In a consumer society, consumption
is the hallmark of individual freedom. The consumer market lends
stability to capitalism. However, this market is not open to
all. Even in affluent societies, there is a marginalised section
which is not a part of the charmed circle. The discontent of
this section is tamed through the mechanism of social welfare.
In a consumer
society, everybody is defined by his or her consumption.
Consumption is the badge of success. Those who do not have
access to the consumer market are considered to be flawed
consumers. They deserve no respect as they themselves are to
blame. However, they have the potential to become a public
nuisance. This threat is to be muted through public welfare
measures. Those who are outside the consumer paradise may still
think in terms of redistribution. Rich nations, keen to prevent
such a threat, do everything possible to see that the poor of
the world brutalise each other. So long as they are engaged into
local prestige contests, the possibility of challenge is
been remarkably candid and often convincing in demolishing the
myth of solving all existential problems of man by taking
recourse to meta narratives. It has brought into prominence
issues like ethnicity, gender, ecology etc. The idea that all
the issues will take care of themselves once a system undergoes
a change has been disproved by history.
Zygmunt Bauman is
flawlessly incisive and deeply insightful while critically
analysing the present scenario. However, like his peers of
post-modernism, he flounders when an alternative vision of
society is to be offered. He sees no possibility of reform from
within as the system has self-perpetuating capacity. It has
virtually found a ‘philosopher’s stone’ in the freedom of
the consumers. Individual autonomy pursued through communal
co-operation and self-rule is the only ray of hope. However,
Bauman admits that this is as yet an unexplored possibility.
There is no
possibility of communal co-operation and self-rule so long as
the consumer market rules the roost. Bauman’s framework is
cast in the matrix of consumption in modern capitalist society
that treats man as an animal with unlimited greed. craving and
grasping. This is taken as the final stage in the evolution of
man in the paradigm of capitalist development.
As opposed to the
capitalist framework, there is an alternative worldview as
propounded by Buddha, Mahavira, Lao Tzu, Confucious and a host
of other seers, saints and sufis in the East wherein austerity,
simplicity, frugality and renunciation are the virtues to be
cultivated in the pursuit of higher things of life. This kind of
vision is the only hope of sanity in the mad pursuit of a
consumerist life style of the West.
slim volume is an important treatise on freedom inspite of its
limitations. World View has done well in bringing out its Indian
reprint at an affordable price.