Monday, March 06, 2006

It Ain't Desire/It Ain't Affect/It Ain't Enlightened

I want to combat the idea that consumer behavior in markets is free-flowing, desirous, subjectival, and subjectivizing. I want to say that it is the very opposite of these things.

How could I make such a claim? People buying hamburgers at McDonald's don't have a gun held to their head - how could their choice to shop for food there be said to be coerced, unfree, not of their own choice?

Well, that's true - there's no gun being held to the head of a McDonald's shopper, but that still doesn't mean that an autonomous decision has been made when one bites into a Big Mac - huge effort and planning and control and coordination of the unconscious has been utilized to condition that decision, and this should be obvious. It has started in early childhood, with the happy image of Ronald McDonald and his friends - an insidious and nefarious software installation of the association of happiness and heart disease has been made before we would be capable of any critical examination and dissociation at all.

Is this not so? And if it is so, how can eating at McDonald's be defended as being a matter of personal choice, an exercise of personal freedom? A lot of money has been spent to direct our feet towards McDonalds - we've been set up, in a sense. The process isn't invisible - why do we act as if it is?

4 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I think that the questions and problems posed here are related to what I've started calling "the myth of interiority."

I'll follow up on this, along with some thoughts on what freedom and rationality can look like without interiority.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Yes, I would like to hear more about the "the myth of interiority"; I would add that a dominant individualist ideology of libertarianism exists in western society. I realize I'm answering obliquely, but I think the key lies in some words from Hegel (how depressing that they still apply!):

"Individuals in modern society easily suppose that they are in a condition of sinfulness, when their actual circumstance is that of alienation."

Americans seek forgiveness for guilt rather than empathy as anathema to alienation. I'm suggesting that the unwillingness to see the anti-individualist coercion in corporate marketing strategies is not ignorance, but symptomatic of the western pathology of Christian guilt and the resulting search for forgiveness. If they could be convinced that they exist in a circumstance of alienation (and would be better served by emphatic comprehension instead of forgiveness), then perhaps the McDonald's hamburger would no longer seem like such a positive antidote.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Yes; what I've started calling the myth of interiority is very close to "a dominant individualist ideology of libertarianism." But there's also a sort of interiorization or subjectivization in Hegel, too, if we're all just aspects of Spirit the Super-Subject. Hegel is also mired in the inner/outer distinction . . . but he thinks that everything is inside the subject.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

It might be relevant, here, to resurrect a distinction I once toyed around with but never got anywhere: the distinction between autonomous subjectivity and heteronomous subjectivity.

The key thought here is that one is formed into a subject under conditions which are not under one's control. So one is subjectivized, as it were, but in an entirely heteronomous way -- under the direction or rule of another.

This does not close off the possibility of autonomous subjectivity, but it does raise the stakes in some striking ways.

For example, if autonomy and subjectivity are identical (or at least co-extensive), then if one is a subject, then one is free, and conversely, if one is not free, then one is not a subject.

Consequently, the sorts of domination that can be discerned are limited. Marx only sees oppression in the transformation of a person into a commodity. He does not see that there is also oppression in the transformation of a person into a consumer.

The consumer is a subject -- she has desires, preferences, and interests -- and she is minimally rational in the sense that she knows how to satisfy her desires, preferences, and interests. But her subjectivity is heteronomous if she does not have "radically critical self-consciousness" (a phrase I've recently heard, and will happily appropriate).

Radically critical self-consciousness requires an awareness of how one has been subjectivized. And there are libidinal investments which restrict the cultivation of that awareness. But awareness of how one has been subjectivized can be an important component in participation in one's on-going subjectivization, i.e. autonomy.

7:08 PM  

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