The Karmic Consumerist

Sreeram Hariharan November 2, 2010

Bono and Ali Hewson. (Photo Credits: focushubcourses@flickr)


Against a picturesque South African mountainous backdrop, from a shoddily parked light private jet in African wasteland, emerges Bono (U2 front man) and his wife Ali Hewson, sporting Edun, their own clothing line of "ethical fashion". This Luis Vuitton ad also carries a punchy tag line - "Every journey began in Africa". It is just $238.00 for a pair of jeans and tops from Edun Denim. It is completely organic and made "completely" in Africa. You don't have to feel any guilt in buying this ridiculously expensive clothing because for every purchase of this "ethical fashion" product, a cut goes to TechnoServe in Africa for the Conservation Cotton Initiative, Chernobyl Children's Project International and Bono or Shakira will give a peck on cheek to a three year old hunger-pinched African kid. Gone are the dreaded days of capitalism or consumerism. This is an age of philanthropic capitalism and karmic consumerism.   Once it was even immoral to preoccupy with material possessions as opposed to intellectual or spiritual concepts. Workers of the early stage of Industrial Revolution neither had money nor time for excess consumption. The energy and focus of capitalistic forces were spent on huge infrastructure, capital goods, railroads etc. High durability of such products meant less frequent consumption since products took time to get used up. Introduction of assembly lines exploded the quantity of goods produced in industry and also brought the price down. Industry’s think tanks identified the need for mass consumption as prerequisite for mass productions. Thus began the era of consumerism.

It coincided with rise of materialism and individualism. Advertisements with fairy tale stories and catchy jingles enticed and tempted viewers to buy more and be the celebrated consumers. Brand names became nouns and verbs. Eventually, when this culture started rearing its ugly head and showing cracks in the form of ecological disasters, labor exploitations and market crashes, the conscientious consumer paused. Then came the Soros and the Gates of the world, the humane face of capitalism, threw millions of dollars to fix problems of the material world, which in first place was created by their kind. To bring back this conscientious consumers on board, this capitalist kind - the philanthropic capitalist, started throwing in some karma points for the consumers. So that next time you buy a coffee from Starbucks, you will also earn karma points because Starbucks with the shared planet program, purchases more fair trade coffee than any other company in the world ensuring that the farmers who grow these beans gets fair price. Next time you buy a bottle of mineral water, you ought to be happy because they are going to dig a well in remote part of Africa and earn karma points for you.

As Oscar Wilde articulated well in his essay "The soul of man under socialism"

The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's intelligence; and it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. 

Slavoj Zizek, one of the most influential living political theorists, in a talk titled “First as tragedy, then as farce” develops and articulates this concept what he calls “Cultural Capitalism”. It’s a must watch:

Else, here's a simple and shorter animated version:

capitalism, Note, Poverty, World Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

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