5.09.2010

Consumer Culture, Post-Scarcity, String Theory


Sculpture: "The Great Indoors" by Aurora Robson Photo Cred

Questions from my student Alberto De Icaza and Jaime Arreola

What's consumer culture for you?
Consumer Culture is a process by which people only interact with the creative dimension of human activity through purchases, marketing, and consumption. It is the fusing of the traditional act of experiencing creativity by humans with the viral/vermin activity of consumption/colonization.


How has it affected society?
That is a long and complicated question, but I have to admit that I'm not a anti-market idealist. I think that a regulated free market creates the possibility for innovation and art. I'm most interested in the fact of our scarcity economy. Which means that our entire economy is based on the idea that resources for survival are scare and therefore valuable. In this framework millions of people are without the means for a happy and healthy life. I believe that our scarcity economy won't last very much longer in the scheme of things. Once science is able to effectively manipulate material at the quantum level abundance will be the law. This however is a trade off, because we will be dealing with a dismantling of nature. Millions of other problems will emerge in a post-scarcity economy: nano-toxicity, out-sourcing of human activity, runaway economic models, etc. We think we have a consumer culture now, wait until our economy starts to harvest celestial bodies for raw materials. We will long for the days when people just wanted a house.


How has it affected Art?
I believe that culture (and by extension art) will always have a tricky relationship to consumption. Artists generate, and that calls out for someone to consume/experience. I can't in good conscience disown generative activity, because that is why there is something instead of nothing. The Universe (Multiverse) generated matter. Humans have been trying to understand that through art and science forever.

We shouldn't disown consumption completely because it is fundamental law of nature. From a scientific perspective, consumption is just the front end of the transformation of materials. Matter changes form but never (or rarely) ceases to exist. Many people are worried about the earth, but the earth will go on for a very long time, it's life that we are endangering. We can look out into the universe and witness how rare life is. It is immensely improbable that we've been able to evolve into intelligent life. What we are doing through thoughtless consumption is reconverting the world back into something that doesn't sustain life. That was the same state it was in for billions of years (Venus is an example of a planet with a runaway greenhouse effect). So I think that whether we like it or lot, the only way out is to generate a solution. It is too late to "Stop Consuming" in order to "Save the Earth." Those are cliches that don't own up to the way that humans really act. To generate a solution is the great responsibility of artists, visionaries, scientists, and everyone alive right now.


How has it affected Music?
Music is like the earth. It lives on in spite of all of the hideous things that people do on its surface. The music industry is eating itself (metamorphosing), which is fun to watch, but ultimately that is all surface work. People will continue moving in rhythm and collectively enjoying repetitive and patterned organizations of sound. It is part of the fabric of humanhood. Music is one of humanity's most astute re-enactments of the nature of quantum reality (string theory). It's hard to even talk about string theory without invoking music as a metaphor (for me anyway). So maybe the better question is, how will music (and musicians) enable us to finally understand reality?


Is there a solution for it?
Sounds like you wanted an answer I didn't give. I think there are solutions for everything, but they require us to understand that we can't think well enough yet. I like to ponder the leap that Einstein made when he realized that Gravity and Time are relative and that the speed of light is a limit. In this discovery he leaped into an entirely inconceivable echelon of thinking, and he pulled all humanity with him. That needs to happen many more times for humans to survive and understand what is really happening in our Universe.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

I would love to cite you in a research paper I am writing about the commodification of music! If that's cool you can drop me an email at cr607205@ohio.edu. I'm very interested in consumer culture and the quantification of value and it's direct effects on the relationship we have with our environment.

Thanks for writing this!
-Charlotte