Feeding the Frenzy (redux)

Posted: December 2, 2020 in Advertising, Consumerism, Corporatism, Culture, Economics, Idle Nonsense
Tags: , , , , , ,

Black Friday has over the past decades become the default kickoff of annual consumer madness associated with the holiday season and its gift-giving tradition. Due to the pandemic, this year has been considerably muted in comparison to other years — at least in terms of crowds. Shopping has apparently moved online fairly aggressively, which is an entirely understandable result of everyone being locked down and socially distanced. (Lack of disposable income ought to be a factor, too, but American consumers have shown remarkable willingness to take on substantial debt when able in support of mere lifestyle.) Nevertheless, my inbox has been deluged over the past week with incessant Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertising. Predictably, retailers continue feeding the frenzy.

Uncharacteristically, perhaps, this state of affairs is not the source of outrage on my part. I recognize that we live in a consumerist, capitalist society that will persist in buying and selling activities even in the face of increasing hardship. I’m also cynical enough to expect retailers (and the manufacturers they support, even if those manufacturers are Chinese) to stoke consumer desire through advertising, promotions, and discount sales. It’s simply what they do. Why stop now? Thus far, I’ve seen no rationalizations or other arguments excusing how it’s a little ghoulish to be profiting while so many are clearly suffering and facing individual and household fiscal cliffs. Instead, we rather blandly accept that the public needs to be served no less by mass market retailers than by, say, grocery and utility services. Failure by the private sector to maintain functioning supply lines (including nonessentials, I suppose) during a crisis would look too much like the appalling mismanagement of the same crisis by local, state, and federal governments. Is it ironic that centralized bureaucracies reveal themselves as incompetent at the very same time they consolidate power? Or more cynically, isn’t it outrageous that they barely even try anymore to address the true needs of the public?

One of the questions I’ve posed unrhetorically is this: when will it finally become undeniably clear that instead of being geared to growth we should instead be managing contraction? I don’t know the precise timing, but the issue will be forced on us sooner or later as a result of radically diminishing return (compared to a century ago, say) on investment (ROI) in the energy sector. In short, we will be pulled back down to earth from the perilous heights we scaled as resources needed to keep industrial civilization creaking along become ever more difficult to obtain. (Maybe we’ll have to start using the term unobtainium from the Avatar movies.) Physical resources are impossible to counterfeit at scale, unlike the bogus enormous increase in the fiat money supply via debt creation. If/when hyperinflation makes us all multimillionaires because everything is grossly overvalued, the absurd paradox of being cash rich yet resource poor ought to wake up some folks.

  1. Greg Knepp says:

    When will we start “managing contraction”? The simple answer is NEVER. Contraction – or collapse, as I (among others) prefer to call it – is typically self-managing. One might even call collapse ‘self-disorganizing’ – the very definition of entropy. For it erodes the material and logistical abilities of humans to engage in positive coordinated activities beyond, say, efforts to satisfy such primal motivations as self-preservation and gene pool protection.

    The seeds of this dilemma (possibly the most comprehensive of all societal collapses in history) became evident, I suppose, with the failure of European world domination culminating in the 20th century’s World Wars. America grabbed the baton in the nick of time to become the “world’s last, greatest hope” – a sentiment expressed, in one form or another, by every US President from FDR to Obama. But by the 1960s the social fabric of the nation was already starting to fray: major political assassinations, the Vietnam War, inter-generational squabbling, and a well-intentioned but deeply flawed racial integration effort were among the early symptoms.

    Then came gasoline shortages (an early harbinger of resource depletion) the evisceration of the nascent environmental movement by corporate thugs in charge of the Reagan administration, and the demise of the labor unions. [ in truth, union workers themselves were partially to blame due to greed, a hyper-adversarial relationship with management, and their shoddy product output ]. And let’s not forget the explosion of strong drugs well beyond their traditional borders of the ghetto and hipster urban enclaves…America – the last greatest hope, strung out on dope!

    It’s no wonder we elected an old man on the cusp of senility to replace a confirmed sociopath as our national leader. From that fact, along with visitation of nature’s wrath in various forms – fires, floods and pestilence – we can surmise that we are now at Stage 2. Things will most likely continue to degrade more perceptibly now. Then things will speed up.

    “Managing contraction” indeed! As it turns out, Tom has misjudged you…You’re actually quite the optimist.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment, which has more paragraphs than my blog post. I agree that managing contraction will never happen, but that’s because I’m cynical about our ability to manage inevitable, foreseeable disasters. We pretend to plan and prepare but end up being tossed around like rag dolls. The pandemic exemplifies this pretty well. However, I still think we should try to plan and prepare in earnest instead of pretending. Perhaps I’m mistaken about the power of government to act meritoriously on behalf of the citizenry. Nothing in recent history shows that it bothers anymore. But what’s right and desirable to me remains clear.

      The history lesson you give is radically brief but accurate enough. How many stages do you anticipate in the speeding up of contraction and degradation?

      Dunno that anyone would call me an optimist, least of all myself. Are you referring to Tom Lewis? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him offer any characterization of what I write.

      • Greg Knepp says:

        Dividing events into stages is typically a somewhat arbitrary task, and must be taken with a grain of salt. Gray areas and overlaps often abound. With that in mind, the rise of Trumpism along with the pandemic have revealed a definitive change in the direction of the nation and perhaps the world. Following these events, any attempts to revitalize the economy and restore anything that resembles a national consensus will fall short, given the fractured nature of the populous.

        For one thing, the economic model is breaking, and it is the only economic model that we, as a society, recognize. Also, the Constitution is fraught with obsolete passages, but, among the great masses and their intrenched corporate handlers it retains the spiritual power of the Bible (even though the vast majority has read neither document). Partisan bickering and the over-riding phenomenon of ‘cultural lag’ will prevent progress in any major areas. Horizons will shrink as concern the future is dwindles.

        In a general way, the major institutions that move society – the economy, law, commerce, religion, education and the arts – will flop about for a time, gasping for air. The environment will continue to degrade and resources dwindle. At some point the central government will collapse, or at least become irrelevant. This will bring us to Stage 3.

        Old Testament style tribalism will take hold along regional lines (mass transportation being but a memory) with sub-divisions defined largely by racial and cultic identities. Warlords will rule county-sized domains, and will form alliances with select neighboring peers in crude trade and mutual defense covenants….Sounds a bit like Kunstler’s ‘World Made by Hand’. I hope it will be at least that pleasant. Maybe not, though.

        Yes, I seem to remember Tom Lewis noting the downer tone of a few of your entries, though not in a critical way…That would be the pot calling the kettle black!

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