Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Countering Consumerism – Impacting Culture

Written by: on March 3, 2014

My personal exposure to studies in psychology and more specifically, social psychology is very limited. I have never studied Freud. Understanding why people do what they do often remains a mystery to me. The concepts of an action being neurotic or subscribing neuroses to an action, congers up more a sense of subversive fear than any nous (intelligent principle) that explains individual or group actions. This course of study (LGP) has given me some opportunity to understand how Christian group culture controls, to a large extent, how we relate to those inside and outside “collection.”[1] According to Heath & Potter, Freudian thought and theory has become widely accepted without disputing the fact that it is arguable theory. The authors note, “It has become the lens through which we perceive all of reality.”[2] I must admit that there was an affinity with many of the terms associated with Freudian concepts: self-esteem, suppression, denial, closure, dependency, dated emotions, issues, repressed(ion) and other such terms.[3]The authors reference Freud’s influence on cultural understanding, counter culture, and consumerism throughout the book. My impression, which needs much additional study, is that the authors authenticate the impact of Freudian thought on the counter cultural movement and consumerism while validating that it (Freudian thought) is still, after all, a theory and provides, at best, an unstable foundation.

Heath and Potter stress the impact counterculture thinking and the counterculture movement has had on social and political life. Unfortunately for me, I watch very few movies and virtually never listen to music except for what is a part of the Christian community and worship. This very clearly defines my narrow perspective on these things. It was a significant awakening to me when the authors stated, “the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life.

I was a teenager in the “turbulent sixties” and I remember well the antics of the “Hippies” and the communes of which they were a part. I did not understand then, perhaps only now though Rebel Sell, understand what was really going on. My first thought would be that “counterculture” has little to do with politics; then, I recall the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago, IL. The demonstrations, violence, confrontation – the pictures of people rioting, their long hair, were totally foreign to me even though many of the participants were my age. In retrospect, I would have probably fit into the category of the residents of Pleasantville, who were “blissfully unaware of the existence of a world beyond their city limits.”[4]

In Rebel Sell, the authors illuminate the basic underpinning of counterculture. They use the movie, Pleasantville, as an example of counterculture idealism. It is the introduction of new ideas and behaviors into the “perfect” Pleasantville community: “… the sun always shines, the home team never loses, and there is no poverty, crime or corruption … Everyone eats meatloaf for dinner, every night. Nothing ever changes…”[5] The foundation for being happy in Pleasantville is conformity which in countercultural thinking translates to culture as being repressive. Counterculture seeks to liberate people from this conformity: “What people need to be liberated from is not a specific class that oppresses them or system of exploitation that imposes poverty upon them …What they need is to escape from conformity.”[6] The authors declare this premise and the resultant mass society, mass production and mass consumption to be false.

Social Collective Problems: In numerous places throughout The Rebel Sell, the Heath & Potter address “collective problems.” Collective problems are the greatest challenge facing society.[7] The problem could be stated as: the reluctance or willingness of the individual to act to benefit collective good. The authors present this dilemma as a two sided coin. On the one side, individuals are motivated to act out of bad or evil motives. This action is often not out of a malicious or inherent intent, but rather is the tension created through the collective social need and the individual need.[8] The other side, is the institution or improvising of rules that provides restraints or impose actions that help resolve conflict created by collective problems. Counterculturalism has chaffed against both sides of the coin.

The authors cite the “prisoner’s dilemma” as illustrating the collective problems. Although the quandary of testimony is interesting and valid, I discovered an even more illustrative example with a humorous side. It is the fable of “Belling the Cat.”[9] Supposedly, according to Aesop’s Fable, an assembly of mice met to discuss their common problem; dealing with the Cat. The problem concentrated on the sly and treacherous approach of the Cat. In the discussion, a somewhat brilliant younger mouse suggested that that tie a bell around the cat’s neck to warn the mice. The suggestion was applauded, well received and plans were made. A wiser, older mouse asked the question, “Who will tie the bell around the Cat’s neck?” There was only silence.

Plurality: I had some problem with the fact that there was a lack of any Christian or biblical approach or solution to the counterculture movement or dealing with consumerism. An example is the concepts the authors introduce concerning pluralism. Although there is some real insight into pluralism, such as the need for a market to satisfy diversity, I was disappointed in how to make “peace” with plurality in “mass society.” The authors note, “We must recognize that modern societies have become so large, populous and complex that we can no longer expect everyone to rally around some single set of shared values …We need to learn to live with disagreement …remaining neutral with respect to all these controversial questions of value.”[10]

There are many areas in Rebel Sell that are informative and helpful and should provide insight in living in a global world. The discussion on the countercultural movement against globalization is extremely constructive within the scope of our course of study. For myself, I can be encouraged. I have read in advance the books by Miller and Cavanaugh which approach consumerism economics from the perspective of Christian faith and practice.

[1] See for an example: Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,  2013)

[2] Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, Capstone ed. (West Sussex: UK: Capstone Publishing, 2006), 39.

[3] Ibid., Chapter 39.

[4] Ibid., 31.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 342

[8] Ibid., 77-78

[10] Heath & Potter, 331.

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