作为审美观的消费

发发牢骚,解解闷,消消愁
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人必须活,所以有柴米油盐酱醋茶的七件事。把生活的环境升腾为消费,成为观念,成为价值,是个创新,举个例子,以前说凡人贪生怕死,现在说人民热爱生命。
 
消费作为一种观念,政策和意识形态不是后人回顾历史而得到的结论,而是(二)战后美国建立的“美帝国世界次序(Pax Americana)的一个核心组成部分【注1】,当然这主要是针对大西洋两岸的白人自己的。
 
欧洲为了各种圣战自相残杀近千年了,还动用了现代工业,很壮观,怎么才能让老百姓安安稳稳不折腾了呢?按照这一构思,答案是不仅让大家喝足吃饱,还爱上花花绿绿的大千世界。这一来,二战后的诸多发明、产业都用到了民间:化工造就了农药化肥和塑料,让农业现代化,汽车石油挪到了百姓家里,电波成了大众媒体。其成果,你得服:辉煌。
 
高尚是一种姿态
 
今天时尚、品味、雅,是一种生活态度,是反应一个人修养的程度,而要证明你是否有如此高尚的态度,在乎于你对物质的拥有,进一步,对物质的拥有,成了道德。既然是道德,获取物质就成为个人责任,即使有时用点阴招,也不足为怪。
 
从心理来看,人的本性有种贪得无厌的味道,就是说仅仅满足生存是不行的,以前有专制,有天堂,不容易三心二意,现在难了,确实得来点什么才能满足这贪得无厌的欲望,所以消费作为一种提供无尽感官刺激的机制,也许是唯一的办法。这就给现代社会无数的聪明才智用造成了一个新的用途:挖掘生活的每一个细节,看看如何把它升华成一种艺术,给人以你持有这种姿态的感觉,任何平庸无聊的事都可以提升,也许你需要的只是金钱而已。
 
I learned how to take candy tasting as seriously as wine tasting
 
连《纽约时报》也建立也把生活中琐碎的事儿当成专业来看待,每一个生活细节都有让你压倒众人的专家,把你个人的追求变成了生命的反映。
 
把消费上升成权力,上升成艺术,是把消费上升成意识形态,上升为人生的追求,也就成为社会安稳的基础,也许世界和平也有保障了。
 
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时尚是霸道
 
这一来,消费成了新的偶像,消费创造了新的偶像,甚至你是无神论者,或者对宗教失落,消费也能给你提供一个新的寄托,带来新的信念、价值观。
 
现代人造图腾
 
既然消费是权利,是公认的意识形态,追求财富就是其合法的手段,追求财富也就是道德。看上去这谴责没道理,追求财富的道德往往是建立在不道德的手段上的:
 
消费成为权利:民主化,高尚化
 
偶像成为身份的象征
 
如果说有什么意识征服世界,不是资本主义,不是社会主义,更不是马克思列宁主义,而是消费主义,这点,在中国是最明白了:最高尚的消费,都是西方式的消费,广告的语言都是“崇白”。虽然近来国产产品、明星日益占了更大的市场,西方的意识依旧不可替代。
 
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星星相应
 
消费是个童话
 
太美妙了。对我唯一的遗憾,不是反感,而是没钱享受。
 
拉格斐与冰冰
 
面对人们日益增长的欲望应运而生的是生活指南“广告”业和明星文化。
 
“广告讲得就是幸福”
 
明星文化是老百姓的文化,明星完全是在老百姓的支撑下才能存在的,不论多穷,大家对明星的奉献是誓死不二,明星是老百姓的梦,缺了人生就不完满,所以媒体明星,影视明星,体育明星,烹饪大师,名声越大,价值越高,身价不过亿的少见,然而身价越高,名声也越大,这也就自己证明了自己的价值。这也是消费的逻辑。
 
消费与人生价值的密切联系,给我们带来的幸福、满足感,莫过于我们今天对个人如何消费的虚渺的“控制”:
 
《大西洋月刊》
 
 
资料
以上图片乃香奈儿的“老佛爷”拉格斐(Karl Lagerfeld),不久前过世,来自《纽约时报》。
 
【注】
【1】如果你不知道什么是“过去六七十年的世界次序”,那是(二)战后美国建立的“美帝国世界次序(Pax Americana)”,对美国人来说,美国给世界带来了和平、稳定和繁荣(很多人认可),对其他人来说,那是美国强加在世界上框架(也不无道理)。
 
 
 
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《金融时报》个人评论

‘Millennials fear surveillance institutions such as Google and Facebook — but also see them as tempting employers’

When Edward Snowden agreed to speak at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University by video link from Moscow last month, students snapped up the 500 places in the amphitheatre in three minutes. There were 7,000 people on the waiting list. “We’d never seen that before,” says Patrick Weil, a French political scientist who is on Snowden’s legal team.

I got in as a journalist. The instant Snowden’s face appears on screen, the hall erupts in applause and whistles. Crowds have gathered outside the door. Today’s conversation is poignant: Snowden would love to be living in Paris among us, but France won’t give him asylum.

In 2013, as a 29-year-old contractor at the US’s National Security Agency, Snowden revealed the extent of his government’s mass surveillance. He fled abroad and ended up in Moscow when the US cancelled his passport. Since then, despite dropping out of the news, he has become a hero — especially to younger people.

He has 3.9 million Twitter followers. About 80 per cent of French, German and Italian adults view him positively, as do most Americans under 35, reports the American Civil Liberties Union. He is the fourth most popular person among British millennials, after Michelle Obama, Pope Francis and Malala Yousafzai, according to pollsters YouGov. The cult of Snowden reveals a lot about millennial world views.

Even apart from his bizarre circumstances, Snowden has star quality: a stylish blond quiff, fine beard, total fluency in complete sentences, and high-status tech savvy. Then there’s his martyr’s story: exile after sacrificing his wellbeing for the cause of truth. If he hadn’t fled, he reminds us, “I would have one of the longest sentences in the history of criminal justice.”

Tellingly, the top eight heroes of British millennials, as measured by YouGov, include two other spillers of official secrets: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, and the former US soldier turned whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Like Snowden, they appeal to a generation that has spent its life under technological surveillance by governments, tech companies and even parents. Anne Longfield, England’s children’s commissioner, has calculated that by the time the average child is 18, 70,000 posts about them will have appeared online, starting with ultrasound pictures from the womb.

It’s now common for university students to be tracked electronically by their parents, who can often access their children’s messages and online activity, notes US author Dave Eggers. Snowden tells the Parisian students: “The idea of an unconsidered thought, a youthful indiscretion, a forgotten mistake — these are things that no longer exist.”

A generation ago, he says, it took teams of officers just to establish one person’s location; now, a single officer can track “large numbers of people”. Snowden concludes: “Institutions have never been more powerful in human history.” Millennials fear these surveillance institutions — but also see them as tempting employers. Surveillance, after all, seems to be the thing that governments and corporates now do best. Snowden embodies this millennial ambivalence. Before he went rogue, he repeatedly took jobs with almighty institutions: the US army during the Iraq war, the CIA, the NSA.

The students at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University face similar career choices. During question-time, a woman doing an MA in “new-technology law” tells Snowden that she and her peers keep “being offered great opportunities by companies like Google, Facebook, et cetera”. The pay and the intellectual challenge are alluring. What should they do?

On screen, Snowden nods sympathetically. He says he struggled with the same question at the CIA and the NSA: “Is it better to be outside the organisation, without any power to change, or to try to reform it from within? But this is what I want you to remember: sometimes institutions are better at reforming the people they hire, than the people they hire are at reforming them. This was the case at the CIA, this was the case at NSA, at Google, at Facebook.

“If you do have values before you go in, you should write them down. And if you find something that feels wrong, smells wrong, looks wrong, and you are waiting for somebody to do something about it, I want you to remember: you are the person you are waiting for. We are never more than a single decision away from doing something. If I had the chance to do it again, I would, and I would do it sooner. I didn’t save the world, but I made it better.”

To Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days, Snowden’s decision to “do something” makes him the quintessential millennial employee: he chose his personal values over his employer. And, as the symbol of a generation short on workplace power, he used the junior employee’s quintessential weapon: the leak.

Snowden leaves his audience with a final thought: “When my family come to visit, they always say to me, ‘Stay safe.’ I appreciate it, I love it. [But] when we say goodbye tonight, we say, ‘Stay free.’ ” The students whoop. Yet as they troop down the stairs into the Parisian night, where Snowden wishes he could follow them, almost every one of them has already whipped out a smartphone.

 
《金融时报》个人评论

Federal Reserve’s bid to stave off depression sowed the seeds of a generational revolt
David McWilliams


Is Ben Bernanke the father of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Not in the literal sense, obviously, but in the philosophical and political sense.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the bull market, it is worth considering whether the efforts of the US Federal Reserve, under Mr Bernanke’s leadership, to avoid 1930s-style debt deflation ended up spawning a new generation of socialists, such as the freshman Congresswoman Ms Ocasio-Cortez, in the home of global capitalism.

Mr Bernanke’s unorthodox “cash for trash” scheme, otherwise known as quantitative easing, drove up asset prices and bailed out baby boomers at the profound political cost of pricing out millennials from that most divisive of asset markets, property. This has left the former comfortable, but the latter with a fragile stake in the society they are supposed to build.

As we look towards the 2020 US presidential election, could Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s leftwing politics become the anthem of choice for America’s millennials?

But before we look forward, it is worth going back a bit. The 2008 crash itself didn’t destroy wealth, but rather revealed how much wealth had already been destroyed by poor decisions taken in the boom. This underscored the truism that the worst of investments are often taken in the best of times.

Mr Bernanke, a keen student of the 1930s, understood that a “balance sheet recession” must be combated by reflating assets. By exchanging old bad loans on the banks’ balance sheets with good new money, underpinned by negative interest rates, the Fed drove asset prices skywards. Higher valuations fixed balance sheets and ultimately coaxed more spending and investment. However, such “hyper-trickle-down” economics also meant that wealth inequality was not the unintended consequence, but the objective, of policy.

Soaring asset prices, particularly property prices, drive a wedge between those who depend on wages for their income and those who depend on rents and dividends. This wages versus rents-and-dividends game plays out generationally, because the young tend to be asset-poor and the old and the middle-aged tend to be asset-rich. Unorthodox monetary policy, therefore, penalises the young and subsidises the old.

When asset prices rise much faster than wages, the average person falls further behind. Their stake in society weakens. The faster this new asset-fuelled economy grows, the greater the gap between the insiders with a stake and outsiders without. This threatens a social contract based on the notion that the faster the economy grows, the better off everyone becomes.

What then? Well, politics shifts.

Notwithstanding the observation often attributed to Winston Churchill about a 20-year-old who isn’t a socialist not having a heart, and a 40-year-old who isn’t a capitalist having no head, polling indicates a significant shift in attitudes compared with prior generations.

According to the Pew Research Center, American millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) are the only generation in which a majority (57 per cent) hold “mostly/consistently liberal” political views, with a mere 12 per cent holding more conservative beliefs.

Fifty-eight per cent of millennials express a clear preference for big government. Seventy-nine per cent of millennials believe immigrants strengthen the US, compared to just 56 per cent of baby boomers. On foreign policy, millennials (77 per cent) are far more likely than boomers (52 per cent) to believe that peace is best ensured by good diplomacy rather than military strength. Sixty-seven per cent want the state to provide universal healthcare, and 57 per cent want higher public spending and the provision of more public services, compared with 43 per cent of baby boomers. Sixty-six per cent of millennials believe that the system unfairly favours powerful interests.

One battle ground for the new politics is the urban property market. While average hourly earnings have risen in the US by just 22 per cent over the past 9 years, property prices have surged across US metropolitan areas. Prices have risen by 34 per cent in Boston, 55 per cent in Houston, 67 per cent in Los Angeles and a whopping 96 per cent in San Francisco. The young are locked out.

Similar developments in the UK have produced comparable political generational divides. If only the votes of the under-25s were counted in the last UK general election, not a single Conservative would have won a seat.

Ten years ago, faced with the real prospect of another Great Depression, Mr Bernanke launched QE to avoid mass default. Implicitly, he was underwriting the wealth of his own generation, the baby boomers. Now the division of that wealth has become a key battleground for the next election with people such as Ms Ocasio-Cortez arguing that very high incomes should be taxed at 70 per cent.

For the purist, capitalism without default is a bit like Catholicism without hell. But we have confession for a reason. Everyone needs absolution. QE was capitalism’s confessional. But what if the day of reckoning was only postponed? What if a policy designed to protect the balance sheets of the wealthy has unleashed forces that may lead to the mass appropriation of those assets in the years ahead?

The writer is an economist, author and broadcaster

 
 
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