I’m kind of skeptical of people who claim that the academy is ignoring global capitalism for culturalism, because it seems to me that capitalism has its own culture.  I suppose if not culture, per se, it at least has its own ethical system, and that ethical system is included in the culture of imperial nations.  It sort of galls me that there are socialist thinkers who still insist on separating the base and the superstructure: capitalism is a different animal today than it was when Marx dealt with it.

Here’s a case in point.  I recently had a conversation with Jane about the co-opting of environmentalism by capitalist culture.  The original environmentalists believed in a system where nobody takes more than they need, and people consume as little as possible, so as to reduce the strain on the environment.  That old “reduce-reuse-recycle” adage came out of that era of environmentalism.

What’s interesting is that somehow, environmentalism has turned less into a question of how we can cut back on our consumption to reduce the impact we have on the environment, but rather what products can we buy that will reduce the impact we have on the environment.  There are still some holdout environmentalists who continually point out that the only way to reduce your “carbon footprint” is to stop consuming.  Instead, people are marketed “green” products of all stripes — from “carbon-neutral” vacation homes to hybrid vehicles.

I’m not arguing that a carbon-neutral home is the wrong way to go, I’m saying that there’s something wrong with a culture that says you should buy that second home.  If you were really environmentally friendly, you’d have one home.  You wouldn’t go out of your way to make changes hastily to your home, rather, you’d make them as you need them.  A real environmentalist, in the traditional mold, doesn’t go out and buy the newest technology as soon as it hits the market.  A real environmentalist would buy it when it’s needed rather than wanted.

And I think this is an argument for an ethic of capitalism, if not a culture.  On an international scale, after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., it became less important to resist Communism than to expand and exploit all the new markets that were now no longer contested.  In order to do so, this culture of consumption needs to be exported, along with goods and services.  Somehow, you’ve got to convince enough people in Mumbai that they need iPhones before you can start selling iPhones there.  You need to export a system of values that places an emphasis on what you have — or at least what you can get.

I think this is one of the most insidious things about global capitalism — it’s allowed not just the exploitation of developing nations, but also the subtle shift of countries that might have formed a new way of doing things into consumer cultures.  It speaks to the power of capitalism that multinational corporations can do that just by building a brand in the west.  And it’s a bit demoralizing to think that an ideological war can be fought without even claiming that there is an ideology to fight for or against.

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