Thursday, February 28, 2008


We've only just got started with Fairtrade Fortnight and now we have E-Day to contend with too.

The nannyism and empty-gesturism that are distorting democratic discourse in this country are spreading down from the state to the corporate world. Many British firms, my own included, are marking the occasion by switching off or turning down a fairly random set of energy-consuming devices. For one day.

Having listened earlier in the week on Radio 4's rather aptly named Beyond Belief programme to Emma Restall-Orr (Head of the Druid Network) explaining how she aspires to maintain her "integrity" through her consumer choices, the links between ethical urges in the workplace (and the supermarket) and old fashioned religiosity (i.e. junk thinking and irrationalism) are becoming only too apparent.

Judging by the experience of the last two millennia, taking a day off food and sex has done very little to reduce the overall levels of gluttony and lust in the monotheistic world, so I'm not especially optimistic about E-Day's chances of maintaining the pleasantly darkened ambience of our reception area. "Oh, but it's all about awareness," you tell me. Yes, and so were those visions of hell carved onto the timpana above the entrances to medieval cathedrals.

Is a day of energy-atonement that much different from the fasts observed in the the more familiar systems of supernatural belief? If a company's board takes away all the sweets and chocolates on Yom Kippur every year, surely the workers might reasonably be concerned that they are no longer making their living in an ideologically-neutral, secular sort of place? Will firms soon be laying on breakfast seminars on the difference between needs and desires?

Just a couple of years ago the building I work in played host to Frank Furedi of Spiked!, scourge of the miserabilists. Now anyone that speaks up against the consensus is likely to be made to feel like a gay man in a hick town.

That Radio 4 programme also featured a loose cannon from the other side of the spectrum: Richard D. North, Fellow of the Social Affairs Unit and author of Rich is Beautiful. North would be OK buying stuff made by children in the Third World because he's generally happy to let the market do his thinking for him, and he'd rather not have to worry whether the unemployed home-life of these kids might actually be worse. (Provenance is important though, he insists, so ideally he'd like to be able to watch them making his iPod socks via a webcam.)

I'm glad I will soon be escaping all these wingnuts for good. They should all try living in Central America for a bit; at the very least it might put in perspective their views on energy-use, consumption, 'fair' trade and recycling, though I'm afraid a good deal of them would simply continue to wander around in pursuit of their lost authenticity, wittering on about the "Mayan Cosmovision". (And ignoring the really important lessons we ccould learn from the Maya, such as how NOT to over-exploit your environment to the point of complete societal collapse.)

Sometime in the mid-90s I spent a weekend working on my company's very first website with a young Hungarian making his first trip to the West since the collapse of the Soviet block. Understanding the nature of PR proved a major intellectual hurdle for him: "But what do you actually MAKE here?"

And perhaps therein lies the problem. Paul Chandler of Trade Craft certainly hinted at this on Beyond Belief. The historical generations that produced things by growing or making them, have been, in this country's urban centres at least, replaced by individuals who really are fundamentally consumers, largely because they can no longer so easily conceive of their contribution to the economy as a productive activity. And it is this that is making them vulnerable to levels of guilt that even a medieval Catholic might find unbearable.

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