed about the methods. And they obtained similar results – each had a good run, intimidated the whole planet, and kept the other scared. Each eventually went bankrupt. Read the rest of this entry »


this is a nice article that sums up the current financial crisis and some of its global implications. the major piece which is missing, as usual, is an understanding of how global capitalism, and the American Empire in particular, has been propped up by a sea of oil, how the depletion of that oil has sparked this collapse, and why the deepening shortage of oil will prevent anything similar to this capitalist system from coming back, ever again. i’ll try to write an article to explain this soon. [alex]

Death of the American Empire
America is self-destructing & bringing the rest of the world down with it

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. (Thomas Jefferson, US President; 1743 – 1826)

America is dying. It is self-destructing and bringing the rest of the world down with it.

Often referred to as a sub-prime mortgage collapse, this obfuscates the real reason. By associating tangible useless failed mortgages, at least something ‘real’ can be blamed for the carnage. The problem is, this is myth. The magnitude of this fiscal collapse happened because it was all based on hot air.

The banking industry renamed insurance betting guarantees as ‘credit default swaps’ and risky gambling wagers were called ‘derivatives’. Financial managers and banking executives were selling the ultimate con to the entire world, akin to the snake-oil salesmen from the 18th century but this time in suits and ties. And by October 2009 it was a quadrillion-dollar (that’s $1,000 trillion) industry that few could understand.

Propped up by false hope, America is now falling like a house of cards. Read the rest of this entry »


Excerpts from Democracy Now!, May 6, 2008.

[Kevin Phillips, author of “Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism”, surveys the economic crisis facing U.S.-dominated global capitalism – including peak oil, the collapse of the Dollar, rising food costs, and the growing dominance of the banking and credit industries. This is fairly radical stuff coming from a former GOP strategist.]

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is one of the most serious signs of this overall global crisis of American capitalism?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, not to single out just one, I have an approach I use to say that normally when a country is—United States is—heading into a recession, there are one or two, sometimes three, factors that you worry about. But at this point in time, the American economy, you can think of it as being kind of in a shark tank, and there are like six or seven sharks, and you don’t usually see anything like that number. Read the rest of this entry »


The Story of Stuff

A little 20-min. video that gives a basic lesson in political economy for the average American consumer. Brilliant!

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