September 28, 2016

The march to spiritual marketization

Owl

By Joe Perez

High in the heavens above, the Sun’s sweet sextile with Neptune suggests a universe hospitable to fantasy and the belief that anything is possible. It’s time to inaugurate a new crazy idea: a nightly column on Spirit’s Next Move which follows the hooting of the owls, listening for wisdom, however disjointed and scattered the whos and hoos and hoots may sound, amid the many boughs and branches of the World Wide Web.

Resplendent hues of Sol’s gold and Neptune’s briny green above; on Earth, hues of pastel pink and baby blue. Ever wonder if the preference of pink for girls and blue for boys is universal? Not even close. It appears to be a cultural choice that could easily have gone the other way.

The marketization of color

The Smithsonian writes:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says.

Today, American retailers are doing more than picking the color palettes to sell to young children, they may also be establishing the limits on democracy.

The marketization of everyday life

According to an article by Harvard’s Michael Sandel at The Huffington Post:

At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

And so, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?

Is it really so that the marketization of everything leads to greater class stratification? Will Wilkinson, criticizing Michael Sandel on Big Think, doesn’t think so. But Sandel may be correct, it seems to me. Money buys many things, including the ability to live one’s life without other people around. Having no money, you don’t have that option.

And so on this inaugural expedition of The Daily Hoot, I invite us into a dream-like visualization:

First, everything in the world is “fully marketized,” as Michael Sandel fears, (let that term stir up whatever it does for you). The markets define the conditions of our citizenship and common life together. Almost everything is up for sale. 

One definition of “marketization” is simply “The exposure of an industry or service to market forces.” At a minimum, everything is registered by the market, located within its own value coordinates.

BUT… Dystopia is not the world we find. Instead, we find a Utopian world in which people of all means share a common life and care deeply about their history as a species and as a people, and how they came to live together in peace. Market forces helped to create the delicate balance, because they evolved from the rudimentary capitalist measurements we use today into instruments capable of transferring all measure of value — aesthetic, moral, and spiritual. 

Can we imagine that? Remember that the process towards gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. The process towards a sort of spiritual and aesthetic marketization will not happen overnight, if it happens at all.

It happens not in the skies but in the choices we make, starting with the choice to let our soul slumber a slave to industry and capital forces or to awaken as a Unique Self alive with the creative power of the stars. It happens in the choice to heed the call of Utopia rather than succumb to fears of Dystopia.

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