‘Generation of the thoroughly smug’: How consumerism convinces you you’re clever to keep you stupid

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

Ezra Pound

We are still in a Freudian age. It’s so common to engage in a conversation around ‘the underlying reasons’ why such and such said this, or ‘the real motivations’ behind someone’s saying that.

This all stems from a vague, pop-culture approximation of Freudian thought, not Freudian philosophy in reality.

The bombardment of consumerist imagery is easier to get into your subconscious if you think you are too clever to be susceptible to it
The bombardment of consumerist imagery is easier to get into your subconscious if you think you are too clever to be susceptible to it

Paranoia, distrust and suspicion are dressed up in quasi-academic psychobabble, allowing anyone to posture as being intelligent by offering a folk-theory on why a particular event ‘really happened.’

The culture of the hidden agenda is expounded and channelled with the rarely disguised smugness of superiority, as if the presumption of the subconscious adds miraculously insightful dimensions to one’s perspective on the world.

It’s normal to speak to a member of our generation and hear them refer more than once to their unique ability to ‘suss people out’, or ‘have someone pegged’.

The worst, most insidious version of this I ever saw was about ten years ago when Big Brother was still a popular show.

Each contestant was interviewed before hand on how they thought they would fare and how they felt going into ‘the house’.

Each and every one of them congratulated themselves on their penetrative knowledge of human psychology and promised to emerge the winner of the show on the back of their ability ‘wrap people round their little finger.’

The viewers too, would justify themselves and their time-wasting lazy voyeurism by laying claim to participating in a ‘fascinating’ psychological experiment. As if by watching imbeciles bicker for twenty-four hours a day, and maybe have sex, was some kind of achievement in amateur anthropology.

This psychological cant is not just fashionable, it’s a guiding agent in the culture.

Perhaps it has something to do with advertising and consumerism, and the value in keeping people ‘on edge.’ As in the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction, there’s a lot of money to be made out of keeping people in a state of suspicion and paranoia and anxious discomfort. All of these states are non-rational states, and therefore non-rational solutions are likely to elicit mass non-rational responses – such as paying lots of money to buy useless objects.

Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling
Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling

It’s far simpler than that, unfortunately. Consumerism works on the basis of automation. The more automatic a response a product can produce, the more likely that product is to sell. Put bluntly, the less thinking, the more selling.

None of this relationship between automatic thinking and consumerism is news to anyone, and it’s not the point.

The point is rather, that we all think we are the ones immune to it, and everyone else is an idiot. And the more we think that, the less likely we are to challenge our own stupidity and gullibility in the face of marketing and consumerist media.

Socrates, we all know, was the wisest man in Athens because he knew was not wise. A knowledge of his own limitations made him less susceptible to the mores and social pressures of his age.

Unfortunately we live in an age when you can’t speak three words to a stranger without having to listen to them illustrate how individual and liberated they are, how much of a free thinker they are. Socrates would laugh.

The historian Daniel Boorstein said it well in a quote that sums up the current generation of part-time Freudians:

“The greatest obstacle to knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”

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