La Belleza del consumidor

Peter Svensson*

«Oh beautiful world»

Analytical philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell one morning, after waking up smilingly, told his wife about a wonderful dream he just had experienced. He told his wife that he in his dream had been walking in a world of perfect and logical order, everything made of ice, straight angles and lines that constituted for him the most beautiful image of the world.

Insofar as the aesthetic ideal hundred years ago was the perfect logical and mathematical world, the dream of the perfect world in contemporary society, I take it, was can be found in the global capitalism. Global and unrestricted capitalism, involving a wild market, is starkly proclaimed in the well spread discourse of neo-liberalism, according to the statements of which, the saviour of the world is contingent upon the letting free of the global market, the lasse faire of the invisible hand. Neo-liberalism, according to a number of social commentators, is the hailed «ism» of today. It is, in the words spoken by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, characterised by:

«(...) the return to a kind of radical capitalism, with no other law than that of maximum profit, an unfettered capitalism without any disguise, but rationalized, pushed to the limit of its economic efficacy by the introduction of modern forms of domination, such as Ðbusiness administrationð, and techniques of manipulation, such as market research and advertising.» (Bourdieu, 1998:35)

Capitalism is in many ways the beautiful creation of modern Western society, an essential element of, and development phase towards a free and democratic world. The free market is accordingly (in media, political debates etc.) largely portrayed as the path to happiness and freedom.

The beautiful consumer

In this world, the consuming subject has come to assume a consequential role. A capitalist society wherein the free market is assumed to be of importance, the production must find a recipient, and that recipient is labelled «the consumer». In the neo-liberal vocabulary the consumer is the force and the reason behind the existence of production; it is by the consumer, on the market, that the free choices are arrived at and the redundant producers are demarcated from the necessary ones. The aesthetic quality of capitalist society as described by neo-liberal narrators, creates, my contention is, an even more beautiful consuming subject, a Homo consumis allotted an array of beautiful features and characteristics.

Wherein resides the beauty of the consumer then?
Firstly, the consumer is a sumptuous representative of the beauty of today in that s/he is the archetype of the free and sovereign man. What started 1789, during the French revolution, followed by the emergence of the free, democratic modern Western nation state, can be seen in the creation of Homo consumis, the concrete evidence of the progress of modern society and democracy. Consuming man represents, as it were, the crown of modern societyðs evolution, the prime species and a beautiful fruit of a perpetual deviation from the dominance of the queen, king and church. During the eighties and the Easter Europe revolutions, the free consumer was very much put forward as the symbol of the free society. Being able to buy a McDonaldðs hamburger became a major sign of societal and cultural development. Furthermore, the emancipation from oppression was portrayed largely as resulting in the right to consume. A beautiful world, thus, contained the beauty of the consumer and the freedom to consume.

Secondly, the consumer is beautiful in he or she being in possession of a pure reason and guided by a rationalistic mode of making decisions. The enlightenment dream of the rational man is hence in some degree realised and epitomised in Homo consumis.

Thirdly, the consumer in a world of free markets plays the crucial role of the ultimate judge as to what producers are to endure on the market and which are to perish. By means of the acts of consuming and non-consuming, the judgements are effected. The consumer represents, so to speak, the evolutionary force that incessantly disqualifies and gets rid of unwanted producers.

Reflections: The ugly spots

However, and of course perhaps, the picture somewhat ironically outline above is not without flaws. In other terms: the beauty of the consumer is not without ugly spots.

The freedom and right to consume may very well be considered as a compulsory demand imposed upon man of today. Being a consumer is thus nothing but merely beautiful; it is ethically and existentially compulsory in that it is presented as the only way to be in order to being someone at all. In London, where I am staying at the moment, only a short stroll is needed in order to note the vast amount of homeless people that are excluded from the normality of London everyday life. They are so, not solely because they lack an apartment to stay in, but also in terms of being non-consuming creatures of streets.

In a similar vein as John Stuart Mills, the father of liberalism, regarded the freedom of choosing non-freedom as a violation of liberalism, so too is consumption today to a great extent a non-choice. The free consuming choice is compulsory and non-negotiable; the freedom is framed by another kind of prison: the prison of consumption freedom if you like. This prison represents for me the ugliness in the world of capitalism and neo-liberalism.

Work referred to
Bourdieu, P (1998): Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of our Time, Polity Press, Cambridge.

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