I enjoyed this week’s brief interview in The Guardian with sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. I thought the following was particularly insightful–especially the bit I highlighted. I don’t see why what he has to say below is gloomy at all. It just seems right.
Unlike some sociologists, Bauman’s work is accessible, intellectual and often polemical. His own life – from communist believer to persecuted minority to forensic analyst of everyday life – makes him difficult to categorise. Underlying his theory is the idea that systems make individuals, not the other way round. He says it does not matter whether one is dealing with Communism or consumerism, states want to control their public and reproduce their elites. But in place of totalitarian rule, western society looks to scare and entice by manufacturing public panics and seducing people with shopping. Bauman’s work today focuses on this transition to a nation of consumers, unconsciously disciplined to work endlessly. Those who do not conform, says Bauman, become labelled “human waste” and written off as flawed members of society. This transformation from the “ethics of work to the ethics of consumerism” vexes Bauman. He warns that society has slid from “the ideals of a community of responsible citizens to those of an aggregate of satisfied, and therefore self-interested, consumers“. Little wonder perhaps that his critics describe Bauman as “gloomy”.