Wednesday, 25 June 2014

This is the letter that I wrote in response to the conference entitled "Celebrating Consumer Choice", conference which I thought would go in all sorts of directions and titilate our thought processes but ending up doing just that, being oh so delighted to have Iphones!

Dear Viv,

It was great to see you the night before last night at the conference.
I was happy to visit Westminster for the 1st time and was so pleased that we all sat at the very heart of where power is acted out, all with microphones to be heard. I felt there was a real sense of debate which LM magazine and Spiked have always cultivated. It felt very exciting indeed...

As the debate went on however I grew more and more disillusioned with what was being said and the lame quality of the level of the debate.
There was a real air of consensual complacency that no one really -particularly coming from the left where I would have expected it- challenged. Everyone was oh so happy with their Iphones it seemed..

It is my fault one could say, to come to a debate with some expectations.. but I was getting more and more furious at the inanities I was hearing.
What a disappointment.
I heard things like "it isn't because people have more choice that they consume more", which directly contradicted what had been said a couple of minutes before by another speaker that since 1954 we are so much better off and are so much happier now that we can consume a lot more.. On the right still, the fact that we are really empowered as consumers because we can make products appear or disappear from the market. Yes, who needs democracy when one is empowered with such magnificent capacity?!
The fact that big labels and brands crush smaller products out of the market was never mentioned.
Try to make Google or Amazon disappear.
On the left the level of arguments put forward was equally meek, with a little idea that there is a difference between consumer choice and consumerism, the later being undesirable because it is undemocratic -giving more power to people who have money. That is the only valid point I heard all night and was made so timidly that it was a wander if there was still a sense of dialectics to be had in this debate, like again coming from Skiped, I had expected.
Someone and not just anyone, Spiked former editor himself, even said such thing as ludicrous as"They now want to ban adverts that advertise sugary junk food to children, so we don't even have the choice of adverts any more!!!!!!!" Where does he get the idea that we have a CHOICE in terms of being advertised to. We are subject to advertising wether we like it or not and if I had a CHOICE I would certainly chose not to have any advertising around...

But worse of all was the lack of depth into the fact that democracy is really at stake here, and that indeed there might be a direct link in the fact that we are now regarded as consumers and not as citizens any more. We have to find our power in the shops and not on the political terrain.This is the kind of reflection I had expected from our debate and how we could together dig this kind of ideas around the Consumer choice debate.
In truth there is little choice. What I experience more nowadays, and this bares no comparisons to 1954, as we are NOT in 1954 anymore and nor will we ever be... is a sense of tyranny of consumerism. I was looking for frames for my 1st pair of glasses at the optician and the only option was to "chose" between red rectangular frames or blue or green or yellow but all rectangular in shape. Absolutely no choice there, only when I went to the cheapo NHS frames did I find something rounder; same with trousers, for years there was not a chance to find a pair that had a waste line above the hips... not to mention things like washing machines, in the choice we are given none will wash beyond a limit of 7 years, often less, with all the impact that having to throw out and buy new things like that all the time have in terms of creating unnecessary trash.... There is less choice in fact, and particularly in those Tesco express, mainly wheat, processed, sugary dairy foods. If you want something else you won't find it there. And what glory is there in knowing that you are guaranteed your bread at 11pm, if you're not there to pick it up it will go in the trash? It is very convenient indeed, but is that real progress? Doesn't food and resources have any value any more? Didn't Karl Marx mention the importance of value in things and labor?
Indeed wouldn't we be better off with quality products that don't brake down or have extremely short life spans? Things that are well made, are reliable and are lasting? Isn't that what we should be striving for and demanding from our industries? There was a little mention of that by a man in the audience "People want quality" he said shyly.. but no one took up his point.. I think it is a very valid and important point.

Not tackled either the idea that less and less people have money to burn and that more and more of us have either to, starve, or go on very sparing budgets or borrow from banks, with all the problems that that's created. No mention on the crisis and it's damages... So many people are endebted today! Debt has become the norm... Surely that has to do with our debate.
Lastly I think that there is a link between the disappearance of public realm, growing privatisation and this consumer culture. Not a good trend for our societies where inequalities are on the increase.
I am quite annoyed at myself for not having been in a position where I could express all these points on the day.
Still I am hoping that Skiped's initiative has really open the debate and if there is a platform for it would like my letter to you published there.
I feel ready to fight!

All the best to you and thanks again

Lætitia Sadier