Irrational Consumers

by Carter Brock
File under: Fake Freedom09 Sep 2013 10:46 EDT

Amongst the litany of falsehoods that cloud our lives, perhaps the most egregious is the belief that America operates a capitalist economy. In truth, it fails to qualify on multiple counts, all of which should be painfully obvious at this point.

One pillar that supports this capitalist illusion is the concept of the rational consumer. Related to supply and demand, it presumes that consumers will make rational choices in their purchases, coolly evaluating product quality and character versus cost, choosing the best goods available in a given price range.

This concept is key to the functioning of capitalism, as the success or failure of a business depends on the general perception of its products and identity. So when a company, say, neglects safety procedures and blows a few hundred million gallons of toxic shit into the Gulf of Mexico, we should, in theory, count on everyone to respond by withholding their financial support of said company. If consumers don't behave rationally, then we can't expect our economy to work as a true meritocracy.

Now, let's put aside the debate of whether we can ever rely on human beings to be rational and assume that we can. Even then, the model still fails because the modern motives of capital accumulation seek constantly to undermine the rational consumer.

Take advertising, for example. The whole basis of that industry is to mislead and manipulate, to create desire where none existed before. The concept of a rational consumer may have made sense a hundred years ago, but it was posited before the advent of two essential advertising tools — mass media communications and public relations psychology.

The simple written word of the pre-20th century cannot challenge the persuasive power of high def imagery beaming directly into our living rooms. For most people, this bombardment overwhelms the senses and dulls insight. It is, as film director Stanley Kubrick expressed:

… the new psychedelic fascism — the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic, drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings — which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom.

The other half of this equation is the ascendency of public relations, developed in the early 1900s by Edward Bernays. Building on discoveries in the field of psychology made by his uncle Sigmund Freud, Bernays literally wrote the book on propaganda. He is the architect of marketing as we know it today, as detailed in the 2002 BBC documentary The Century of the Self. By understanding the intricacies of the human psyche, Bernays outlined the methods for manipulating opinions on a mass scale.

But you are smarter than that. You can see through the marketing illusions and make decisions for yourself, right?

Maybe not. Thanks to corporate synergy and their vast networks of partnerships, you could be unwittingly supporting detestable companies through their subsidiaries. Without complete information about these conglomerates, it is impossible to make rational buying decisions.

And when a product is just straight-up addictive, again our rationality is circumvented. Alcohol and tobacco are glaring examples of harmful products that we still feel the need to purchase. Processed foods are engineered with high fat, sugar, and salt contents to make us crave them, even though we know they make us sick. The pharmaceutical industry is little more than legalized drug-dealing, abusing addictions for profit. In this environment, becoming an irrational consumer may not be something we can control.

Yet young people of today cannot fall into the same traps as the generations of the past. We have to try to see through the web of fiction that's being weaved. Let's take back our rationality, withdraw support from those systems that seek to control us, and make our communities healthy again. Otherwise, the Fakenation will only grow.

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