The empire of consumption, the world consumes us

The explosion of consumption in today's world makes more noise than all wars and creates more commotion than all carnivals. As an old Turkish proverb says, he who drinks on account gets twice as drunk.

The party stuns and clouds the gaze; This great universal drunkenness seems to have no limits in time or space. But consumer culture sounds a lot, like the drum, because it is empty; and at the moment of truth, when the noise stops and the party ends, the drunk wakes up, alone, accompanied by his shadow and the broken dishes that he must pay for.

The expansion of demand collides with the borders imposed by the same system that generates it. The system needs increasingly open and broader markets, like the lungs need air, and at the same time it needs the prices of raw materials and human labor to remain on the floor, as they do. The system speaks in the name of everyone, it directs its imperious consumer orders to everyone, it spreads buying fever among everyone; but no way: for almost everyone this adventure begins and ends on the television screen. The majority, who go into debt to have things, end up having nothing more than debts to pay debts that generate new debts, and end up consuming fantasies that sometimes materialize by committing crimes.

The right to waste, a privilege of few, claims to be the freedom of all.

Tell me how much you consume and tell you your worth. This civilization does not let the flowers, or the chickens, or the people sleep. In greenhouses, flowers are subjected to continuous light, so that they grow faster. In the egg factories, chickens are also prohibited from staying at night. And people are condemned to insomnia, anxiety of buying and the anxiety of paying. This way of life is not very good for people, but it is very good for the pharmaceutical industry.

The US consumes half of the sedatives, anxiolytics and other chemical drugs sold legally in the world, and more than half of the banned drugs sold illegally, which is no small feat considering that the US barely adds up to five percent of the world's population.

"Unhappy people, those who live comparing themselves," laments a woman in the Buceo neighborhood, in Montevideo. The pain of no longer being, who once sang the tango, has given way to the shame of not having. A poor man is a poor man. "When you have nothing, you think you are worthless," says a boy in the Villa Fiorito neighborhood of Buenos Aires. And another confirms, in the Dominican city of San Francisco de Macorís: «My brothers work for the brands. "They live buying labels, and they live sweating to pay the fees."

Invisible market violence: diversity is the enemy of profitability, and uniformity rules. Mass production, on a gigantic scale, imposes its mandatory consumption patterns everywhere. This dictatorship of mandatory uniformity is more devastating than any single-party dictatorship: it imposes, throughout the world, a way of life that reproduces human beings as photocopies of the exemplary consumer.

The exemplary consumer is the quiet man

This civilization, which confuses quantity with quality, confuses fatness with good nutrition. The country that invented light foods and drinks, diet foods and fat free foods, has the largest number of fat people in the world. The exemplary consumer only gets out of the car to work and watch television. Sitting in front of the small screen, he spends four hours a day devouring plastic food.

Garbage disguised as food triumphs: this industry is conquering the palates of the world and is shattering the traditions of local cuisine. The customs of good eating, which come from afar, have, in some countries, thousands of years of refinement and diversity, and are a collective heritage that in some way is in everyone's kitchens and not only on the tables of the rich.

Those traditions, those signs of cultural identity, those celebrations of life, are being overwhelmed, in a sudden manner, by the imposition of the unique and chemical knowledge: the burger globalization, the dictatorship of fast food. The plasticization of food on a global scale, the work of McDonald's, Burger King and other factories, successfully violates the right to self-determination of the kitchen: a sacred right, because the soul has one of its doors in the mouth.

McDonald's immense army shoots hamburgers into the mouths of children and adults all over the planet. The double arch of that M served as a banner during the recent conquest of the countries of Eastern Europe. The queues outside the McDonald's in Moscow, opened in 1990 with great fanfare, symbolized the victory of the West as eloquently as the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

A sign of the times: this company, which embodies the virtues of the free world, denies its employees the freedom to join any union. McDonald's thus violates a legally enshrined right in the many countries where it operates. In 1997, some workers, members of what the company calls the Macfamily, tried to unionize at a Montreal restaurant in Canada: the restaurant closed. But in '98, other McDonald's employees, in a small city near Vancouver, achieved that achievement, worthy of the Guinness Guide.

The consuming masses receive orders in a universal language: advertising has achieved what Esperanto wanted and could not. Anyone, anywhere understands the messages that the television transmits. In the last quarter of a century, advertising expenditures have doubled worldwide. Thanks to them, poor children drink more and more Coca-Cola and less and less milk, and leisure time becomes obligatory consumption time. Free time, prisoner time: very poor houses do not have a bed, but they have a television, and the television has the floor. Bought in installments, that little animal proves the democratic vocation of progress: it listens to no one, but it speaks to everyone. Poor and rich alike know the virtues of the latest model automobiles, and poor and rich alike learn of the advantageous interest rates that this or that bank offers.

The culture of consumption

Experts know how to turn goods into magical anti-loneliness outfits. Things have human attributes: they caress, accompany, understand, help, perfume kisses you and the car is the friend that never fails. Consumer culture has made solitude the most lucrative of markets. The holes in the chest are filled by stuffing them with things, or by dreaming about doing so. And things can not only embrace: they can also be symbols of social advancement, safe passage to cross the customs of class society, keys that open forbidden doors. The more exclusive, the better: things choose you and save you from mass anonymity. Advertising does not inform about the product it sells, or rarely does so. That is the least. Its primary function is to compensate for frustrations and feed fantasies: Who do you want to become by buying this shaving lotion?

Criminologist Anthony Platt has observed that street crimes are not only the result of extreme poverty. They are also the result of individualistic ethics. The social obsession with success, says Platt, has a decisive impact on the illegal appropriation of things. I have always heard it said that money does not produce happiness; but any poor viewer has every reason to believe that money produces something so similar that the difference is a matter for specialists.

According to historian Eric Hobsbawm, the 20th century put an end to seven thousand years of human life focused on agriculture since the first crops appeared at the end of the Paleolithic. The world population is urbanizing, farmers are becoming citizens. In Latin America we have fields with no one and enormous urban anthills: the largest cities in the world, and the most unjust. Expelled by modern export agriculture, and by the erosion of their lands, farmers invade the suburbs.

They believe that God is everywhere, but from experience they know that He works in big cities. Cities promise work, prosperity, a future for children. In the fields, the waiters watch life go by, and die yawning; In cities, life happens, and calls. Crowded in slums, the first thing the newcomers discover is that there is no work and there are too many arms, that nothing is free and that the most expensive luxury items are air and silence.

At the dawn of the 14th century, Brother Giordano da Rivalto delivered a eulogy for the cities in Florence. He said that cities grew "because people like to get together." Get together, meet. Now who's meeting who? Does hope meet reality? Does desire meet the world? And do people meet people? If human relationships have been reduced to relationships between things, how many people encounter things?

The whole world tends to become a big television screen, where things are looked at but not touched. The goods on offer invade and privatize public spaces. Bus and train stations, which until recently were meeting spaces for people, are now becoming commercial exhibition spaces.

The shopping center, or shopping mall, the showcase of all windows, imposes its overwhelming presence. Crowds come, on pilgrimage, to this major temple of consumer masses. The majority of devotees contemplate, in ecstasy, the things their pockets cannot afford, while the purchasing minority submits to the bombardment of incessant and exhausting supply. The crowd, going up and down the escalators, travels around the world: the mannequins dress like they do in Milan or Paris and the machines sound like they do in Chicago, and to see and hear you don't have to pay a ticket. Tourists coming from inland towns, or from cities that have not yet deserved these blessings of modern happiness, pose for photos at the foot of the most famous international brands, just as they previously posed at the foot of the statue of the hero in Square. Beatriz Solano has observed that the inhabitants of suburban neighborhoods go to the center, to the shopping center, as before they went to the center. The traditional weekend trip to the city center tends to be replaced by an excursion to these urban centers. Washed and ironed and combed, dressed in their best clothes, visitors come to a party where they are not guests, but they can be voyeurs. Entire families undertake the journey in the space capsule that travels through the universe of consumption, where the aesthetics of the market have designed an amazing landscape of models, brands and labels.

The culture of consumption, the culture of the ephemeral, condemns everything to media disuse.

Everything changes at the dizzying pace of fashion, put at the service of the need to sell. Things age in the blink of an eye, to be replaced by other things of fleeting life. Today, when the only thing that remains is insecurity, goods, manufactured not to last, are as volatile as the capital that finances them and the work that generates them. Money flies at the speed of light: yesterday it was there, today it is here, tomorrow who knows, and every worker is potentially unemployed. Paradoxically, shopping centers, kingdoms of transience, offer the most successful illusion of security. They resist outside of time, without age and without root, without night and without day and without memory, and exist outside of space, beyond the turbulence of the dangerous reality of the world.

The owners of the world use the world as if it were disposable: a commodity with an ephemeral life, which runs out just as the images fired by the machine gun of television and the fashions and idols that advertising launches run out, shortly after being born, without respite, to the market. But what other world are we going to move to? Are we all forced to believe the story that God sold the planet to a few companies, because he was in a bad mood and decided to privatize the universe?

The consumer society is a booby trap. Those who have the handle pretend to ignore it, but anyone with eyes can see that the vast majority of people consume little, little and nothing necessarily, to guarantee the existence of the little nature that we have left. Social injustice is not an error to be corrected, nor a defect to be overcome: it is an essential need. There is no nature capable of feeding a shopping center the size of the planet.