Philosophy

Consumer Infantilism and Responsible Citizenship

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 05, 2007

In an opinion piece for the LA Times, Benjamin Barber makes an interesting case for how the logic of capitalism is overselling itself and heading toward disaster.

Essentially, capitalism's success at "marry[ing] altruism and self-interest" has resulted in a system that manufactures wants among affluent customers while ignoring the needs of people too poor to express market demand.

Echoing Neil Postman, Barber argues that this simultaneously infantilizes adults and detaches children from their adult caregivers (whom he calls "gatekeepers").

It also forces markets to respond to the phenomenon of "too many goods chasing too few needs" through easy credit and full-spectrum marketing. This threatens to crowd out the rest of human society:

Compare any traditional town square with a modern suburban mall. In the square, you'll find a school, town hall, library, general store, park, movie house, church, art gallery and homes — a true neighborhood exhibiting our human diversity as beings who do more than simply consume. But our new town malls are all shopping, all the time.

When we see politics permeate every sector of life, we call it totalitarianism. When religion rules all, we call it theocracy. But when commerce dominates everything, we call it liberty. Can we redirect capitalism to its proper end: the satisfaction of real human needs? Well, why not?

A new focus on what the truly needy need would divert attention away from iPods and toward accessible medicine, public education, and basic civic amenities like fresh water and safe communities.

This requires citizenship based in an adult sense of sharing, helping others, and playing fair - in direct contrast to the infantilism of omnicapitalism.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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