There was a mall in Providence. Amidst all the buildings that are older than the Midwest's annexation to the US of A, the five-story monstrosity seemed especially odd. I meandered through the building out of aimless wandering, trying to understand more about the history of a city, about the humans who move in its arteries. Free People Free Minds had released for the evening, with reunion promised at a street party--not really my style. So I was somewhat lonely, somewhat vulnerable to the temptations of Shopping.
The mall looked just like any of its kind in Kansas City, in Omaha, in Minneapolis. Same stores, same expensive but boring products, same fervor to quell any revolutionary zeal under mounds of shopping bags. Now, these stores manage to create a lot of desire in me--desire to fit in, to wear clothes that will make people willing to talk with me and not shun me or look down on me, desire to celebrate my successful (well, kind of successful--I have a full time job) professional status by Making Big Purchases. I grew up with very strict limits on what could and could not be bought, so I've been on a multi-year "binge" of enjoying my ability to buy new and stylish clothing.
But in the middle of Free Minds, Free People, I walked around the mall with a sensation of disgust. I did not want any of the things there. I did not need any of them to validate my status in life. I was participating in something larger than consumerism, a movement more exciting and challenging and aesthetically pleasing than anything in the mall. Consumer culture has to destroy solidarity, because with solidarity you don't need to buy things to be acceptable--you start out as an acceptable being, one who deserves to have needs met, rather than starting out as a naked being who must clothe oneself with Good Choices and Nice Things to be acceptable in polite society.
Strategies for teaching, the history of anarchy, ways in which we can keep kids from being pushed out of schools--theses are all so much more interesting than any purchase. Talking with other workers for social justice much more rewarding. Consumerism keeps us all in poverty of emotion, always in a scenario of Want, Want, Want.
I wondered if this freedom from consumer desire would end upon arrival home. But yesterday, while shopping at some stores that, very effectively, have created my desire for their products, I was able to walk away without any unnecessary purchases. I tried on a dress in three colors, then realized that I didn't need or even particularly want the dress--only to own a part of the store's aura. Which I don't need. It's not that my life has no self-control, it's just that usually I have to force myself not to buy what is unnecessary, overpriced, produced by slave labor. Not having the desire to buy in the first place is totally liberating.
Now, I foster no illusions that this disaffection from consumption will last me long. My job, much as I like it, makes me feel inadequate and isolated nearly all the time. And my response to that is usually to buy more stuff. This is a conditioned response. It is also harder to not feel it when work has me beaten down, unable to focus on anything like history or strategies or structures. But I have known for a bit some glimpses of liberation from consumerism--not just self control, but a lack of Want.
The revolution must contain in itself explicit strategies to free us from both want (poverty) and Want (seeking status and fulfillment in consumer desire).