Is Culture the Way Out of the Capitalist Cul-de-sac?

I was going to say the ‘consumerist cul-de-sac’ but then realised that there is no way out from consumerism.  We must do it to survive; we must have food to eat, clothes to protect ourselves from the elements and fuel to keep us warm and provide us with light when it’s dark.  In evolutionary terms we then go on to require healing (or magic / religion), entertainment and – unfortunately in terms of its comoditisation – sex.

But do we need to buy in so completely to a comsumerist/capitalist world view, where even our relationships, our thoughts about ourselves and our lives are coloured by the notion of buying and selling, of commerical exchange?  We talk about no pain / no gain when we go to the gym.  We say ‘you get out what you put in’, we talk about ‘give and take’ in a relationship.  All these are considered positive normal mind sets rather than aberrant ones.  These ways of thinking are the produce of growing mercantilism, secularism and capitalism over many centuries – they aren’t just about the now.  Our problem as a society is that we have reached a point where we cannot sustain the momentum of this thinking.  We cannot endlessly consume and be consumed we now move so fast and consume at such a rate that we cannot keep up with ourselves (let alone what we are doing to the resources of the planet).  And yet we haven’t been unaware of this problem and its growth.  A variety of movements have come and gone which have attempted to tackle the ‘capitalist menace’.  And yet none of them work. Socialism has failed except as a sort of ‘capitalism with kindness’. Communism has failed – even Cuba has virtually admitted defeat. All the varieties of hippy / eco /alternative lifestyles are only valid as anti-capitalism on a tiny scale – as soon as they move anywhere near the mainstream they enter the consumerist spin cycle.  

Is it that our mind set is now so firmly (and in many cases comfortably) within the cul-de-sac that we can’t understand how to get out? Do we need to fundamentally change our thinking before we can think of a solution?  I would not be posing the question if I didn’t think the answer was ‘yes’.

So how can we change our thinking, stop seeing ourselves, our lives, our relationships with others and with ‘stuff’ as an ongoing transaction?  I think culture holds the key. 

Reading books has always been more about the experience and thought process of the reader and writer than about the object – the book.  Whilst many people hold onto their books passionately as ‘objects’ it is not for their intrinsic value but for what they represent in terms of thought, emotion and ideas.  Books are one of the things that it is fine to just give away – randomly by putting them out on the street, at book swaps, bring and buys or to friends, back-packers and gap year travellers will be familiar with the well thumbed library of books that have passed through many hands.  Libraries provide this in an almost pure form – there is no charge to join, no charge to borrow, a simple trust that the borrower will be honest enough to bring back the book – in fact a friend of mine lost his library book, agonised for a while about what to do, eventually bought a replacement and confessed at the library, only to be told that someone else had found his lost library book and returned it for him!

Art is one of the most highly priced and prized commodities in the world and yet it can also be enjoyed freely and with no desire to own or purchase.  Many modern artists now create ‘experience’ – I loved Anthony Gormley’s Cloud Chamber and his Event Horizon – could I, would I want to, own them?

Theatre is also increasingly about experience, about being there in the moment, not about the comoditisation of stars and franchises – although there is still plenty of that about!

Subconciously the conservative (and unashamedly capitalist) goverment has cut the only real threat to current politics – the arts.  They have cut funding for teaching of the arts, for libraries, for arts organisations and through the perversion of Educational policy into a factory system for producing accountants, lawyers and bankers (and through its failures the people who sweep their floors and serve them coffee) they have laid the foundations for decades of cultural decline.  What they do not realise is there is no way out for them.  That eventually all economies based on this system will decline.  There will be an increasing divide between rich and poor.  The poor will get sicker and thicker and the cost of keeping them happy will get higher. 

A government that thinks art and culture and education are optional extras is one that will bring us all to ruin.

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