Many people in the international community have perhaps visited or at least heard of Adbusters.org, the Canadian anti-consumerist activist organization. I remember browsing through the site a couple years ago and watching a few videos, laughing a little bit, and happily forgetting that it existed. Recently, the self proclaimed “journal of the mental environment” and I crossed paths again when a friend of mine received an online invitation to participate in Buy Nothing Day, an international campaign supported by Adbusters in which participants refrain from spending money on absolutely anything on November 27th or 28th (depending on location) in order to create “a chain reaction of refusal against consumer capitalism … a sudden, unexpected moment of truth … the first ever global revolution.” Participating countries include Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
My initial thought of, “It’s nice that people aren’t so caught up in material things” was immediately followed by, “Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else?” Earlier this year I blogged about using regulations to help tame “cow-boy style” capitalism in light of the economic recession. CEOs around the world, with special emphasis on those from the United States, received a fair amount of criticism for letting self-interest co-opt their responsibility as economic leaders. Understandably, there’s reason for distrust of the business world by those most affected. But in my mind, Buy Nothing Day not only makes a mockery the very real impacts of the recession on the lives of people, but also makes proponents of a smarter brand of capitalism look like complete fools by oversimplifying modern capitalism: there is an immense grey zone recognized internationally that is comprised of people that don’t have the privilege of being internet-cafe revolutionaries, people who don’t have the luxury of being able to “consume” the way many of us do. If there are people who have been harmed by capitalism, why not focus on helping those people instead of taking vengeance on a faceless international system?
It is obvious that preventing perpetual economic recession isn’t a high priority for Buy Nothing Day participants, but Adbusters fails to address the impacts on the hard-hit international working class. Because the logic of simply buying nothing ignores this reality, its efforts to allegedly do something constructive for those who are the “victims” of capitalism internationally seem misplaced. I’m hesitant to give more credit to Adbusters than it really deserves, but what if their goals are accomplished? Not only will workers be further marginalized economically, but it could mitigate global attempts at economic recovery. Again, I can’t imagine that Buy Nothing Day could be responsible for something so drastic, but it is easy to imagine what could happen if the economy further declined for any other reason: global unemployment, civil unrest, food and resource shortages, and war. Naturally, these things may be cause for alarm. I’m still looking for the “Buy Nothing Day: In Case of Economic Collapse” section on Adbusters.org, but their writers must be busy reading or something.
I do have other issues with Adbusters in general, such as their use of consumer goods to fight consumerism (New subscribers get a FREE “Corporate America Flag”). But regardless of the nuisances you may experience in shopping centers around the world on November 27th and 28th (sit-ins, civil disobedience, and anarchy- all approved protest methods) you will probably rest easy because you have already, as I have, dismissed Buy Nothing Day as benign and forgettable. Questioning and challenging the way that the world around us works can be an intelligent process that produces real change for the betterment of those in need. But are zombie walking, ignorance, and overzealous scare tactics really the best way to reform capitalism?