Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oscar Wilde on Accumulating Things

"With the abolition of private property ... we shall have true, beautiful, healthy individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."
(The Soul of Man Under Socialism, 1891)

Comment: This quote is an early comment on commodification.  And it is probably safe to assume that Oscar Wilde could not have known in 1891 the extent to which all of us have become commodified.

It is as if most of us exist because we consume.  A twist on the Cartesian argument that "I think therefore I am".

Now it is I consume therefore I am.

But even our very bodies are products, our socio-political relations too.  And what about our thoughts?

Capitalism has no need for people who do not consume.  People in the logic of human rights are individuals with inalienable rights but individuals in capitalism are produced and consumed despite.

A few weeks ago I was listening to this guy in the gym tell me at length that he was an "Adidas man".  "I only wear Adidas running shoes and gym gear", he said.

I asked him why.

"I just like it.  It fits my style and personality.  Not too flashy like Nike and not boring like Asics," he said deep in 'thought'.

So in this logic products fit consumers or is there more reason to believe that products create consumers?

I am reminded, again, of most Harley Davidson bikers.  Do these folks really believe that to ride a Harley you need the orange label clothes, the branded bandannas and leathers including chaps?  

Identity formation is, of course, older than Adidas and Harley.  

We are social beings and culture, language, tribe and family are identity markers.  

But these social markers are different than capitalized products.  Different in that inside of capitalism the manipulation is about profit and creating an illusion of belonging and, ultimately, worth.

In effect, riding a Harley in the terms described above is a false consciousness as Marx would argue.  You may think it enhances your identity but it really does not; you are a mere product, a manipulated and disfigured reality.

Commodification has transformed what it means to be human, particularly in relation to the power arrangement that governs our modern existence; some are worth more than others and the poor are expendable.

There are, of course, drastic consequences for playing and inevitably losing in the game of capitalism.

When we stop consuming for whatever reason our self-worth is deflated.  And capitalism could care less for those who do not play the consumer game; non-consumers do not exist at worst and at best they are excess people who drain the productivity of the capitalist ethic.

More things are better so rush out and accumulate more and more and then worry that you do not have enough space to keep everything or that someone might take the stuff you have no use for and, thereby, trample on your lifestyle and make you - well sick with worry and anxiety.

To create order out of this crumbling house of cards we need laws to protect property rights and the capitalized state to make sure we are all drained with worry and anxiety.

Is this freedom?

One of Buddhas four noble truths is that attachment to desire for things is the major source of suffering.

True freedom comes when things do not identify you, or rather, make you live.  True freedom comes when you set aside the desire for more and more things as a rationale for living.

Last night I wondered how many things I could give up and still remain above the fray of desire.

I also wondered about a man I know who takes great joy in telling anyone new we meet at social gatherings that I am single because I drive an old beater.

He laughs at me and at times I laugh at him for different reasons.  That old beater was paid off in 1999 and if it has kept me single then may I sing its praises.

Still, I cannot imagine why this jester would capitalize his existence to pay off a car.  The further irony is that despite his much nicer vehicle the brother is single too.  And yet he laughs at me.

My dad used to say to me in his last years: "Let it go my boy."  I did not fully understand him then but we live and learn, don't we?

Now I think it was the best advice or close to the best he offered me.  Letting go of things is freedom and I am working on being free.

Buddha and my dad were right.

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