Monday, March 7, 2011

"The Capitalist's Paradox," Umair Haque

Beancounters, listen up. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I come not to praise you, but to bury you. I don't care about your "strategy," "business model," "campaign," "product," or "deliverables" (sorry). All that stuff is focused on outputs. What matters to people, in contrast, are outcomes: did this bring a tiny slice of health, wealth, joy, inspiration, connection, intellect, imagination, organization, education, elevation into my life, that lasted, multiplied, and mattered to me — or was its final result merely to make me just a bit fatter, wearier, unhealthier, disconnected, dumber, duller?
I'd like to believe Haque's blog entry is more than another hackneyed "the times, they are a-changing" bit of time-wasting. I think he's groping at the edges of something quite fundamental and true: American-style capitalism has dug the United States into a deep hole, and I'm not talking only about the fiscal one that China is financing. At the risk of reinforcing the country's worst Puritanical impulses (doing so tends to play into the hands of phony, moralizing religious and political leaders whose not so subtle message is that our problems are at heart due to falling from grace with their deity), it's hard for me not to suspect that our society's singleminded devotion to satisfying the purported desires of consumers, whlle denying the absolute requirement to educate those consumers about who they are and what they really need, has produced a population that is not just fatter and less thoughtful (let's avoid the loaded words "dumb" and "stupid," words which I acknowledge are favorites of mine in this blog), but overall less interested in making things, and itself, better.

If Haque and the many others who have been crying this same unpleasant headline into the town square are right, then in order to keep things from getting worse we're going to have to break with our habits. And how exactly are 300 million people supposed to turn on a dime, especially when a lot of them probably don't see a huge systemic problem? Beats me.

(Of course, there is the possibility that Haque and I are just trying to put an acceptable face on what is essentially the same message that the aforementioned phony, moralizing religious and political leaders have been so tiresomely bleating to us for so long. Messages like this seem to be no more than ineffectual hand-wringing because they don't offer a prescription, which is kind of important when you're calling for a change in direction.)

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