Monday, January 27, 2014

I Shop, Therefore I Am

First and foremost, how do you see yourself? Are you a citizen more than a consumer, or vice-versa? Are high-minded principles and vision your defining characteristic, or is how to get the best value for your money what drives you?

The questions that I just posed are, of course, on one level ludicrous, inasmuch as they suggest an either/or answer. Realistically, or at least ideally, we can be both. Yet to examine the rhetoric of our political 'leaders', our lives are defined by angst over cable selection, gasoline prices, and cellphone bills, and little else.

One of the books I am currently reading is Susan Delacourt's Shopping For Votes: How Politicians Choose Us And We Choose Them, which examines the kind of 'retail politics' that has been shaping the political landscape for decades. Beginning in the 1950s with early polling and focus groups, the process has become so refined that groups are now targeted in political campaigns with their 'issues' at the forefront.

Here is an excerpt from the inside cover of Delacourt's book:

Inside the political backrooms of Ottawa, the Mad Men of Canadian politics are planning their next consumer-friendly pitch. Where once politics was seen as a public service, increasingly it is seen a a business, with citizens as the customers. But its unadvertised products are voter apathy and gutless public policy.

One needn't look far to see egregious evidence of political debasement. As recently noted by The Mound of Sound, neither Justin Trudeau nor Thomas Mulcair offer any distinct difference to Harper, other than perhaps in style. Neither has the political integrity to question the tarsands, nor, to my knowledge, are they heard to ever offer an opinion on or strategy for dealing with climate change. In answer to Mound's question of why either of them wants to be Prime Minister, I opined that they perhaps just think they should be. No passion, no vision, just the politics of expedience seems to be their political raison d'être.

In his piece today in The Toronto Star about the upcoming federal budget, Les Whittington says it will be consumer-oriented:

The government says it wants to take aim at cable-TV packages that don’t allow consumers to pick and choose, payday loan companies, lack of competition among wireless providers and price differentials on the same goods between this country and the U.S.

And while Justin Trudeau sings an amorphous tune about the middle class struggling, Thomas Mulcair has this to offer:

He says the Harper government raises consumer issues but hasn’t followed through with action.

“So we’re going to talk to Canadians about how we can end the rip-offs at ATM machines, at the gas pump, and how we can ensure more Canadians have access to a low-interest credit card”.

Not a word about climate change. Not a word about carbon. Not a word about poverty. Not a word that reflects the semblance of a vision.

I'll close on a note that I hope demonstrates I am not some sort of ethereal idealogue. Yes, I think we get ripped off on cable, and I don't like it. Yes, more should be done to ensure fair business practices. But those concerns do not exclude larger ones, like growing inequality, the plight of the working poor, and a world in real climatic peril. No amount of political legerdemain can alter some larger, very inconvenient truths.


  1. I've read that the ships of explorers were so foreign to other cultures that they simply could not see them. The ship of climate change is so foreign to the oligarchy that they simply cannot see it.

    But it will conquer us.

    1. I'm not so sure that the oligarchy can't see climate so much as it has the arrogance to believe that its wealth will provide it protection from its ravages, Anon. But it will conquer them, as well as the rest of us.

  2. And never is there any mention of Kennedy's admonition, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

    1. One of the casualties, Owen, of contemporary leadership. The concept of the collective good has become anathema in neoliberal circles, and that circle, if our 'leaders' have their way, will be ever-widening.

  3. Lorne, instead of my comment I will leave you with a quote about politicians.

    "Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks."
    — Doug Larson