I just began reading Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion (Carrette and King), an academic book that suggests that neoliberalism and its free market bent have co-opted spiritual symbols and rhetoric to increase profits.
I completely agree.
I worked for a company that really wanted me to drink the kool-aid. Though I worked terrible hours in a monotonous and physically demanding position, I was frequently asked why I wasn’t happy. “Are you enjoying yourself?” “We can’t read you very well.” “You aren’t happy enough to do customer service.”
This policy of mandatory happiness was clearly supposed to distract me from the fact that I was working a dead end job with lousy hours that left me socially isolated. They wanted to convince me that they had everything I needed so that I would keep working and they could keep making money at my expense. I’d like to think it wasn’t malicious, but it seems clear to me that executives employed a strategy of spiritualizing the workplace (in terms of community building, team values, and loyalty) with the specific intention of conning me into undervaluing myself. Anti-establishment as I am, I left after 5 months.
On the other side of the coin, advertisers are evolving their tactics to appeal to consumers’ quests for meaning in an age increasingly devoid of meaning. Marketing has always been disturbing, but it’s becoming more invasive. Everything is about branding, but not in terms of having a cute logo or a catchy slogan. Companies are trying to convince us that everything will be better if we buy into their brand. They promote new age religious practices alongside products. They convince us that what they’re offering will help a cause, support a moral goal, or shed light on injustice.
Corporations want to convince us that our consumerist habits are the primary and best way to exercise our values.
But it’s a lie! Changing the world, historically, has had very little to do with where we shopped or what brands we supported. I went to a talk given by the director of a local homeless resource center last night and I think he got to the heart of it. Being a catalyst for positive change in the world is, at its root, about seeing people, about acknowledging full humanity in ourselves and others. Then it’s about becoming a partner in struggle with those we encounter. Buying a t-shirt can’t do that. Wearing hippie clothes can’t do that. Buying glasses can’t do that.
I believe we have a responsibility to shop in ways that sustain and support people and planet. But we aren’t consumers. We’re human beings. Don’t let the market dull your senses. Don’t let the marketing blind you.