Sunday, December 11, 2011

Freedom, democracy and consumerism.

“Anyone who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist, anyone who associates with a terrorist is a terrorist, I cannot make it any clearer than that” exclaimed Bush junior while the media were flashing images of the infamous 9/11 attack ad naseum. Fox New commentators speculated about how barbaric the perpetrators of such vicious acts of terror must be, how the freedoms we worked so hard for are under attack.  Without a moment's hesitation, the nation’s leader appeared on all of the mainstream media channels and declared that America stood for everything that our enemies hated: freedom of expression, freedom to participate in democratic elections and freedom of the market where you can "go anywhere you want, do what you want, anyway you want it"! All of this bombast would have been laughable and could be easily dismissed as unsophisticated rhetoric of a free-market ideologue. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration displayed not only unwavering commitment to their ideological convictions, but also enormous political ambition and single-mindedness of purpose in the implementation of their agenda. Bush and the political advisers whom he employed in his campaign were well aware that their tenure in the White House could not be upheld through an exercise of naked power alone and at the very least, a modicum of support from the general public was required.

The nation's 43rd president wasted no time providing Americans with the much needed consolation, he urged them to go out shopping and buy as many commodities as possible, show the world what the United States is all about and prove that Americans will not be defeated by “faceless cowards”. Bush’s connection between what it means to be American, standing up to the terrorists and “shopping till you drop” could not be any more perspicuous.To an outside observer, Bush' public persona appeared to be unquestioningly benevolent and he seemed to be interested in nothing but providing security for his nation and providing for the needs of his citizens by encouraging them to boost the American economy by shopping. All may be as it seemed, but it would be a remiss for us to disregard the complex political, social and cultural ramifications of the ideology and political agendas that were espoused by the Bush Administration. While it is true that our former president and his supporters sincerely sympathized with the plights of Americans who were afflicted by the acts of barbarism that took place on 9/11, it is far from obvious that "shopping till you drop" was in the best interest of ordinary citizens or that Bush was interested in achieving democracy in the sense that most people interpret the meaning of that word.

                 The notorious invasion of Iraq followed less than three years after Bush's speech, which was met with the greatest popular opposition in the history of the Western civilization. Over two million protesters gathered in London, over three million in Paris and over one million in Rome, even one hundred thousand New Yorkers took to the streets to express their outrage at America’s rampant disregard for international law. The hard-line conservatives of the United States responded with protests of their own by urging Americans to boycott all French products because the French government initially refused to support the war. French fries were promptly taken off the menus of small-town restaurants and replaced with freedom fries. France was not alone in its opposition, the representatives of the Turkish government also displayed deep reservations about the invasion of Iraq and the U.S government threatened to impose severe economic sanctions upon Turkey because the Turkish leaders  apparently had a very weak understanding of democracy.

                For once, we should stop and think about what our noble leader meant by “democracy” and what that has to do with "shopping till we drop". The people of France, Italy, England and Turkey overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq and that is why their governments were initially hesitant to support America’s invasion. Yet, the U.S media and the government insisted that those countries had a weak understanding of democracy and anyone who did not support the invasion was an enemy of freedom. What about the democracy in the forum of discourse regarding ideas? Shouldn’t a truly democratic forum allow people of various political convictions to voice their views? If the U.S is truly a democracy, why do four news corporations dominate the press: CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and ABC? Why did virtually all of them keep on showing the same images incessantly and occupying the air time to the point where there was virtually no time for any dissenting opinion? Surely, one may retort to this claim and argue that it is not illegal in the United States to voice views that contradict the position of the mainstream media.

However, the fact that such acts are not illegal does not mean that they are not prohibited by other means. If people have very little incentive to develop and voice controversial views, they will often refrain from voicing them. Because of that, opponents of the mainstream position will enjoy very little social, economic and political support. As a result, the forum of discourse will be dominated by mainstream media organizations and other defenders of the position of political orthodoxy. When situations of this nature ensue, it becomes obvious that the majority of the populace can do very little to challenge the mainstream doctrine or support political movements that stand opposed to the position of the mainstream media. If democracy is defined as the rule of the people, it is evident that such an arrangement is not democratic. Nonetheless, the U.S government, the business elites who tirelessly lobby the government to achieve the legislation of policies that serve their interests have a very different understanding of democracy.

                To their minds, democracy should be defined as a state of political relations where people thoughtlessly obey the will of the U.S government and private interest groups who support them.  Anyone who goes against their interests is undemocratic. For example, polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens opposed America's invasion of Iraq and strongly preferred for their country not to support that cause. When the government of that nation behaved in a way that represented the interests of their citizens, the United States threatened to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, accused its government of opposing democracy and supporting the Islamo-fascist hardliners. At the same time, French fries vanished from the menus of small-town restaurants and were replaced with freedom fries. If that’s what democracy is, what is freedom? Freedom to shop till you drop and most importantly to shop at facilities owned by multinational corporations? Let us not forget that both Bush and Cheney came from an oil company and received well over $150 billion in corporate “political party” contributions from similar organizations the representatives of which often populate the highest levels of government. It is silly to deny that their massive wave of deregulation had a lot to do with the interests of corporations to whom they owe much of their success. Without the aid of the donors, they surely would not have been able to afford the campaigning and advertising fees that allowed them to persuade Americans to vote for them.  Freedom, democracy and consumerism mean the same thing.

To be democratic means to support the agenda of the U.S government that works to protect the corporate interests, to be free means to buy from multinational corporations and to shop till you drop is what it truly means to be American! If democracy is defined as unquestioned obedience to the government and the government greatly benefits from activities that conduce to the prosperity of transnational corporations, the connection between democracy, shopping till we drop a suddenly crystalizes! The more we engage in mindless consumerism, the greater obedience to the government we display. In that sense, we are profoundly democratic! If freedom is to be defined simply as freedom for big businesses to achieve their economic and political goals, then excessive shopping can also be construed as a libertarian endeavor!

                Political propagandists and their representatives who control the mainstream media excel at making emotionally engaging and intellectually vacuous arguments. The definitions of terminology that they use is Orwellian. The way they use words does not reflect the meaning the words in question carry in ordinary language, the meaning they reflect is one that most expediently serves their interests. For example, the most conventional meaning of democracy is the rule by the people: at the very least, this means that government policy reflects the interests of the public or that ordinary people have the opportunity to influence the behavior of their political representatives in a way that serves the public good. To the political elite who enjoy the munificent support of big businesses that are mostly comprised of U.S based transnational corporations; democracy has a different meaning. Their definition is in far closer accord with aristocracy, a sociopolitical environment where the will of the citizenry is the most servile lackey of the elites' that consist of political and economic self-aggrandizement. In a similarly duplicitous vein, they have redefined "freedom", a word that originally meant "freedom for ordinary people from coercion by external entities that are in possession of immense power" to "freedom for the business elites to achieve their economic and political goals". It is only fitting that the combination of both of these artful, Orwellian exercises in redefinition of contentious terms of political discourse culminate in the ideology of rampant consumerism, a worldview guided by a credo that is known to most of us as "shop till you drop".


  1. Do you follow Noam Chomsky? For whatever reason, reading this just now, an image of Noam Chomsky appeared. He has always been extremely vocal about the corporate elite dominating this country and its policy making. And yes, unfortunately the media does not tell the truth. I thought they taught objectivity in the journalism field, but perhaps these journalists are not in the top 1% wealth bracket. I think on some level most Americans know that things are getting worse, or at least they don’t think their children will lead better lives. Perhaps that slightly explains the middle class obsession with college education these days. People are worried about the future for their kids but no one knows what to do. Perhaps no one knows what to do because most are brainwashed and do not have the education to understand analysis of history or politics. But one doesn’t need college for that, one could read at the library and come out with a sufficient knowledge base. But do people think about this? What incentive do the American people have to read when they could be out making more money? Most will not have the time, or even think about making the time to educate themselves. Times have changed in this country, but the people have not. They seem to still be reaching for the American Dream. America needs to change its culture, its values, its way of thinking if we ever want to talk seriously about these issues.

    1. I am familiar with Noam Chomsky, but these ideas are not his discoveries. It is evident that the ideological construct of freedom has been conflated with the concept of consumerism.

      Why, Reagan's Cable and Telecommunications act significantly deregulated the mainstream media industry and provided transnational corporations with greater opportunities to advertise their products in a duplicitous manner. The corporate lobbyists continue to provide munificent financial contributions to politicians who preserve those freedoms and that is why our media industry is dominated by four enterprises: ABC, CNN, MSNBC and FOX.

      These organizations unabashedly lead their viewers to believe that what is best for the corporations is also best for the ordinary citizen. We're led to believe that massive deregulation empowers us to seize the American dream when empirical evidence suggests the opposite. Canada, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark offer their citizens significantly higher opportunities for upward socioeconomic mobility.

      Remarkably, all of these countries received higher scores on the Index of Economic Freedom than the U.S.

      The mainstream media will tell us that a capitalist system can only flourish at the expense of the underprivileged. However, that is not true because other Western European countries increase the efficiency of the market by allowing the welfare systems by offering government-sponsored training for the unemployed. The higher minimum wage policies also increase the productivity of many of their nation's leading stores because higher wages decrease their turnover rate. In testament to that, we could appreciate the fact that the productivity of the well-paid Costco employees is often superior to their peers at Wal-Mart.

      Bangladesh achieved a 98.5% employment rate by following the protocols of the neo-liberal orthodoxy of "ditching" the social service programs and that resulted in massive brain-waste. Upon being laid-off, white-collar professionals were often forced to accept much lower paid jobs outside of their field of expertise in order to merely survive. For obvious reasons, the productivity of their economy was diminished and precipitated the onset of a substantial decline.

      Instead of allowing the beneficiaries of our welfare system to receive financial support indefinitely, we could provide them with opportunities to re-enter the work-force at productive occupations. Contrary to the popular assumption, our economy would bear more of a resemblance to a paradigmatic free-market economy, not less. Under those circumstances, the transnational corporations would exert less of an influence over the market and the economic milieu would be much more similar to a state of perfect competition.