Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 2, 2012
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the fully human meaning of

Rene Louis Beres


Louis René Beres is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. He is author of many books and articles dealing with international politics. His columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Jerusalem Post and OUPblog (Oxford University Press).

It is not only in economics
but also in metaphysics
that man must earn his living.
Octavio Paz

Viscerally, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) targets the structural corruption of certain American and global institutions, both economic and political. To be sure, economics and politics remain starkly interpenetrating. Usually, whatever happens in either one of these seemingly discrete realms, more or less substantially impacts the other.

Still, if OWS supporters were to look meaningfully behind the news, beyond the ritualized economic and political orthodoxies, they could uncover something vitally important and under-examined. The genuinely core problem of economic weakness and inequality, they would discover, is not fiscal, but human.

Retail sales comprise an overwhelmingly large fraction of GDP. This is not newsworthy. But, by simple deduction, Wall Street’s volatility and fragility are ultimately the product of a society that most desperately requires hyper-consumption. Below the tangible surface of timeless and ubiquitous manipulations, our underlying market difficulties are rooted in utter dependence upon Main Street’s craving for goods. From the expert standpoint of any needed economic recovery, the more insistent this choreographed craving, the better.

We are what we buy. There is nothing controversial about this assertion. Adam Smith and Thorsten Veblen, among others, made it an integral part of their respective economic theories.

Nor is it in any way a uniquely American condition. The true and unacknowledged generic or universal problem is that in any society where one’s perceived value as a person is determined by observable consumption, the derivative economy is necessarily built upon sand.

This is not what we hear from the experts, least of all from the learned economists, the bankers, or the quick-thinking corporate chiefs. After all, it is assuredly not their task to inquire beyond pleasingly hard, measurable and quotable fiscal calculations. Still, if we should look more closely, it would become plain that we and the OWS movement have as much to learn about market crises and asymmetries from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, as from Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.

Until we can finally get a handle on the insatiable public need for more and more things, on the unceasing search for shiny goods that can seemingly validate us as persons of merit, our economic problems will not go away. And even if we could somehow fix these current problems by further encouraging contrived consumption, exactly what sort of society would we be sustaining?

What kind of economy and society must rely on crude coaxing and engineered purchasing to sustain its life-saving buoyancy? In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke prophetically of "self-reliance." Already, long ago, the American Transcendentalist thinker had fully understood that a foolish "reliance upon property" was actually the result of "a want of self reliance."

Today, living insecurely amid a humiliating barrage of advertising jingles, delirious collectivism and embarrassingly empty witticisms, the apprehensive American and counterparts elsewhere sorely want to project a correct image.

In the end, each tentative claim to self-worth must be founded upon having the right stuff. In the end, it is always about possessing an enviable cornucopia of all the right things. In the end, hyper consumption is never really about greed; rather, it is about the enhanced image of personal importance that can presumably be conferred by glamorous houses, cars, and electronic toys.

The demeaning consumer message of our mass society is everywhere, even in the universities. Here, where the Western canon has been supplanted by reality shows, mimicry and repetition now define academic excellence. Today, almost all higher education in America has become fiercely-commercial, proudly anti-intellectual and openly vocational, obsequiously dumbed-down by faculties who are running scared from no-longer literate university administrations.

In America, we ceremoniously graduate newly minted Ph.D.s, MDs, JDs and MBAs who know only how to progress in their own chosen fields. They may, of course, turn out to be perfectly good teachers, doctors, lawyers and accountants, but they shall always remain trained. Through no fault of their own, they will never have been educated.

Do we want a genuinely robust and fair economy and stock market? Then we must first reorient our American and other societies from their corrupted ambience of mass taste, toward a more distinctly cultivated environment of thought and feeling. Indisputably, there is still great beauty in the world, but it would be best not to search for it at the bank, the brokerage, the classroom, or the shopping mall.

Adam Smith had argued, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), that a system of "perfect liberty" could never be based upon "mean rapacity," and "needless" consumption. On the contrary, said Smith, who remains a fashionable mainstay of conservatives, the laws of the market, driven by competition and a consequent "self-regulation" (including his famous "invisible hand"), demand a principled disdain for all vanity-driven consumption.

For Adam Smith, "conspicuous consumption," a phrase that would be used far more devastatingly later by Thorsten Veblen, could never be a proper motor of economic or social improvement.

In America, even in that part of Main Street that intentionally knows little of Wall Street, there is widening anxiety and palpable unhappiness. Taught that respect and success lie in high salaries, and corollary patterns of consumption, the American dutifully worships the commonplace. Why should it be otherwise? Galvanized by mostly patronizing and shamelessly vulgar entertainments, a lonely American crowd unhesitatingly follows a flamboyant but impotent ringmaster.

This ringmaster and the surrounding circus of public life are most conspicuous in politics. Soon, Americans will turn yet again to another presidential election. Ironically, this falsely reassuring ritual will have no adequate effect upon what we have already become as a people, or even upon the essential durability of our financial markets.

Wall Street remains wholly dependent upon the self-destructive imitations of mass society. Such a mutually corrosive dependence or synergy can never succeed. Instead, we must first create conditions whereby each of us can feel important and alive without somehow surrendering to manufactured images of power and status. Without such altered conditions, millions of Americans and Europeans will continue to seek refuge from the excruciating emptiness of daily life in mind-numbing music, mountains of drugs and oceans of alcohol. Insidiously, without impediments, the resultant brew will effortlessly overflow and drown entire epochs of art, literature and sacred poetry.

Despite the endless noise and bravado, America is now generally an unhappy society, one where citizens can rarely find authentic meaning or satisfaction within themselves. Only this distinctly human problem of a socially crushed individualism can become the promising starting point for repairing what is fundamentally wrong with our broad economy and financial markets. All else is epiphenomenal, or merely what philosophers since Plato have recognized as shadows of reality.

Were he alive today, Plato would call our economic problems a "sickness of the soul." Before Occupy Wall Street protestors continue to direct their anger at just the usual suspects, a predictably futile exercise, they should first understand very basic logical distinctions between cause and effect. In matters of structural economic corruption, what now needs to be differentiated are underlying pathologies and their visible symptoms.

Pathologies of engineered hyper-consumption are critical. In themselves, however, the symptoms of resultant unfairness and inequality are never genuinely significant.



Email Address
(not required)

The consumer society critique has been a reliable standby for defanging the importance of specific political actions in specific social circumstances since labor unions were written off as wanting only what management already had and slaves were told their ambitions to be free were basically only emulative. There are various 'sicknesses of the soul,' but some are colds and others are cancers, and throwing them all into the same hospital wing doesn't get any of them cured.

by Louis René Beres:
What Is Important?
Social Network Anxiety
Disappearance of the Philosopher Kings


BENEFIT CONCERT FOR HAITI, SALLE GESU, JAN. 20TH (Papa Groove, Ariane Moffatt, Bïa, Kodiak, Echo Kalypso, Doriane Fabrig (ex-Dobacaracol), Claude Lamothe, Ian Kelly, Pépé: Box-office 514.861.4036 = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Montreal Jazz Festival
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
CINEMANIA(Montreal) - festival de films francophone 1-11 novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082: featuring Bernard Tavernier
Montreal World Film Festival
2011 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 12-23st, (514) 844-2172
The Centre de répit Philou is a private not-for-profit, charitable organization that welcomes physically disabled children
Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie
Canadian Tire Repair Scam [2211 boul Roland-Therrien, Longueuil] = documents-proofs
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis