Monday, February 21, 2005

Liberal Social Harmony, "Aren't You Glad You Used Dial?" Edition

Wow... Rarely does one ever see the utter hostility and contempt that motivates the anti-consumerists among the Left displayed so nakedly as in this piece, which appeared in today's Daily Cardinal (the inferior, liberal-oriented, "official" school paper).

Ostensibly, Breezy Willis' target here is none other than the worst consumerist offenders of all - UW alums who attend hockey games. I kid not: After taking a seat at the Kohl Center, one has only to glance quickly around to get a good look at one of the thousands of red-clad consumption machines who are more commonly known as upper-middle-class Wisconsin alumni. They are easy to identify. Usually they attend games with their kind-looking, but submissive and clueless wives clinging to their arms, or with their stoic, spare-tire-sporting husbands standing at their sides and staring off into space during time outs.

Red-clad consumtion machines! I love it!

But the piece quickly loses whatever coherence it hoped for, and turns into a rant about the wretchedness of people who like to drive cars and who weigh more than the author thinks they should. It'd be very hard for me to pick out what I love most about this piece, but this part is priceless:

Typically, they [alums] are overly clean, and smell of laundry detergent, deodorant, cologne, perfume, lipstick, soap, hair dye, Rogaine, Viagra, blush and aftershave. Their hair is always neatly trimmed, and the men's faces are always scraped clean with razors on a daily basis, while the women's are painted unnatural Revlon hues.

Hmm... this is an odd thing to complain about. Something tells me that Breezy Willis, if I were to meet her (him?), likely goes without these things. Unshaved, messed up hair (maybe in white-boy dreads, at least?), and worst of all - no deordorant. Breezy, I take it, is never overly clean! If I meet Breezy, I need to buy her a T-shirt that says "Avoid Being Overly Clean." Of course, that would only be more consumerism, so he'd probably hate it. Can't please everyone, I guess.

And what, exactly, are Rogaine and Viagra supposed to smell like? Wait... don't answer that question.

Then there's the classic economic fallacy that undergirds egalitarianism in all its guises: "In a world with limited resources, one person consuming more means other people are consuming less. The evidence is everywhere; some starve while others grow obese, some live in massive, suburban homes while others patch together huts out of mud and sticks. Not only is the life that the unaware, materialist zombie leads unrewarding, but it is also cruel and thoughtless, since it directly impinges on the rights of other human beings to possess the basic necessities of life. One could probably buy food for a poor family for a year just by pawning the goods that could be stripped off a Kohl Center-going pair of alumni."

If universities across the nation intend to force incoming freshmen to take seminars on multiculturalism and all manner of PC nonsense, I wish they'd also require some basic economics as well. Just one essay by Julian Simon? Would that be too much to ask? Anyway, not only is the above literally the exact opposite of truth (people everywhere have more with increased consumption), it trades on a fallacious economic concept, the fixed pie of a zero-sum game. And what gives this piece such strong shades of totalitarianism, beyond its undisguised visceral hatred of middle class and overweight people, is that when you start talking about a pie, you have to start talking about who, and how, that pie will be divied up. Which is precisely, of course, the role our friend Breezy might want someday. Of course, maybe Breezy isn't that ambitious. Maybe she'd prefer to organize little groups of fellow "not overly clean" activists - they could all wear plain red, or brown, shirts, and they could mug some of these middle class alum as they exit games at the Kohl Center, pawning their stuff and redistributing the goods to poor people. Sounds like a winner to me. And it sounds like a great way to thank all those overly clean and well-groomed UW alums who graciously donate huge chunks of their over-taxed paychecks to make it possible for Breezy to major in International Studies and write a column for the "official" UW paper.

The thing is, this reads like a self-parody - like a really piss-drunk Peter Singer. If UW had a decent parody newspaper (not The Onion - something about local & college news), I'd expect a piece like this to run there. Unreal. God, I love Madison!

17 Comments:

Blogger BlondebutBright said...

I agree that the article exaggerates, oversimplifies and stretches its arguments, but why so much hostility in regard to one writer's honest (though slightly illogical) attempt to simply want to help people less fortunate than herself? I'm continuously amazed at the strongly contemptuous reaction often shared by conservative thinkers to similar writings. I'm not trying to be inflammatory, I really would like an explanation. What's wrong with pointing out the obvious inequality in the world, and striving (albeit aggressively) to find contributing factors and solutions?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 1:49:00 PM  
Blogger torr said...

thanks for the link, I've added you to my blogroll!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 5:25:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

blondbutbright,

I'm sorry if it came across as hostile. It was certainly meant to be mocking and poking fun, but it wasn't intended in a spirit of hostility, so if that's what you got, my bad.

You write, "Why so much hostility in regard to one writer's honest (though slightly illogical) attempt to simply want to help people less fortunate than herself? I'm continuously amazed at the strongly contemptuous reaction often shared by conservative thinkers to similar writings."

Here's the problem I had with our friend Breezy. If you read the piece, it doesn't, say, talk about how great it is to do volunteer work, or feature some worthy organization that deserves your donation. No, Breezy goes on the attack, vilifying people who have never done her or anyone else wrong, and even engendering anti-fat prejudice while she's at it. Why does she attack them? Because they live lifestyles she disapproves of, that don't fit her narrow conception of what a good life entails. That's closed-minded, and it's bigotted, and I called her on it. (I was especially offended that these were the very people to whom she owes her ability to attend a public university. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.)

Moreover, no one denies inequality in the world. The question is, what causes it, and what can be done to minimize if not eliminate it? Breezy has it backwords. If anything, it's the consumption of material goods that generates wealth. She assumes a static picture of wealth - one person's having more means someone else does with less. But this is empirically false. Even the poorest people today live far better lives than well-to-do people did 100 years ago, and certainly have longer life expectancies. And part of what makes this possible is the existence of vibrant economies that offer more avenues of economic participation - or if you prefer, "consumption." Consumption begets production, and consumed production begets wealth.

Finally, I'm not a conservative. That was mean of you to imply so... ;)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

torr,

Thanks!! I happened to stumble upon your blog when I was trying to find some stuff on Rob Dickinson, and see if he was finally getting his solo work together. And there your blog was, courtesy of Google. I'm thinking of creating a different category of blogs for music, where I'd add you, Flux Box, Bob Mould, and whatever else crosses my path. Anyway, thanks again for the kick ass music blog - one of the best I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005 4:33:00 PM  
Blogger BlondebutBright said...

I'm sorry to imply that you are a conservative, I promise not to do it again. :)

Yes, what you say about the consumption may be true, but I hardly think that it's appropriate, morally tolerable or environmentally friendly for people to spend themselves silly and then pat themselves on the back for increasing "wealth" in third world countries. “Check out my new Mercedes! Thanks to my spending power, just think of the villages in Africa that are only losing half of their populations to disease X, instead of three-quarters!”

Breezy was attacking and making personal judgments. Perhaps it stems from a bit of self-hatred to be in the position that she holds. It's not logical or fair, but it is the opinion of someone that has an empathetic mindset for those less fortunate.

Of course, we're both graduate students, so the people generating so much wealth are far from both of our personal experience!

Friday, February 25, 2005 5:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you both missed the point of that article: sensationalism.
It was written to get people talking about overconsumption, which does not, as holier-than-thou-graduate-student-blogger beleives, benefit everyone. It was also written with a fair ammount of irony, as the author is not at all the hippie dredlocked type that you'd immagine, but is rather a very clean-cut ambitious student who likes to get readers of his columns riled up. The willingness of both of you to jump to this conclusion is suprising seeing as you criticize Breezy's identical categorization of alumni. Mm, mmm, maybe traveling out of the first world would do you both a little good, I think grad school is only disntancing you from the subjects that you claim to be trying to understand.

Monday, February 28, 2005 2:11:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

BlondebutBright said:

Yes, what you say about the consumption may be true, but I hardly think that it's appropriate, morally tolerable or environmentally friendly for people to spend themselves silly and then pat themselves on the back for increasing "wealth" in third world countries. “Check out my new Mercedes! Thanks to my spending power, just think of the villages in Africa that are only losing half of their populations to disease X, instead of three-quarters!”Well, my only point is that people like Breezy believe something that is false - that consumtion causes the poverty of others. Whether you find the owner of a Mercedes to be morally upstanding is another question. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it - particularly if the person owns and enjoys the car as product of their own productive work. Tying their car to the well-being of others is just as silly as Breezy's attempt to do so in the other direction.

Monday, February 28, 2005 5:33:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

Anonymous said...

Wow, you both missed the point of that article: sensationalism.
It was written to get people talking about overconsumption, which does not, as holier-than-thou-graduate-student-blogger beleives, benefit everyone. It was also written with a fair ammount of irony, as the author is not at all the hippie dredlocked type that you'd immagine, but is rather a very clean-cut ambitious student who likes to get readers of his columns riled up. The willingness of both of you to jump to this conclusion is suprising seeing as you criticize Breezy's identical categorization of alumni. Mm, mmm, maybe traveling out of the first world would do you both a little good, I think grad school is only disntancing you from the subjects that you claim to be trying to understand.
So you're telling me that Breezy wasn't being sincere in his (Breezy is a guy? That was actually something we were wondering about...) column? That he was only trying be provocative, and to offend people, and be sensational? I actually kind of respected Breezy for having the cajones to write out, in print, what he really believed, rather do what most anti-consumptionists do, which is pussyfoot around the issue and pretend that they don't really hate ordinary Americans. Now you're telling me he didn't really mean it, but was just trying to be ironic, and somehow there's something wrong on my end for not getting it.

Aside from satire, which is one thing, I normally take writers at their word, and assume they are sincere, and mean what they say. I gave Breezy that consideration here, and yes, mocked him for it. When someone says that people are at fault for being "overly" clean, when this is defined as taking showers daily and wearing deordorant, I think that gives me sufficient warrent to assume, if the writer is sincere and means what they say, that they think something's wrong with that state of affairs, and that they forgo such activity - just as many far-leftist activists actually do, and explicitly defend. If someone attacks others for being fat, for example, and if I'm assuming the author is not a hypocrite, doesn't the assumption that the author must not be fat his/herself follow?

As for travelling outside the first world, I have in fact been to impoverished areas of Mexico, like Cuidad Juarez. Part of my family is from there. But I've also taken Economics 101, and know enough about how wealth and poverty are created to know that it's fallacious, at best, to assume that consumption equals less for others. This has been known for generations. It's not "holier-than-thou" if it's just plain fact.

Monday, February 28, 2005 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

Almost forgot. Regarding bathing, I was assuming that Breezy was simply agreeing with the argument put forward here (see page 30-31).

Monday, February 28, 2005 6:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, then you'd also know that the wealth that has been generated during the expansion of global development has gone to the upper classes, and that the purchasing power of of poor citizens of almost all third world countries has gone DOWN, as a result of the fabulous magic of wealth generation that that neo-liberal expansionist economic policy. Since I really don't want to contnue this debate over a meaningless blog, and just wanted to give my pal BW a little support, let me close by saying that Ciudad Juarez is nothing. I've been there and other places in Mexico, and they reflect the country's status as one of the most succesful NICs out there. I'm sorry that you think that overconsumption is a good thing. If we consumed less and others consumed more aggregate demand would stay the same, or rise, and your wealth generating economy wouldn't miss a beat. We'd just be more morally responsible people, and the world would be a better place. Oh well, its never gonna happen. Damn idealism.

Monday, February 28, 2005 9:41:00 PM  
Blogger arcon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Monday, February 28, 2005 9:46:00 PM  
Blogger arcon said...

well, then you'd also know that the wealth that has been generated during the expansion of global development has gone to the upper classes, and that the purchasing power of of poor citizens of almost all third world countries has gone DOWN. All as a result of the fabulous magic of wealth generation that is neo-liberal expansionist economic policy. Since I really don't want to contnue this debate over a meaningless blog, and just wanted to give my pal BW a little support, let me close by saying that Ciudad Juarez is nothing. I've been there and other places in Mexico, and they reflect the country's status as one of the most succesful NICs out in the world. I'm sorry that you think that overconsumption is a good thing. If we consumed less and others consumed more aggregate demand would stay the same, or rise, and your wealth generating economy wouldn't miss a beat. We'd just be more morally responsible people, and the world would be a better place. Wait thats right, libral economics has already saved the world by expanding wealth for everyone hasn't it...? Oh, no, woops, that hasn't happened yet. Why not?

Monday, February 28, 2005 9:47:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

Arcon,

I wanted thank you for posting so much on my "meaningless" blog. Regarding your claims:

well, then you'd also know that the wealth that has been generated during the expansion of global development has gone to the upper classes, and that the purchasing power of of poor citizens of almost all third world countries has gone DOWN.I don't know where you get your information, but this makes no sense. If this were true, then it would mean that the poor people of the third world would be less well off than previous generations, that they were descending further into poverty. And this is frankly absurd - rising life expectencies, medical care, education, availablity of technology, infant mortality, occupational opportunity all testify against this claim. Even in tyrannical regimes, this is the norm.

But perhaps you mean something different, that their purchasing vis a vis the wealthier West is going down. They may be rising and improving with every year, but the US is going up at a much faster rate - perhaps that's your claim. And you think there's something wrong with that. That leads to your next claim:

I'm sorry that you think that overconsumption is a good thing. If we consumed less and others consumed more aggregate demand would stay the same, or rise, and your wealth generating economy wouldn't miss a beat. We'd just be more morally responsible people, and the world would be a better place.I suppose this is what I don't get. We're not taking anything from the the third world. People there have more choices and better lives because of the opportunities economic trade opens with them. How does moral responsiblity depend on my consuming less, and sacrificing to others who haven't done anything to warrant me giving it to them voluntarily? My moral responsiblity depends only on that I do no harm to others. No person has any right, moral or otherwise, to the freely earned product of another's labor. And even if that weren't true, it's not obvious how economic prosperity would continue for anyone if wealth were to be redistributed in the way you suggest.

Note, too, that you seem to still think of wealth as a static, fixed product, a zero-sum game in which one piece of pie equals that much less for others. If you don't believe me, ask any economist, even leftist ones like Paul Krugman, and they'll tell that's just false.

In any event, if you claim to sit a perch of moral superiority because you've been to third world countries, you might want to ask yourself why it is that anti-globalist activists tend to primarily come from the wealthy first world, which has relatively little to lose if it decides not to trade with, say, sub-Saharan Africa, and not from Africa or the rest of the third world? It might, just might, be that people who actually live in those countries are thrilled that due to globalism they have opportunities that don't involve working in brothels at age 12 or subsiding, barely, on the same back-breaking agricultural labor that their families have done for millenia.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005 1:05:00 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

These are the times when I'm actually less depressed about going to heavily neoconservative Hillsdale College; articles like these get laughed off campus. Of course, then the latest rant comes up supporting the Iraq War or opposing stem cell research, and I either explode or retreat to my little Objectivist/libertarian circle to drink and bitch. Basically, friends of freedom on college campuses are difficult to find.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 5:16:00 PM  
Blogger MPH said...

Hilarious commentary...

Saturday, April 23, 2005 7:02:00 PM  
Blogger Moon God said...

Iron Fist Perich did a kick-ass number on Breezy here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 11:16:00 AM  
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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 8:25:00 AM  

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