04 May 2009


The damning thing about commercialism is that its proxies - media editors, critics, bankers, brokers, culture gatekeepers, CEOs, shareholders, advertisers, retailers, consumers - all conspire to squeeze you tighter and tighter in a vice of 'economic interests' until your integrity spurts out your arse. It's the spiritual equivalent of dumping toxic waste into a virgin river, then bottling the foul water and charging you five bucks for the pleasure of drinking it.

What's really galling of course is that for all our righteous indignation, in our lucid moments of self-honesty we (reluctantly) acknowledge commercialism's necessity. Most of us aren't so naive as to emotionally and intellectually invest in uncommercial utopias. The world has become too large and complicated for us all to engage in a 'gift economy' or bartering.

More than just being social animals, we are trading animals, who derive not only profit but also joy and satisfaction from the exchange of goods and services. Yet we know that commercialism is beneficial only to a certain degree, and that there are natural limits to its influence. Push past these limits and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

The noble dimension of trade between equals is too often hijacked by factors like greed, deceit, gross imbalance of power and yes, even good intentions, as when massive quantities of clothes donated to a poor country drive local tailors out of business. Or when dumping cheap grain into the African market under the pretense of feeding the hungry ends up hurting local farmers and prevents communities from becoming agriculturally self-sustaining.

Commercialism is here to stay, so long as we continue to produce surplus goods to exchange for other commodities. Trade is the lifeblood of civilization, not only in goods and services, but also in ideas. Yet without maintaining its integrity, moral and material, the blood turns toxic, poisoning civilization. And not even award-winning advertising execs can sell this calamity as a good thing.


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