Nothing expresses more the dangers of superficiality than the new terrorism. The picture that is emerging from terrorism in modern European cities is that the perpetrators really hate people enjoying themselves, be it at a music concert or interacting in shopping districts. What seems to unite the manifold forms of the new terror – be it ‘Islamic’ or ‘right-wing and white’ – is a massive hatred of Western-style consumerism. The hatred of consumerism however is not confined to reacting terrorists. It permeates society in forms such as environmentalism and left-wing redistributionism. It is there in conservative-traditionalist railings against mass society, particularly when the working class are told they are irresponsible for wanting bigger televisions. The obsession with ‘consumer choice’ is also there in libertarian critiques of the reactionaries – all they do is endorse as ‘free’ what the reactionaries ‘hate.’ Hence, the only debate in society we seem to be seeing is about ‘celebrating our way of life’ versus ‘hating our way of life,’ where our ‘way of life’ is only defined in relation to consumption. This narrow debate is likely to prolong the existence of the new terror despite obviously the majority feeling rightly angered about it.
In order to transcend the parameters of the narrow debate, and hopefully unite humanity in a more progressive positive direction rather than this all-round barbarism, it is necessary to understand that consumption is relatively unproblematic. It is true that the law of value holds sway over all consumer transactions – to that extent, commodity exchange is not *entirely* free, i.e. volition doesn’t rule. Nevertheless, consumption is pretty much the only civilising aspect of market society. Through consumption, points of contact are made between otherwise atomised individuals. The mediation of the commodity is simply the way in which society is glued together – and it is just about the only way society is glued together nowadays. So, it is wrong to hate consumption – it is the best thing about capitalism, and the only way in which society prevents itself from deteriorating into a kind of ‘Mad Max’ scenario. At the same time, it is wrong to celebrate consumption as the only mark of ‘freedom,’ because it is essentially a passive rather than active thing: it doesn’t concern the way we act, just the way we enjoy society’s bounty after we have acted.
So, the focus of concern really needs to shift onto the realm of production. If all the reactionaries railing against consumption (or celebrating it) would only look at the realm of production, it would shake things up immensely, and cure the malaise that is now giving rise to the horror of the new terror. It is in the sphere of production that people truly aren’t free – from the negative experience of the alarm clock in the morning to the iron discipline deployed by managers at work, doing things you hate for a boss you despise, the sheer lack of creativity, initiative and ingenuity in the office or factory – it is really these things that cause people to loathe the society in which they live. But because of the dogma of ‘there is no alternative,’ the sphere of production remains relatively uncontested, and thus disappears from view. Consequently, the alienation in society which has its root in the estranged and unfree sphere of production reappears as a criticism (or celebration, depending which side of the fence one is on) of consumption. It is thoroughly misguided and becoming downright dangerous, yet it can be understood as what happens when everyone agrees that the capitalist mode of production is not itself up for discussion. The law of value should belong only to the sphere of consumption (for the time being), not the sphere of production. When value relations determine the way we produce, i.e. the way we live, then it becomes far too coercive to enjoy life. Workers have to fight for the option of being in full control of the workplace so they govern what gets done, how it is done, and according to whatever timescale. This self-emancipation of labour will make humanity far happier and thus erode the basis for irrationalism in all its forms, including the terrorist form.