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Departing the Consumer Culture

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

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Economy: Old and New

Departing the Consumer Culture
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Authors and scholars Peter Block, John McKnight, and Walter Brueggemann partnered to write An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, which describes the shifts in thinking that could create a post-consumer economy. It sounds a lot like the Gospel to me.

Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become more than a question of economics; they have become the kingdom within which we dwell. That way of thinking invades our social order, our ways of being together, and what we value. It replicates the kingdom of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh’s kingdom. It produces a consumer culture that centralizes wealth and power and leaves the rest wanting what the beneficiaries of the system have.

We invite you to a journey of departure from this consumer culture. We ask you to imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable—a culture in which the social order produces enough for all. . . . This departure into another kingdom might be closer to the reality of our nature and what works best for our humanity. . . .

Luckily, the exodus from a consumer, globalized culture into a neighborly, localized communal and cooperative culture has begun. We join the chorus of other agents of the alternative economy: food hubs, cooperative and social enterprises, the climate change activists, health activists, [etc.]. . . .

Neighborliness means that our well-being and what really matters is close at hand and can be locally constructed or produced. In this modern time, neighborliness is considered quaint and nostalgic. To make neighborliness the center of our social order requires an act of imagination. It is counter-cultural. It is also a form of social interaction that is built on a covenant that serves the common good. . . .

The consumer and market authority we live within violates neighborly relations by stratifying social power according to money and its attendants—privilege, competition, self-interest, entitlement, surplus. The dominant modes of current social relationships fend off neighborliness at all cost, and at great cost.

The [current] market ideology says that neighborly relationships are no longer required. That we are best ordered by commercializing all we can. That what we needed from neighbors can be obtained anywhere. . . . The major early step toward the modern cultural reality was “enclosure,” the privatizing of the common land. . . . Every human endeavor is monetized. . . . When a person’s effort was converted to wage earner, a person became an object. . . .

We moved away from the neighbor as a source of culture, memory, sense of place, and livelihood. . . . The casualty was a loss of a sense of the commons. What is at stake in the renewal of neighborliness is the restoration of the commons. [1] The free market consumer ideology has produced a social disorder; people are no longer embedded in a culture that serves the common wealth, the common good.

[1] “The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons)

Adapted from Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, John McKnight, An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 2016), xiv, xviii-xix.

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr
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