Every itch can be scratched under late-stage capitalism. All except for the burning in your soul, but fuck that, you can get the exact soap dish you want, which is close enough. Or at least as close as we get in this life. I’m not knocking retail therapy. God knows life is insane right now. When the masses are so subjugated, you can’t blame them for taking opium. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em. Fuck it.
Of all the deep desires we have, the desire for accumulation is at least one we can satisfy. At least temporarily. As apes, as animals, we want to feather our nest, to display status, and just play around. The Internet has accelerated this motivation, providing both the ability to research any object, and the ability to purchase it almost immediately. We can find the best and get it now. It’s intoxicating. Itch and scratch have never been as close in human history. And people have never been scratching as furiously. Like we’ve got web crawlers under our skin.
The funny thing about scratching is that it doesn’t actually relieve the itch. It just cause a mild pain that distracts your brain for second. As John Cougar Mellencamp said, it hurts so good. Same thing with online shopping. It’s just a momentary jolt of dopamine from drug-lord Jeff Bezos, just enough to distract you from the fact that you’re being duped.
The fruits of colonialism are that people within the White Empire get everybody else making them cheap shit. We’re rubbing their feet and keeping their bathrooms cleaned from thousands of miles away, which is the best place for us. Out of sight, out of mind. A few people have gotten massively rich from colonialism, but the white (and whitening) masses at least got stuff. Cheap underwear from Sri Lanka, rapidly advancing electronics from Japan and China, ‘Belgian’ chocolate from Ghana, all hidden behind the labels of the white corporations just stealing that labor, packaging it nicely, and delivering it the last mile to you.
Consumer goods are the cocaine of a consumer culture. At this point, they’re the only thing keeping the thing up and functioning at all. They’re the only thing that make it seem like life is better. Because everything else—all the greater needs—are only getting worse.
The deal of globalism (née colonialism) was that you gave up manufacturing jobs for cheap manufacturing goods. It was all supposed to even out and workers could move into more productive and profitable jobs. So the lucky moved into what David Graeber called ‘bullshit’ jobs and the unlucky just moved out of the ‘middle-class’ forever. The other part of the deal was that the upper-classes would yoink all your public services which were certainly not as efficient as your new VCR and toaster. Everything could be run by the market. The market was God. All heil the invisible hand.
The fruits of this financial fascism were that needs suddenly became difficult or even impossible to get. Housing, health, education, these suddenly became more than even luxury goods. People suddenly became serfs, they couldn’t even imagine what the new merchant nobility had. $400,000 for a child’s education? $1 million dollars to save your life? A $25 million dollar house you live in and a $50 million dollar house you don’t. This is real to the ruling merchant class, and completely imaginary to their customers. Honestly, consumer is just the latest word for serf.
Our home is our castle and—if we have an address—we can get any amount of doormats and appliances and linens delivered to it. We can live better than the kings of yore, and ignore the fact that the kings of today live much better and take so much more. Jeff Bezos is edging space in an entirely discretionary carbon emission that inspired William Shatner with depression. After his Blue Origins flight, Captain Kirk said:
It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.
This whole life is a funeral, we’re just getting the flowers while we’re alive. We can even get the feeling that we’re not part of the problem. My block of 6 houses produces at least three solid dumpsters of waste a week, much more than my neighborhood in Sri Lanka. We simply couldn’t get that much shit delivered if we wanted to. But people here are doped up on the other opium of recycling, even though that’s still just limiting harm, not doing good. And much of the recycling here is just dumped back onto the Global South. Sri Lanka used to get containers of untreated medical waste from the UK, where someone was surely issuing press releases about how ‘sustainable’ they are. As Jason Hickel said:
“Green capitalism” means turning the global South into a giant sacrifice zone so rich folks in the US and Europe can drive electric SUVs.
Hickel talks about Degrowth, which is the idea that the Global North will actually have to reduce and draw down their consumption. But don’t nobody want to hear that. We’re talking about next decade deliverance of a planet, when you can get next-day delivery of plastic plants right now. A fleeting, somehow painful pleasure, a scratch more than a salve, but these are hard times for the rich and emotionally wretched as well. They have to get their pleasures where they can, even if it’s literally from junk.
As William S. Burroughs said about another sort of junk (heroin):
“Junk is the mold of monopoly and possession. The addict stands by while his junk legs carry him straight in on the junk beam to relapse. Junk is quantitative and accurately measurable. The more junk you use the less you have and the more you have the more you use. All the hallucinogen drugs are considered sacred by those who use them — there are Peyote Cults and Bannisteria Cults, Hashish Cults and Mushroom Cults — “the Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico enable a man to see God” — but no one ever suggested that junk is sacred.”
And so here we are, at the logical end of the worship of money, of the belief that an invisible hand would channel the greed of our worst and into the best for everyone. They say that the root of evil is the love of money and so here we are, gobbling its addictive and deadly fruit. All the products that plop outside our doors, like so many apples from the tree of ignorance.
Am I going to eat them? Am I going to keep using? Fuck yes. I still want a clothes horse, some inside shoes, hell, I don’t even know what I want, but when I do, I’ll want it right now. Saying that consumerism is the cause of this collapse is inadequate. I guess, but it’s also part of a cycle, which we’re both trapped in and driving. Life is fucking hard under capitalism, whether you’re in the sweatshop, or surrounded by all the creature comforts and yet alone in the emptiness of it all. It’s not just manufacturing and public services which got sacrificed to this great golden god. Stress itself has been privatized, as Mark Fisher wrote before he died by suicide. As he said in his book Capitalist Realism:
“Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.”
When you look at something like Amazon Prime it seems undeniably that capitalism works, and that it works well. But we have to ask what the western media asks anytime China does anything. At what cost? The cost of capitalism appearing to work is this surplus of consumer goods while public goods disappear. It’s the satisfaction of wants over needs. And the bill for all this is the whole fucking planet. The lifeforms that are our family, the very air we breathe. We all somehow know this, which is terrifying. There is no next-day delivery from our fate. Might as well get a new TV.