GettyImages-887313624.jpg
monkeybusinessimages/gettyimages.com

There are several things that could make life cheaper for those who live in a market system. One is the provision of bank services by the post office. Another is abolishing single-family homes and subsidized parking. Another is requiring the students of public high schools to wear uniforms. The last would bring the back-to-school frenzy to an end, and also significantly reduce class tensions in schools. The uniforms should be, of course, as bland as possible: plain sweaters, plain pants, plain jackets, plain dresses, plain shoes. The ultimate purpose of this blandness is to make teens feel the same. This sameness works to weaken the feeling that has done so much damage in our world, that of the individual.

From the Seattle Times:

Tambark Creek [a newly opened newly elementary school in Everett] administrators say the uniform is meant to “promote inclusivity and a sense of belonging” and ensure their students — who come to the new school from three different elementaries — can integrate in a positive environment.

[U]niforms, by definition, leave little room for students to express individuality.

This little room is all a teen needs to express themselves. This is not to say teens dress badly, but that, in most cases, it's better for all that there be checks on the full expression of an underdeveloped or still developing personality. But the main function of the uniform is, as I said, to make life cheaper. This, ultimately, is what socialism (if properly implemented) is all about. Not the destruction of the market, but the elimination of the huge amount of waste it generates. And this brings me to a recent tweet by rightwing commentator and Daily Caller contributor Benny Johnson.


Johnson travelled to Cuba with the hope of showing Americans what life was like in a socialist country: empty shelves, people eating rats, that sort of thing. But what Johnson found instead in Cuba are well-stocked supermarkets, and so he shifted the story from socialism as the nightmare Venezuela to socialism not like heavenly US. The products in Cuban supermarkets lacked American variety. So, it wasn't so much that you starved on that island country, but you were condemned to eating the same kind of canned tomatoes or beans or blending fruits with the same kind of blender. The horror.

Johnson's conclusion: "No competition No choice No hope." Now, I would be a fool to say Cuba is a paradise, and also that a number of socialist experiments of the 20th century did not fail. But it's hard for me to see how consumer freedom, the choice to buy one of the many types of canned tomatoes or blenders, is that much better than its opposite, consumer unfreedom (the lack of enough choice). And a lot of choices we are given in the US are actually bogus. We have a variety of gas stations, banks, internet services, but in truth, each of these and many others could be provided by a single non-market company without the least change in how one experiences capitalism. Indeed, it would be more efficient to do so. We really do not need many internet or cellphone corporations that are passing the huge costs of advertising to our bills.

The religion of variety checks other ways of conceptualizing the substance of consumer freedom. It is a freedom that must always speak for itself. You can see it with your eyes. Open them in a QFC: World without end. Variety all over the place. And because it is variety, it has to be great. I do not have all the answers to this, but I can remind you of what I think is the most important scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker—the supermarket scene.

The Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) returns to the US after a tour in Iraq. He is in what looks like a Walmart. He is caught in the middle of an ocean of variety. James is just looking for a box of breakfast cereal, but is overwhelmed by choices. Cut to his face: The eyes express the void, not just of the endlessness of choice (which is also another form of having no choice), but that this is what his civilization, which he is defending, comes down to. This what you are fighting for. All of the blood, the misery, those exploded bodies and buildings ends up as all that variety in a supermarket.

Sponsored
Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!