Category Archives: Capitalism

On Consumerism

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Jfsoftbrainswiki

Photo details: 1980 NYC Stencil and photograph by John Fekner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a world where television, billboards, magazines and even toilets are hoarded with sales pitches trying to convince us that a particular brand of soup is what will rid us of our loneliness and make our lives happier. Every day we are bombarded with ideas and concepts to such an extent that we subconsciously start accepting them (almost like Inception). ‘Advertising’ is selling the viewer the idea that consumption (of a particular product) will lead to gratification. In fact, almost all advertisements tap into our insatiable appetite for prestige, power, happiness and status, making the idea quite seductive. Consumerism today has become a pastime, ideology and even a source of addiction. In fact lots of economists and philosophers like to think of consumerism as the singular idea that has successfully taken over the world we live in today. People from all regions, religions and ages indulge in the idea that – more is always better!

But really… is it?

Over the years we have become relatively richer. Businesses have spread, the globe has gotten smaller and we have conditioned ourselves to strive for higher salaries and affluent lifestyles. But has that made us happier? Much like our salaries, rates of divorces, suicides, reports of violence and, not to forget, the number of people suffering of depression, has steadily increased, which makes you really ponder about whether money can really buy happiness.

A recent study conducted by the North-western University, tested how people responded to consumerism and materialism. Results showed that groups that were exposed to images of luxury goods and wordings that rallied consumerist values, showed a higher level of depression and anxiety as compared to those that were shown neutral scenes without consumerist images and words. The former also demonstrated social disengagement and negative environmental behaviour. Economists like to call this, The Modern paradox, where people are progressing materially, but regressing, socially and emotionally.

Can this be one of the reasons why hermits and monks do so well on the happiness scale? Clearly having more choices and going the material way, does not seem to work in the favour of happiness and self-growth. Then why do we pursue it? What makes us so vulnerable to the idea of buying more stuff?

According to a few evolutionary psychologists, the urge to buy more may be deeply embedded in our nature. Studies have shown that young men get a higher testosterone spike when they drive a sports car as compared to driving an ordinary one. This is called the ‘Peacock effect’. Much like the peacock that flaunts its assets to look attractive to its mate and pose competition to its rivals, humans advertise their affluence to look more attractive and desirable. So in effect, in today’s world people like to believe that the possessing affluent goods will make them more desirable.

Although such studies may help us understand our weakness for giving into consumerism, are we also looking for a ‘genetic/ psychological’ reason to excuse ourselves for our consumerist behaviour? It is time we realise the damage we are doing to the environment and ask ourselves isn’t what we have enough. Probably, we should all start following Bhutan’s method of measuring our Gross National Happiness along with our Gross Domestic Product. But for now, like Galen V. Bodenhausen says- watch less TV!

Via the Coffee Science Table: http://coffeetablescience.com/2013/04/06/the-science-of-consumerism/)

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Thanks Coke!

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coke

You may have heard the Coke ads claiming their love for polar bears recently, and how they are generously offering to donate $2 million over 5 years to the WWF Arctic Home Project. That’s a whopping $400,000 a year; enough to buy half an average home in Toronto. It’s true they have some history with the polar bear; those massive killing machines have been “used to represent joy” in their holiday campaigns since 1993. It got me thinking about what this really means to a multi-billion dollar company like Coke. So, I looked up a bunch of facts and figures and re-worked them for fun. I know, I need to get a better hobby.

The Coke website states that 1.7 billion servings are consumed per day worldwide. That equals 620,500,000,000, which I think is 620 billion servings per year, which makes me feel a bit sick. $400,000 divided by 620 billion equals $0.000000644641418 donated per serving, per year. How spoilt those bears will be. If that were a sliver of a pie chart the size of the world it would be as thick as my finger. I just made that up, but you get the idea! According to Wikinvest, in 2012 Coca Cola earned a net profit (profit after all expenses) of $452 million. Surely they could do better than half an average house in Toronto.

Coke has a range of over 3,500 beverages according to Business Insider. That’s a gargantuan donation of $114 from each product per year.

Each can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar per serving. The average American consumes 10.8 pounds of sugar per year just from Coke, and Mexicans are even worse! So worldwide we have our 620 billion servings per year. Multiplying that by 39 grams, equals 241.8 million kilograms, or 533.1 million lbs of sugar per year. The average polar bear weighs about 400kg (adult male 350–700 kg while adult female is about half that size). That means the world consumes 604,500 sugary polar bears each year. Hey why doesn’t Coke just build a new Arctic made of sugar for the bears?

Coke use 300,000 tons of aluminium in their cans each year; that’s over 17% of the US aluminium production industry. I have no idea what Coke’s carbon footprint is, but I’m guessing their ‘donation’ doesn’t go that far to offset it.

The point of all this is, well, do you think Coke really gives a flying crap about polar bears? Of course they don’t, and it’s laughable to think so. All they really care about is profit. Including the polar bear campaign, Coke spends around 2.9 billion in advertising a year. I don’t believe this campaign is about saving polar bears, I believe it’s about brand building and buying your loyalty. It’s about making you think they care about the environment. Also, look out for their new ads showing how Coke can fit into a healthy lifestyle, because they really care about you too. Have a Diet Coke full of Aspartame, one of the most dangerous food additives out there, sure they care. While you’re at it, why don’t you give it to your baby bear cubs like they do in their ads.

Geopolitics of the Amazon: A defence of Bolivia’s development strategy

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Spanish language edition,(PDF)

Click to download Spanish language edition (PDF)

From Climate and Capitalism. 

This important book-length essay, published in Spanish in September 2012, explains how Bolivia is attempting to address the need for both economic development and environmental protection.

In particular, it responds to criticisms from left critics who have attacked the Morales government for what they call ‘extractivism,’ and examines the real issues in the debate over plans to complete a highway in the TIPNIS region.

The text was translated by Richard Fidler, who also provides an introduction, a glossary, and explanatory notes.

A PDF pamphlet was publish under a Creative Commons license to encourage the widest possible distribution: it may be freely reproduced and distributed, but not changed, incorporated in any other work, or used for commercial purposes.

It is available for printing in either American (8½x11) or Metric (A4) page sizes.

Download PDF (1.7 Mb)—

Everywhere I go, the Echoe of Corporations

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Global hunger and obesity are symptoms of the same problem and, what’s more, the route to eradicating world hunger is also the way to prevent global epidemics of diabetes and heart disease, and to address a host of environmental and social ills. Overweight and hungry people are linked through the chains of production that bring food from fields to our plate. Guided by the profit motive, the corporations that sell our food shape and constrain how we eat, and how we think about food. The limitations are clearest at the fast food outlet, where the spectrum of choice runs from McMuffin to McNugget. But there are hidden and systemic constraints even when we feel we are beyond the purview of Ronald MacDonald.

Even when we want to buy something healthy, something to keep the doctor away, we’re trapped in the very same problem that has created our ‘Fast Food Nations’. Try, for example, shopping for apples. At supermarkets in North America and Europe, the choice is restricted to half a dozen varieties: Fuji, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and perhaps a couple of others. Why these? Because they are pretty: we like the polished and unblemished skin. Because their taste is one that is largely unobjectionable to the majority. But also because they can stand transportation over long distances. Their skin won’t tear or blemish if they are knocked about in the miles from orchard to aisle. They take well to the waxing technologies and compounds that make this transportation possible and keep the apples pretty on the shelves. They are easy to harvest. They respond well to industrial production. These are reasons why we won’t find Black Oxford, Kandil Sinap or the ancient and venerable Rambo on the shelves. Our choices are not entirely our own because, even in a supermarket, the menu is crafted not by our choices, nor by the seasons, nor where we find ourselves, nor by the full range of apples available, nor by the full spectrum of available nutrition and tastes, but by the power of food corporations.

The concerns of food production companies have ramifications far beyond what appears on supermarket shelves. Their concerns are the rot at the core of modern food system. Why there is a worldwide epidemic of farmer suicide, why we don’t know what is in our food system anymore, why black people in the United States are more likely to be overweight than white, and why there are cowboys in South Central Los Angeles?

In ever country, the contradictions of obesity, hunger, poverty and wealth are becoming more acute. India has, for example, destroyed millions of tons of grains, permitting food to rot in silos, while the quality of food eaten by India’s poorest is getting worse for the first time since Independence in 1947. In 1992, in the same towns and villages where malnutrition had begun to grip the poorest families, the Indian government admitted foreign soft drink manufacturers and food multinationals to its previously protected economy. Within a decade, India has become home to the world’s largest concentration of diabetics: people – often children- whose bodies have fractured under the pressure of eating too much of the wrong kinds of food.

India isn’t the only home to these contrasts. The contrasts are global and are present even in the world’s richest country like U.S.

Moreover, to not forget that the general problem of rapid resource depletion that occurs in the poor countries of the world is frequently a result of foreign exploitation and not because of a country’s growing population. The exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s natural resources by shady means—“opaque deals to acquire prime mining assets”—organized through shell companies by British and Israeli capital is an example of what can happen.

 

I have visited a quite good number of countries when I was younger than now, and I am very thankful to my dad for his ability to make us, my family and I, travel to several countries during the summer. I personally enjoyed the travel that we used to do from country to country by bus. I used to write short notes while in the bus.  Here is one of them:

“Everywhere I went, foreign commercial interests were exploiting resources after signing contracts with the autocratic government. Prodigious logs, four and five feet in diameter, were coming out of the virgin forest, oil and natural gas were being exported from the coastal region, offshore fishing rights had been sold to foreign interests, and exploration for oil and minerals was under way in the interior. The exploitation of resources in North America during the five-hundred-year post-discovery era followed a typical sequence—fish, furs, game, timber, farming virgin soils—but because of the hugely expanded scale of today’s economy and the availability of myriad sophisticated technologies, exploitation of all the resources in poor developing countries now goes on at the same time. In a few years, the resources of this African country and others like it will be sucked dry. And what then? The people there are currently enjoying an illusion of prosperity, but it is only an illusion, for they are not preparing themselves for anything else. And neither are we.”

 

We are now living in the postmodern era. Nietzsche was the first philosopher to predict this era. Postmodernism has emerged due to the detrimental impacts of technological developments. We see the serious consequences of environmental ravages in agriculture (soil loss due to the intensification of production methods). Still talking about the field of environmental studies, postmodernism has emerges with people like Rachel Carson. We see the exploitation of resources (nuclear Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first energy crisis), weapons (nuclear bombs and chemical weapons development) etc.. We also see the effect of technology on health, with the Unethical Nazi doctors, the introduction of drugs with serious side effects on the health and epidemics caused by increased production rates high the agri-food industry. The era of world wars marked the end of the belief in the dogma that science is the key to universal truth to cure all ills. Postmodernism represents a philosophical current issued from the reaction to modernism following this transformation of society.

Postmodernism didn’t work, and you know why? Because it is based on the cumulative effect of accumulation, of mass accumulation. Yes, capitalism! People were talking about the end of the world. To me, the end of the world is the end of postmodernism, but of course not of all its components. The social aspect of postmodernism should remain with the emergence of another era. The social aspect should only remain in all kinds of sciences, but it should also extend to the life of each one of us; hence, the emergence of ethical norms instead of economic ones. The arrival of this paradigm shift was inevitable and today, the direction of the epistemology of science is difficult to predict. Certainly, there will be a paradigm shift, but when and what will be, will remain a mystery till now.

Certainly, there is hope: Farmers suing Monsanto. Permaculture. But to be honest, yesterday, a friend of mine asked me a question. He said: “I didn’t know much about the world until lately .. it doesn’t leave my head .. in a way I wish I’d never looked … does it make you upset or are you at peace .. maybe cause you know lots for longer .. just wondering .. it’s a kind of question I suppose.” I replied by: “I can’t reply clearly on this question because it is kind of mixed feelings. Sometimes I feel very mad, and each time I ask questions about, us, humans, and our society, I remember some people having a binary vision. It is like living in an illusion. And on the other hand, knowing such facts, I feel like I am having cold nerves.” And still talking about hope, I have a friend, currently living in Lima, who is leaving the system. I can’t wait to hear his news and maybe to write about it, and I think that we can all do like him.

 

Industrial civilization requires that we trade life for power. We must resist for all life is worth.

 

Some Eco-Apocalypse Art

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A picture says a thousand words, and the following art summarizes the path of industrial capitalism. The artist is Markus Vesper and it’s called “Two-Faced World”. The portal door leading from paradise and into an environmental wasteland has tears flowing from its sad eyes, while the portal door that sits in the ravaged world of industrial capitalism has a dollar sign between its demonic eyes. I would say we made a very bad trade. Unfortunately, the doorway allowing for any escape from this self-imposed eco-apocalypse appears by all observable evidence to be firmly shut.

710_2Faced_world2

710_2Faced_world1

And I like this next one called “Transience”. Converting nature to dollars is represented by an hourglass where a dying and collapsing environment, which is fast running out of time, ends in the extinction of man (human skulls piling up at the bottom of the hourglass).

600_transience

2013 & Beyond: Imagine it

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The philosophical movement of modernism arose in the time of the Enlightenment (18th century) where the belief in universal human progress and the sovereignty of scientific reasoning became important. According to the French (postmodern) philosopher Lyotard, modernism was based on three starting-points or ‘Grands Récits’1:

• The subjection of and total control over the nature (economic rationalisation)

• The subjection of and total control over politics (political rationalisation)

• The possibility of gaining objective knowledge (scientific rationalisation)

We are now living in the postmodern era. Nietzsche was the first philosopher to predict this era. Postmodernism has emerged due to the detrimental impacts of technological developments. We see the serious consequences of environmental ravages in agriculture (soil loss due to the intensification of production methods). Still talking about the field of environmental studies, postmodernism has emerges with people like Rachel Carson. We see the exploitation of resources (nuclear Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first energy crisis), weapons (nuclear bombs and chemical weapons development) etc.. We also see the effect of technology on health, with the Unethical Nazi doctors, the introduction of drugs with serious side effects on the health and epidemics caused by increased production rates high the agri-food industry. The era of world wars marked the end of the belief in the dogma that science is the key to universal truth to cure all ills. Postmodernism represents a philosophical current issued from the reaction to modernism following this transformation of society.

Postmodernism didn’t work, and you know why? Because it is based on the cumulative effect of accumulation, of mass accumulation. Yes, capitalism! People were talking about the end of the world. To me, the end of the world is the end of postmodernism, but of course not of all its components. The social aspect of postmodernism should remain with the emergence of another era. The social aspect should only remain in all kinds of sciences, but it should also extend to the life of each one of us; hence, the emergence of ethical norms instead of economic ones. The arrival of this paradigm shift was inevitable and today, the direction of the epistemology of science is difficult to predict. Certainly, there will be a paradigm shift, but when and what will be, will remain a mystery till now.

Certainly, there is hope. Hope is coming. It is on its way. Hope is coming with a wind of change, toward a better community in which there is no upper hand, where all living beings live equally.

We will have to work towards the end of the world of the spectacle. The spectacle is where all the relations, the needs, the needs, the dreams, the wishes are turned into profitable commodity, into obligation, into blackmail…                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The life turns into a spectacle of real life, and the world turns into endless desert.

As a resolution for 2013, I will stress on ‘love without fear’, especially unconditional love.

Let’s stop judging others and explore our world! Let’s embrace universal love. We are all in this together.

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. ”
– Marshall McLuhan-