Hedonism, Capitalism & Consumerism

Essays on technology, psycho­analysis, philosophy, design, ideology & Slavoj Žižek


July 11, 2009

Hedonism, Capitalism & Consumerism

Two books on how businesses and marketing have co-opted the language of nonconformism, individualism and rebellion. Today’s counterculture is effectively the research and development department of global consume capitalism, taking further the capitalist hedonistic injunction: enjoy.

See also:

But, we should avoid the obvious retro-romantic nostalgia of selling out that implies that at some point in the distant past, there was an authentic moment that truly challenged the status quo, only to be captured by the enemy and we need to work hard to recapture that.

For this, we should look at The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism by Colin Campbell

The problem with the countercultural Left is that they have mistaken one side of a split within capitalism as capitalism itself. Concretely, the capitalist split is between the protestant ethic (“work hard, settle down, be part of the system & community, raise a family, put off enjoyment, etc.”) and the romantic ethic (“hedonism, enjoy sex, drugs, music, life right now, beautiful things fulfillment, find yourself, be authentic, individualism, etc.”), and the countercultural Left identifies these two as mainstream Capitalist vs. counterculture anti-Capitalist.

In reality, this division is Good Employee vs. Good Consumer, but one does no sell-out and become the other. Behind the superficial tension between the lies a deeper capitalist ideology, so that it is much more accurate to say that the Left co-opted Romantic countercultural hedonism, mistaking it for genuine radical movement, than what is usually claimed, that consumerism co-opted counterculture.

This mistake leads to the Left making the following ridiculous critique: “Capitalism’s major flaw is its inability to provide us with true consume hedonism”, ignoring the true problems of inequality, injustice, exploitation of people and the environment.

Even many ecologists claim that the primary environmental problem is that Capitalism destroys our sublime enjoyment of the beauty of nature with ugly factories, belching smokestacks, pollution, effectively reinforcing the dominant consumer ideology.

Here we can see Žižek’s formula in action: “Our perception of the problem is part of the problem”, which he develops in more detail in Maybe We Just Need A Different Chicken