Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Consumerism - Status Gone Haywire

The last post prompted some back and forth discussion regarding the legitimacy of the Enlightened Caveman concept. I hold that there is a duality between what our genes were designed for and want and what we as conscious, sentient beings want. I also believe that the best approach to life entails having the latter control the former. But some seem to think that the more the latter controls the former, the more the world looks like a Vegas version of Pottery Barn. It's as if the enlightenment is getting us nowhere. Well, folks I'm here to tell you that this is not enlightenment. This is caveman 101, and, if anything, it proves my point beyond dispute.

I've been talking lately about appearances. Why? Not because I'm obsessed with the topic, but because it has everything to do with how our world is unfolding. The idea that one should be aware of his or her appearance delta is what is known in the software development world as a work-around - it's the best you can do with the situation. Ideally, as the world becomes more rational, and less caveman, the need to be aware of an appearance delta diminishes. Just like it is no longer socially acceptable to utter the "N" word in any city with more than 250,000 people, so should it be no longer acceptable to judge a book by its cover, to automatically cut slack to someone because they are physically, or better yet, viscerally appealing to you, or to do the opposite when someone does not make it over your bar. But to operate as if things were already this way would be foolish. It would be failing to recognize reality.

Like it or not, our genes are in command in the public at large, and this explains the Wal-Martification of America. Appearances also, particularly what we want others to think of us, play a crucial role in shaping our goals in life. It's all about buying big stuff, expensive stuff, but it's not our fault. Today's mass-media world provides the general public with the most insidious of insights - what the other guy has. Everyone watches TV, and TV is a barrage of what the other guy has, the life the other guy leads, the car the other guy drives, and on and on. Conservative parrots will cry about how the growth of government has created the crisis that is the two-career home - the tax burden is so high that the wife, the one who used to be able to stay home with the kids, now has to work full time to make ends meet. The truth is that today's families have an expectation of two $30,000 cars, private school for the kids, expensive yearly vacations, second homes, and all manner of gadgetry and conveniences, and all that costs a heck of lot more than the necessities of the 70's. And why would they want so much? Cause that's what the other guy has, and now they know it. The caveman is but a moth to the flame when it comes to what the other guy has.

Status, status, status. In caveman days, you had to be in the upper echelon if you expected to snag a mate...or lunch. That meant you paid close attention to what the folks with food and mates had and were doing, and you followed suit. And here we are, tens of thousands of years later, and nothing has changed. Well, something has changed - the smarts we used to master our environment eventually bit us in the ass. When we were tribal people, all we knew was our immediate environment. We knew where we stood. We paid attention to the folks with status, and we worked at moving up, but we knew where the top was and we knew, fairly well, how close we could get to it. But when we became more explosed to the outside world, when we started to find out that the guy at the top of our particular heirarchy was nothing, that the pinnacle was much higher, all hell broke loose. Things went from a local contest to a national contest quick, and the caveman is still reeling.

The quest for status, more than anything else, is driving consumerism. We want the big things, the expensive things, but we only have so much money. That means we economize wherever we can on the little things - we go to Wal-Mart. Capitalism, the best but not perfect economic system, is always replete with suppliers for demand such as this, even if the profit motive pushes them to exploitation. What we save at Wal-Mart, we spend on what the other guy has. But every time we make another purchase, we watch another show on TV. We see another guy. Suddenly, the DVD isn't enough. Now, it's gotta be the plasma TV. And if we can't afford it, fucking finance it! There are all these nice people mailing us cards that tell us how we can borrow more than the value of our home because we have good jobs. Jobs that we never leave, cause if we do, it's time to pay up. And what would people think? But why do we have to have all this garbage? Why do we have to worry about what people think? Status.

It feels good. Every time we get what the other guy has, and he notices, this calm comes over our tormented by TV caveman psyche. Our genes are saying, ahh, we're that much closer to the top, that much more assured of our persistence for another generation. So, I cannot side with the idea that it is our culture that has created this plastic world. It is the very essence of our nature that is pushing us in the wrong direction. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that life is not about what the other guy has. But it takes an enlightened caveman to recognize that a big part of him will never accept it.

And lest anyone think me an anti-corporate type - we need not rail against Wal-Mart for satisfying our caveman desires. Just as the drug war makes no sense because it is focused on demand, so is our indignation misplaced if we insist that companies that cater to our archaic side are the problem. We must simply endeavor to understand our "shallow" side so that we may harness it and retool consumer demand to complement what makes sense in life. It happens one person at a time. One conversation at a time.

7 Comments:

Blogger analogee said...

I've for some time perceived a dichotomy in capitalism; it seems to correlate with what you're saying here, EC. We might tend to dislike the 'cheesiness' produced by capitalism. People do all sorts of things that we might think are kind of stupid, or aesthetically unappealing. Being disturbed at things like this is what roils the stomach of the typical liberal.

And yet, mass markets are what make our lives so choice-rich. The stuff we like, even if we have somewhat rare or elite tastes, is very likely produced on the back of the engineering and manufacturing expertise developed by pandering to the mass market. E.g. English "literature" is printed using the same technology as trashy novels. And thanks be for that.

Man, I hate Walmart; I won't go in there. For some reason I find the place depressing. But I sure hope it, or its equivalent, keeps on panderin' away, driving down prices, and increasing the choices available.

I think it's kind of cool to live in the midst of a society that allows the freedom to consume below your means, picking and choosing according to our own goals and desires. This, despite the fact that the majority makes choices that we might tend to think are rather ludicrous.

That being said, it's still kind of disconcerting to see all those people out there spending 102% of their salaries.

2/28/2005 08:07:00 PM

 
Anonymous vidivinirisi said...

This is off topic, but...
If the driving force of society resides within the instinctive adaptations we inherited from our caveman ancestors, then is becoming aware of them and acting accordingly the most we can hope for?
This question is not purely academic. Individuals will soon have the abilty to destroy whole populations. EP addresses quite cogently the bases for what drives us as a species and as individuals.
But self-realization of the incongruency between our primal drives and current environment does little for those of us who are still at the mercy of our inner caveman.

I'd like to hear others' thoughts on this.

2/28/2005 11:05:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"But self-realization of the incongruency between our primal drives and current environment does little for those of us who are still at the mercy of our inner caveman."

It is my view that the awareness of the reality of the situation shifts the burden of responsibility for our actions and, increasingly, our feelings onto our shoulders. Heretofore, I think we get a free pass for much of how we've lived life. We have, in the past, before we understood the influences of our genes, been somewhat blameless for what we've deemed important in life. But now that we know, if we buy evolutionary psychology, if, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when things don't work out as we expect.

Bottom line, it's a cop-out to continue to be at the mercy of your genes once you know what they're up to.

2/28/2005 11:44:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Analogee, we are officially tracking. You're picking up what I'm laying down - note for note. Another not-so-pretty consequence of capitalism is the market for fear. In an economy that is driven entirely by individual demand, instilling fear in the public instantly creates demand for whatever products and services will take it away. Interestingly, the size of the market is directly proportional to intelligence of the population. So, as Milton Friedman pointed out, capitalism works best in informed populations, ones where the buyer knows to beware.

2/28/2005 11:48:00 PM

 
Blogger drumgurl said...

"Bottom line, it's a cop-out to continue to be at the mercy of your genes once you know what they're up to."

So true.

"So, as Milton Friedman pointed out, capitalism works best in informed populations, ones where the buyer knows to beware."

Right again. Love it!

3/08/2005 03:17:00 AM

 
Blogger Freedomslave said...

Another not-so-pretty consequence of capitalism is the market for fear. In an economy that is driven entirely by individual demand, instilling fear in the public instantly creates demand for whatever products and services will take it away.

First off Capitalism is by definition a Marxist term designed specifically to create fear in the lower economic classes. But I wholeheartedly agree with your overall version of “consumerism abuse” driven by TV. I would hope that most enlightened cave people would get more enjoyment out of a good book then sitting in front of their babble boxes stuffing their bodies full of unrequired nourishment, while being told what to think and do, by our pseudo-intellectual Hollywood elite. But I’m also a realist and know that this simply is not the case. Deny our genes? Is that even possible? Over half of our population is admittedly addicted to something, “alcohol, sex, drugs, nicotine, crimes, exercise, pornography…..food?” To truly deny our genes wouldn’t that be the first place to start? Why do people fill those voids in the first place? It’s my contention that we really are cavemen. That the stress brought on by modern civilization in denying the hunter gather mentality is what causes those addictions in the first place. 1000 years ago if I disagreed with someone, I stabbed them, emptied the gold coins from their purse, raped their woman, then loaded up their donkey and made my way down the trail. That’s the caveman ethic. That’s what the real challenge is. Remember in the movie “The Matrix” a world without walls or borders? That’s the location but there is no map available. The bottom line is how do we harness the energy of each individual’s entrepreneurial sprit while at the same time satisfying their desire for achievement, and continuing to build the perfect society? Can it be done? I think so. It’s not going to be political, and it’s not going to be about control. But all of us cavemen are skeptics, and convincing other people to evolve is no small task.

3/12/2005 04:47:00 PM

 
Blogger brage said...

Great read!

1/19/2016 06:56:00 AM

 

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