Consumerism is as much about acquiring stuff as it is about acquiring stuff that other people don’t have. In our advanced industrial age this sometimes involves cultivating elaborate illusions of scarcity. Take the people who queue outside of Apple Stores ahead of the release of a new iPhone. They don’t do it because a slavish obeisance to this ritual is proof of the fact that they ‘think different’, nor because they actually fear that the world might be running out of iPhones. (The Stones aren’t in town. This thing isn’t going to get sold out.) They do it because it enables them to own that particular object ahead of other people. There is a narrow yet psychologically significant slice of time between nobody owning the new iPhone and everyone owning the new iPhone. To live in this time must mean something. It must be worth the emotional and physical labour required to be part of that large group, ahead of the even larger group that is the mass.
Another, more time-honoured way of acquiring stuff that other people don’t have is to throw your money after something that is stupidly expensive. Say, $6,000 for a Hèrmes hourglass, or $7,000 for a coyote fur hammock (‘produced with naturally deceased coyotes’). Or – if you really are in a spending mood – you can go for the Azature black diamond nail polish.
Retailing for a trifling £160,000, each bottle of Azature – available exclusively from Selfridges in the UK – contains 267 carats of black diamonds and features a hand-made platinum sterling cap. I’ve actually added the item to my cart and proceeded to the check-out, just for fun, and in the off-chance it might briefly excite a sysop. I am therefore able to report that the website will insist on charging £4.95 for delivery within the UK, and that in a show of unbridled optimism it offers you to pay the total bill of £160,004.95 by credit card. But observe the footnote:
Availability: Low stockThis casual note is designed to reassure you that a cosmetic product costing two thirds of the average national house price is actually being sold, and that its makers are struggling to keep up with the demand. Which is another way of saying: some people have this. Other people. Wouldn’t you want to be one of those people?
Orders taken today will be dispatched from 13/1/13
A perception of scarcity. Coca-Cola introduced it, in what is possibly the world’s most common product, by naming some of the bottles as if they were people, thus making them ‘unique’. Clearly there is no limit to the shit that we’re prepared to fall for. And what a perception of scarcity is designed to trigger is not merely consumption – it is hoarding. Things must be had. Not having them might result in permanent lack, and this cannot be allowed to happen.
I don’t remember when it is that I came across this promotional video by Damian Campbell for the ‘37 things you should hoard’. That’s not the title, by the way, just the hook used by some of the website that link to it – charming places with names like Radio Britannia or The Vanguard News Network, frequented by charming people sporting slogans such as ‘Nobody but Jews want us all to believe the Jew version of 9/11’ (this from a particular gentleman who lists as his location the ‘Jewnited Snakes of Amnesia’). I’m not going to link to any of these places, obviously, but the video itself is somewhat less objectionable and there is a version of it on YouTube.
Not that I’m suggesting one should bother watch it. It struck me, though, as an extreme but nonetheless instructive example of the places consumerism can take you. The premise is that Mr Cambpell, author of the Survive Anything Guide, has information that could be a key to your survival in a civil emergency, terrorist attack or other crisis, when people will panic and loot the food stores or hoard everything in sight before you have a chance to purchase the 37 critical food items that alone would ensure the survival of you and your family. He spends several minutes telling you about this, first warning you about the many dangers that beset America (‘there’re some serious events about to hit the US. Some you know of already, but some will be brand-new in a threatening way’), then cautioning that some foods are good, whereas others are useless or could even hasten your demise, all the time building up to the sales pitch.
The addressee is a prepper or aspiring prepper. A ‘fellow patriot’, in the common parlance of these sites. Therefore male, therefore a father (if not actually, at least for the purposes of self-identification). The society in which the prepper and his family live is savagely Darwinian due to the facts of human nature, or so weakened by the corrosive influence of Government, the unions and liberals that it is destined to crumble in a crisis. The prepper lives therefore already in end times, and must devote his intellectual, physical and financial resources to ensuring the future survival of his family unit when disaster strikers, as it most assuredly will. (Although the prepper is resolutely Christian, this prophecy is of the agnostic kind and salvation comes not through faith but through works.) The pitch involves a wonderful piece of #nodads shaming:
It’s crushing when your kids realize that their Dad was wrong and your wife feels like you failed to protect the family.
Conversely, the very preparedness that now attracts ridicule will bestow status and respect in due course:
Sometimes our neighbors or even family say we’re “crazy” or “kooky” but…Whereas those of a less vindictive bent can look forward to
People May Say We're “Crazy” Now...But We'll See Who Was Right WhenThey're Asking Us For Help!
- Attract like-minded Americans to rebuild our nation based on the constitution – without all the liberal crap…
- Be a community leader ready to protect and provide for your fellow patriots
About twenty minutes into this carry-on it becomes clear that Mr Campbell has no intention of telling you what any of those 37 food items are, at least not until you’ve forked out $50 plus postage and handling for the entry-level CD-ROM version. The hoarding therefore takes a special form: it is hoarding of information. Having what others don’t have is subsumed to the logic of competitive survival. You will get to those precious items first if your neighbour doesn’t know what they are. I’ll teach you how to prepare in secret. I’ll tell you how to grow a hidden garden.
Like regular consumerism, this extreme kind is the mirror to a society that equates solidarity with weakness in the face of a crisis. That is the meaning of Nancy Lanza’s arsenal. She knew that what a good prepper must have above all is guns, To guard against other people. For safety. This requirement is so implicit that Campbell needs not mention it. Besides, he has this.
The NRA Business Alliance guarantees Damian Campbell and everyone else who is in the business of freedom. Even when it means privatising and ring-fencing something as basic as the advice on how best to prepare for a large-scale emergency. I can think of few more concise illustrations of the violence of capitalism than that seal and the slogan that accompanies it.
This may not be necessarily what I had in mind as an end-of-year, wishing-everyone-a-happy-christmas post, but there it is. Should you wonder what the 37 food items are, a helpful prepper revealed them in a forum. The list comprises water, pasta, rice, canned soups, meats, veggies, fruit, popcorn, salt, milk (condensed or powdered), cereal, beef jerky, grains, cooking oil, sports drinks, nuts, pickles, dried fruits, spices, honey, crackers, baking essentials, power bars, instant rice, coffee, alcohol, hard candies, dehydrated canned entrees, juice powders, protein drinks, peanut butter, long lasting treats (Twinkies, etc.), salsa, ramen noodles, fresh fruit, baby food and pet food. That’s it.
I’ll see you all in the new year.