We must abandon mindless consumption

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

In his Nov. 9 column, Rich Moniak pondered the question, "Was it possible that all of Roosevelt's programs wouldn't have been necessary if the 'hard working families' of America had decided to take care of other families who were devastated by the crisis?"

While his meditation is imbued with a noble sense of charity, it is, quite simply, beside the point, given the magnitude of the multifaceted meltdown we're facing.

Is he suggesting that already debt-burdened individuals take over their neighbor's mortgage payment or pay for our crumbling infrastructure? Does he believe that contributing extra canned goods to the local food bank will get us through the coming calamity? However virtuous these possible gestures may be (his article fails to provide examples), they are inadequate to the task at hand.

A few more serious alternatives might include ending our two imperial wars, slashing the Pentagon budget by more than 50 percent, raising taxes on the mega-rich well beyond Obama's measly 39 percent, and ending the serial bailouts to Wall Street's criminal class. These savings could then be directed toward addressing our country's problems rather than aggrandizing corporate profit. This leads to Moniak's second faulty premise.

While his rejection of a long-ago discredited socialism based on a repressive, anti-democratic model added nothing to that discourse, the fact remains that hundreds of millions living in today's world seemingly enjoy a more equitable and humane existence tilting closer toward a vision of commonwealth than the leather-hearted capitalism practiced here at home. Is he arguing that our only choice is between the Beijing option or some romanticized Shaker Village-like utopia?

I would throw my lot in with the recovery strategy advanced by Ken Burch (in his My Turn on Nov. 5). His approach implicitly assumes that the future will be what the people choose to make it. Realizing that vision, as he suggests, necessitates an activist, bottom-up coalition of workers and starry-eyed life lovers, communities of color and cultures of queerness, tree-huggers and unrepentant dreamers. This amalgam of feral social forces might even resurrect the incendiary cry that defined France in 1968: "Be realistic. Demand the impossible."

Only by shedding our soul-rotting preoccupation with mindless consumption and passive spectacle in favor of practicing joyous struggle and reappropriating the moment will new possibilities emerge, leading to an America worthy and capable of a hopeful future.

Albert Petrarca


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