Monday, 17 March 2008

Affluenza scrutinized

So I'm reading this book Affluenza by Oliver James, the main thrust (or is that crux; thrusting crux, perhaps?) of which is that smelfish capitalism makes us all anxious and depressed. His conclusion seems to me (mind you, I'm only on like page 50, so I may be missing something yet) that we should all move to Denmark, because they just don't care so much.

I don't disagree with the argument that a life lived for nothing more than material gain is a gruesome and insubstantial one, but James' logic is rather heavyhanded. One could just as easily make the argument that depressed and/or anxious peoples are prone to ur-capitalist aspirations, rather than the other way around, and in fact I think there would be something in that. People choose to become bankers, stockbrokers and estate agents for a reason, and probably they can blame it on their parents (or, in many cases, the lack thereof). Sure, we've got an socio-politico-economic culture that allows the morally corrupt to engage in their skullduggery, and James and I would probably agree that the system needs to change. I'm less concerned about the skullduggery, as that will likely continue far beyond my temporal existence on this planet, but it's the individuals who seem to draw the author's wrath. Frankly, though, I find them uninteresting on the whole -- as he labels them, they are "Marketing Characters", predictable and more anonymous than his pseudonymizing narrative suggests. I have the sneaking suspicion that the real motive force for humanity in the 21st century will not be a force from inside the system. We create our own reality, indeed.

But to be fair, Affluenza is about internal, not external, affairs. Am I happy in a world of relative affluence and aspiration? I cede the point that were I to have my level of income most anywhere else in the world, things might look different, but that is to make the world much flatter than it is (I haven't read that book, but I'm heavily suspicious). I'm still upper-middle-class by London standards, regardless of what that might buy me in Wichita -- and there's probably nowhere for me to work in Wichita, for that matter (if you're a Wichitan headhunter, feel free to email).

Enough ranting for now, particularly as I haven't finished the book. Maybe there's a moral to this story after all...


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