Crest, Colgate, Autonomy, Alienation, Not Voting, Etc.

I agree with almost the whole of Alina Stefanescu's articulate and angry “apology.” Read it.

Alina's essay reminds me of something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Consider Alina's quote from Michnik:

Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens, there can be no free and independent nations… a state that ignores the will and rights of its citizens can offer no guarantee that it will respect the will and rights of other peoples, nations, and states.

Do we have “free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens”? I think: no.

The traditional Marxish theory of consumer culture is that the dark arts of marketing and advertising germinate within us “false” desires. A false desire is one whose satisfaction serves not one's own “interests,” but the interests of those in the business of servicing (for a pretty penny!) the psychic “needs” that they themselves have planted. So we are supposed to be wary of Nike, Starbucks, etc. lest we surrender our autonomy to the cigar-chomping moneybags. No Logo!

This idea has never done much for me. I'm impressed with my own tendency to want only a surpassingly slim fraction of the things marketed to me, and my want seems best explained by its relation to longstanding projects and plans. The thing about the market is that it is SO fragmented, there are so many choices, and there are so many counterbalancing sales-pitches competing over my very small budget that it is most likely that my choices in the end reflect fairly “authentic” preferences. (Let's say those are preferences that emerge more or less organically from my practical identity.) I've never seen the yogurt or cereal I eat advertised. I chose New Balance running shoes over Nike because I tried both and New Balance fit my feet better. I chose to start running again because I don't want to be fat. (And I don't want to be fat because, well, yes, the HHS's wildly successful VERB: It's what you do! campaign.)

However, I am beginning to find the Marxist critique quite pertinent to America's duopolistic political system. Both libertarians and Greens insistently point out that the differences between the policies of the Ds and the Rs are mostly cosmetic, with a few substantive exceptions. The logic of the median voter theorem pushes politicians toward the middle with rhetorical concessions to the flanks.

cavities.JPGWhat we end up with is a choice between policy-bundles as different from the other as Colgate from Crest. But in politics we have only Colgate and Crest. Some people will have a genuine preference for better whitening action, while others will genuinely prefer enhanced cavity protection. But mostly there is a riot of indifference.

Since the policy bundles we're offered represent only a tiny slice of the possible range, they will only very improbably reflect most “authentic” combinations of political preferences. Most people would be unsatisfied with the choices, and ill-motivated to vote. So the parties must implant false desire. The parties and their stooges in the media mount massive marketing and advertising assaults to make you think that a certain kind of attractive person votes for their side, a certain kind of awful person votes for the other side, and that you, no doubt, are an attractive person.

It is said that red and blue is a state of mind. A “psychographic” in the marketer's lingo. But I posit that these states of mind are ideological constructions, in the good old-fashioned Marxist sense. There is nothing deep in your identity that leads you organically to accept abortion, denounce the death penalty, oppose school vouchers, want to save the spotted titmouse, etc. (Or the counterparts to these views.) Yes, there is a story you tell yourself and others about how all this hangs together. Your sense of identity is bound up in it. But, ultimately, it's a story that only passingly serves your own true interests. For the most part your muddle of preferences, your political identity, your political desire, is a tool for the satisfaction of the interests of one set of power-seeking narcissists over the interests of a mostly indistinguisable set of others.

I've got to say that it's just sort of embarrassing to see the AdBusting, culture jamming, No-Logoites wandering my neighborhood armed with clipboards marching door-to-door plumping for John Forbes Kerry, as if Civilization Depends Upon It. The whole industry of pop leftism–Michael Moore, Al Franken, Thomas Frank, Move On, etc.–, turns out to be a device, among other things, for getting earnest kids superficially worried about autonomy and alienation to hit the sidewalk and maximize taps on the Diebold flatscreen for the greater glory of a self-infatuated millionaire blowhard whose policies suspiciously resemble the bumbling, Jesus-spouting halfwit they've learned to hate with a delicious half-mad zeal. They labor happily, bent to the will of the political class, animated by a comically absurd set of beliefs and desires that could not truly be their own.

I speak of the left, but do not think I lack pity for the poor souls fully convinced that a Democratic White House will lead to compulsory abortion, mandatory sodomy, and total capitulation to the Arab terror.

Living in DC, the “pick a team” ethos is almost overwhelming. People want to know whose side you're on. Well, I say, be on the side of the free, self-respecting, and autonomous. The side of the angels. The hope of freedom. Alina said that the only worthwile wars of liberation are those you fight on your own. Yes. So reject the manufactured political identity. Resist the terms of the debate. Refuse to be used.

You do need to brush your teeth, but you don't need to vote.