How we forgot the collective good—and started thinking of ourselves primarily as consumers

Submitted by captaindread1 in Anarchism

Some time in the early 1980s I remember seeing a senior conservative politician on the news talking about “UK plc.” The phrase jarred. The United Kingdom is a nation state, not a private company, and to brand it as one seemed grubby and belittling.

Thirty-odd years later, “UK plc” has become part of the ordinary lexicon. If anyone finds it objectionable, few say so. No one announced that from now on we should conceive of our country as a business, but gradually, imperceptibly, it became natural to do so.

This is how so many cultural shifts happen. Ways of thinking mutate gradually, helped by changes in vocabulary that we accept without question. So it was that “refugees” became “asylum-seekers,” not primarily framed as people in need but as people wanting something from us.

Another such shift was the increased use of the word “consumer” in the second part of the 20th century. Google’s Ngram viewer, which trawls a huge corpus of English-language texts, finds the word two-thirds more prevalent in 1980 than 1960.


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RedEmmaSpeaks wrote

They had to do it, as part of their strategy. Study after study shows that humans are inherently wired for altruism and there's evidence pointing out that this trait shows up at a very early age. Even before they learn to walk, infants are able to demonstrate empathy. We are wired to want to look after each other and help each other out.

But a Capitalist society benefits from keeping everyone divided against each other, keeping us so busy trying to stay alive that we have no time to turn on the people at the top. The State benefits from keeping everyone divided for whatever reason, because if everyone lower down realized that, "Hey I may be White and you're Black, but we are both being screwed over by those on top. Fuck those guys!" or anything along those lines, they'd have a hard time containing us. We vastly outnumber them, after all, and deep down, they know it.


captaindread1 OP wrote

Agree; the individualistic dogma that rules our societies is just irrational; life is characterized by the emergent properties which result from complex systems.

In the same way that you can explaint complex pluricelular organism from the properties of its constituyent parts, that is cells, you can't understand the potential of the whole humanity just by isolating individuals and considering that those are just the sum of each part. I mean, for example, intelligence is a emergent property of the society.


leftous wrote

Wait so you're telling me that I'm not just a rational consumer making free, independent, and rational choices? Guess I'll have to throw away all these Mises Institute tshirts, my "Free Markets not Free Loaders" mug, and my "invisible hand" gloves.