2017 in Perspective

Dissolution of the Ego
9"x 12" mixed media on canvas panel
It's been an interesting year, hasn't it?

Well, let me do my traditional year recap by putting the adventures of the last twelve months into focus. To me, 2017 is best summed up by the Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. (View here). I thought this ad was spot on regarding where we are as a society.

To my mind, this commercial captures how the spirit of revolution we often wax philosophical about actually America died. It illustrates perfectly how protest has been incorporated into mainstream consumer culture. And at by the ad's conclusion, it highlights consumerism as the one commodity connecting all of our global problems.

Think about this for a minute. We may hate each other for race, culture, gender, religion, philosophy or any other reason. We can rage against society in whichever way we see fit. We can walk these streets as artists, musicians, nurses, lawyers, cops, businessmen, models and so forth. But we all still buy products in unison, trillions of dollars worth of them, regardless of what their effect is on us or the environment.

To start, consumer industries have always made themselves more important than the sexual harassment, environmental, wrongful death and civil lawsuits against them in every era.  Our societies further uses the populace as expendable minions to an overarching religion transforming corporations into gods. And if you complain about being trampled under the wheels of their profit margins, the demigods running them will simply pay you off in a settlement rather than change.

Rampant consumerism also introduces the notion that science is just something that's convenient. We adore science for giving us technological advances like our cellphones, cars and computers. Yet we cry foul at using science to establish equilibrium with our environment through clean energy resources while our planet undergoes this current warming period. Why? Because it's not convenient to change, especially not for industry titans who've made billions. We want our science to prove our foregone conclusions, not force us to be conscientious.

I've heard it said that our consumption isn't all bad. Some of our consumerism is being used to solve problems around the world by raising money for causes. Natural disasters in 2017 rendered a staggering 32 million people homeless around the world. I'm sure many of you donated for hurricane or earthquake relief, for example. But as someone who has worked in nonprofit administration, I can tell you most of the time raising money for a cause is exactly like this Pepsi commercial:

First, people rally together. No one truly actually pays attention until a famous person steps in for a photo op. That photo op will attempt to make this star "just like one of us," even though there is an entire team of people creating this personality - as illustrated by Ms. Jenner handing her wig to an all but invisible staff member. This photo and the star becomes the rallying cry for the cause, propelled by the momentum of average people. The wall of Authority smiles, perhaps even gives a speech about the topic. We go home feeling good on all sides. We donated. We raised awareness. But not a damn thing changes. The money disappears into the cracks of bloated bureaucracy, organizational costs and product production. Those suffering keep on suffering. And our collective consciousness goes back to sleep until the next headline wakes us up.

You see, the revolution is not just televised now, ladies and gentlemen. It's commercialized. The world is currently on fire, but if I purchase this T-shirt I can change it. That's the mentality. Worse yet, there is a severe amount of naivety involved to believe truly serious issues are even being touched by mainstream commercialism. In fact, consumerism is causing many of these problems in the first place.

More than 200 environmental activists were killed in 2016, a record number. These people were fighting and cataloging rampant abuses of industries around the world. The number of additional global scandals snuffed out in the last 12 months via intimidation, threats and violence before the All-Seeing-Eye of social media got a whiff of it are too numerous to count. Yet many of the companies involved in these silent atrocities produce products currently in your living space. Our society is so entrenched in consumerism we even elected a business mogul to the presidency who made billions by making his own name an incorporated brand.  But truth, like science, is not convenient.

We don't want to know the actual harm involved by purchasing these products, such how Pepsi has been accused of human rights violations in India and Indonesia. (Coca-cola has an even worse track record.) 2017 also gave us images of several cities around the world where the air, water and soil quality is extremely toxic, a direct result of the energy industry and manufacturing plants. Our celebrities are also adorned by clothing, makeup, and jewelry labels who also make profit while covering up animal and human abuse scandals of their own.

But we will still buy all of these items made for cents on the dollar by people in insane working and living conditions. We want products that are cheap and convenient. The rest is someone else's problem.

Consumerism connects all societal issues on a global institutional level. For one thing, business transcends governments and religious organizations and always has. The Industrial Revolution proved profit margins trump basic civil and human right statues. Then the Supreme Court took it a step further by not only recognizing corporations as having the rights of people to enforce contracts, they granted them the protection of the 14th Amendment:

The Supreme Court in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward - 17 U.S. 518 (1819): 
"The opinion of the Court, after mature deliberation, is that this corporate charter is a contract, the obligation of which cannot be impaired without violating the Constitution of the United States. This opinion appears to us to be equally supported by reason, and by the former decisions of the this Court." Beginning with this opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has continuously recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and enforce contracts." 

The Supreme Court in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific - 118 U.S. 394 (1886)  "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a States to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does. 

And because corporations have the additional benefit of not being actual people, these two rulings have afforded them more loopholes than any of us will ever receive in a court of law. As a result, some of these companies have grown into giant octopi with tentacles in everything. For those adherents waiting for the arrival of Cthulhu, he's already been here for a century with his Four Horseman of Energy, Banking, Defense and Pharmaceuticals to do his dirty work. If that's not chaos, I don't know what is.

So for 2018, I'm asking Humanity to take responsibility for our very real complicity in the world's problems. This will take more than clicking a donate button after seeing a social media video or jumping on a bandwagon over our tax dollars. It also requires that we investigate exactly what our money is being used to support every time we spend as individuals.

Money drives this machine. Since it does, we have the power to redirect this runaway train of commerce one purchase at a time. It won't be an overnight change. But it is a step in the right direction.

After all, the real revolution begins within our minds.

Light and Love on your path this New Year. 

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