Saturday, November 26, 2011

Give Thanks and Shop Till You Drop: Coleen Rowley on Culture of Spiritual Death Dominating American Life

Post-Thanksgiving Shoppers 2010

While the American right is furious that President Obama didn't mention God in his brief Thanksgiving address, many of us did our patriotic-religious duty à la George W. Bush yesterday and shopped till we dropped.  Or we shopped till we had pepper-sprayed our fellow shoppers into submission as we lunged for video games at Wal-Mart.

As Coleen Rowley says in her article on about how we now frankly celebrate spiritual death through hyper-consumerism and passive submission to the powers that be in our militarized society (second link above), the roots of our spiritual malaise combining never-ending consumerism and political passivity lie in the deliberate, cynical militarization of the nation following 9/11.  She argues that the mainstream media actively assisted the Bush administration in inculcating among the American people the sense that we're under attack, and the best things we can do for ourselves and the country is line up behind the president, stop asking questions, and shop.  Till we or our shopping enemy drops.

And here's what we see as the end result of that massive process of social-psychological manipulation, she thinks:

By incessantly pushing on the emotional hot-buttons of fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty (in that order), warmongers and flim-flam* men have, since time immemorial, sought to bring out the worst in human beings. Up to now the propaganda has worked, persuading most Americans to accept with minimal visible coercion the enormous corruption and cruelty at the heart of the corporate-military-industrial-congressional-media complex.


The malls have become like churches, desperately preaching an empty prosperity theology, which holds that purchasing consumer goods made in foreign sweatshops somehow demonstrates God's blessing on American exceptionalism. Only a few dissidents, such as the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, are able to see that the shopping centers in their glitzy falsity mask true economic despair and spiritual poverty. American consumers largely fail to appreciate the immense irony in America's massive decline in power accompanying their conversion to consumerism. U.S. foreign policy in the post WWII period aimed at essentially enforcing a global system in which the Western powers under American leadership would maintain global dominance. 

What we have made of ourselves as a nation convinced of our special election by God and of our obligation to demonstrate to the world what real righteousness looks like is nowhere more apparent than in pictures of hordes of screaming shoppers breaking down mall doors to grab bargains the day after we give thanks to God for making us such special people.

Remember how, as the civil rights movements of the 1960s expanded from people of color to women to gays, the right-wing commentariat loved to inform us that the barbarians had arrived at our gates?  That was their favorite phrase in the neo-con moment that dominated our political life in the final decades of the 20th century: the barbarians are at the gates.

They're screaming about rights, the neo-con commentariat loved to bray, re: people of color, women, and gays.  They're illicitly trying to extend the notion of human rights to everyone and his sister.  They're tearing apart the fabric of our civil society as they talk about rights, rights, rights.  Morality and manners are on the wane as the barbarians batter at the gates.

Isn't it ironic that, as it turns out, it was the very folks telling us to beware the barbarians--the Bill O'Reillys, the Pat Buchanans, the Pat Robertsons, et al., ad nauseam--who actually were the barbarians?  It was the neo-conservative commentariat who told us to fear and loathe the barbarians who were turning us into real barbarians through the very rhetoric of fear and loathing by which they were seeking to control us, in the final decades of the 20th century and the start of the new millennium.

Even as they were telling us to man the gates against the barbarians, they were opening the gates wide for  barbarians that have proven far more destructive to our communitarian democratic culture than anyone else: themselves and their super-rich managers.

*There's a link embedded in Rowley's text here that appears not to be working, so I've omitted it.

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