- Publisher: Harpercollinscanadaltd; 1 edition (Sept. 2 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0002007908
- ISBN-13: 978-0002007900
- Parcel Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 3.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 544 g
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #514,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Rebel Sell Hardcover – Sep 2 2004
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If we all hate consumerism, why can't we stop shopping? This is one of the curious ironies that Canadian philosophers Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter ponder in their provocative book about the counterculture and progressive politics. In The Rebel Sell, they take issue with the misconceptions of the anti-globalization movement and others who purport to resist a corporate-dominated world, like No Logo author Naomi Klein. Heath, a philosopher at the University of Toronto, and Potter, a researcher at the University of Montreal, bemoan the fact that the "counterculture" has replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought since the '60s. They suggest that anti-globalization activists and writers like Klein claim to oppose consumerism and corporate malfeasance while offering solutions that merely reinforce capitalism.
Heath and Potter take the reader on an absorbing tour of Western thought and the philosophical origins of the countercultural movement in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The authors suggest that these three figures gave rise to the notion that society dupes people into conformity and the belief that, as in the The Matrix movies, we have only to free our minds to start a revolution. Heath and Potter say this non-conformist ideal--which is the basis of today's countercultural movement--is actually at the heart of modern consumerism, too. Capitalism sells people "cool" stuff like SUVs and hip clothes as a way for us to stand out and be different from the crowd. In this way, the counterculture, which advocates such consumeristic "rebellion" as the key to revolution, merely helps capitalism renew itself. At times, The Rebel Sell engages in petty personal attacks against Klein and other anti-corporate activists and, in some cases, misrepresents their viewpoints, but the book is still fascinating, well-argued, and an important contribution to progressive thought. --Alex Roslin
About the Author
JOSEPH HEATH is Associate Professor of Philosophy at theUniversity of Toronto. He is the author of two books: The Efficient Societyanational bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2001and CommunicativeAction and Rational Choice. He lives in Toronto.
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The central argument of the Rebel Sell is simple: since the 50s and 60s, the problem with left-wing politics is that it misdiagnoses the source of problems in society. While the critique of mass society identifies the source of problems in the inhuman and deeply repressive nature of "the system", Heath and Potter argue that 1) there is no such thing as the system and 2) most problems in our society are "collective action problems". The book is excellent at demonstrating the deeply individualistic and entrepreneurial nature of counter-culture and at showing how it feeds, and not rejects, the 'system'.
I was personally fascinated by the role of 'collective action problems' and the left's failure to address them. For instance, the authors argue that the source of most violence in society is rational. Following Freud, the left has ignored this fact, and focused on emotions and instincts. Similarly, the authors argue that consumerism is very much a product of defensive competition in the struggle to maintain status in society. Hence, SUVs, gun ownership, tuition fees, etc. are 'collective action problems', the solution to which does not rest in individual choices, but rather in collective decision-making.
There is a lot more in the book than just this. The authors in fact do an impressively good job at moving from philosophical arguments to actual examples. The sections on the social construction of taste, the importance of cool as a positional good and the discussion of alternative lifestyle are fascinating. In addition, the book has a great index and a very accurate bibliography.
For anyone that is genuinely interested in the social problems of contemporary society, this book is a must-read. It is not a manifesto for political action: in fact, it's most successful achievement is the accurate critique of the most prominent movements and ideas of our time. It is fascinating (and deeply troubling) to see how hypocritical and misguided political movements have been recently. A focus re-shift is necessary, and here's where to start.
Rebel Sell starts by destroying the sociological and moral psychological underpinnings of the counterculter movement which are generally housed upon Marx and Freud respectively. The authors point out (and Chris W seems to have missed this point), that both Marx and Freud have been largely chased out of the world of philosophers and theorists, even though the ghosts of these thinkers still haunt the minds of the amateur intellectuals that make up the ranks of the counterculture.
After that, the rest of the book is a lively and often very amusing discussion of the silliness of the counterculture ideology (thank you, India!) combined with a complete debunking of most of its claims, and a damning critique of any real substantive solutions to legitimate problems. For liberals such as myself who are tired of being embarrassed by the pseudo-rebels in Nike shoes, this book is a welcome relief.
It goes on to further show how counterculture behaviour cannot only arrest development, but that its antisocial ideas and actions can harm us. Instead of behaving like adolescents, pointing fingers at the corporations that only sell us what we demand, we should be building a better society through real political process. This distinguishes thoughts and actions between dissent and deviance.
Perhaps you're like me, having already read "No Logo" & "Fast Food Nation". You were a punk in high school and are still seeking ways to "smash the system". Instead of trying to destroy 2000 years of culture, as Atari Teenage Riot would have us do, we should follow the conclusions that the authors reach. This book actually offers sound advice, rather than simply complain. Their ideas are practical and realistic.
Anyone interested in evolutionary psychology will feel at home with terms like "competitive consumption". The authors recognize that our quest for status affects those around us. What they object to is when your aspirations begin to harm society, when it is threatened by zero-sum games. Your attempts at distinguishing yourself from the masses could not only be pointless, but damaging. See their sections on the prisoner's dilemma, where they expand on that borrowed concept.
The authors rarely self-identify during the book, and I found this single voice to facilitate the reading experience. It was a wise decision. Overall, the writing is excellent, especially considering the critical nature of the topic. They also include the word "smacktard", which should be added to your everyday conversation.
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