The Extermination of Homo Consumens
What better occasions remarks on the problem of homo consumens than the holiday season? As a worker forced to endure this madness, I share with you my thoughts.
Since the triumph of the capitalist mode of production in the eighteenth century, communist theoreticians and ordinary workingmen and women alike have justifiably condemned the demeaning character of bourgeois social relations. Then, as now, the central injustice of the system lies in the exploitation of labor by the capitalist class. The alienation wrought by impersonal market forces is also frequently cited as a source of grievance by class conscious working people, as it should be. But there is yet another facet of capitalism worthy of censure; one just as dehumanizing and pernicious. I’m here referring to the issue of menial service sector labor. Admittedly, service labor precedes the capitalist epoch by millenia, but capital has transformed this line of work into something utterly unbearable to engage in. Those who have had the misfortune of being employed in the service sector for an appreciable amount of time are undoubtedly aware of the myriad objections one could level at it, but they bear elaboration for whatever néophytes or relatively privileged workers may be reading.
Imagine, if you will, spending (conservatively) 30 percent of your finite time on this planet catering—in the most cheerful and hospitable manner you can possibly muster—to the desires of unappreciative strangers in order to acquire your daily bread. Individuals who view you solely as a means to an end; an expendable instrument in the pursuit of their consumptive gratification. Worse, this experience is to take place during the best years of your life, at your cognitive and physical apex. So, in addition to being in a position of servitude to property owners and their managerial representatives, you occupy a role wherein absolute obedience to individuals who know the least about what your labor entails (i.e., customers) is obligatory. With the exception of chattel slavery, indentured servitude, and sweatshop employment—which are confined to the periphery of the geopolitical order today—I defy anyone to propose a more humiliating and disempowering form of labor.
Even under capitalism a significant percentage of proletarians in the United States could once take pride in their work. Not only did trade unions (yellow though they were) shield them from some of the excesses of managerial oversight, but productive workers utilized their minds and muscles to produce tangible, useful products. Labor of that sort instills in the individuals performing it a genuine sense of purpose. Compare that to the tedious process of placing novelty items on a shelf in a high turnover firm or preparing lattes for impatient, rotund customers, which typifies the working day for so many of us. Taylorist management techniques and market alienation clearly exacerbate the problems exhibited in the service sector, but I can’t help but think that even within the context of a self-managed, planned communist commonwealth, society should take measures to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, this drudgery from human existence.
Everyone enjoys dining at a restaurant on occasion, but they don’t see the man in the kitchen accidentally impaling a digit with the cutlery customers used to shove steak into their foul orifices, or the chef burning himself on the steaming pans he used when preparing an entrée. If the thought did enter their minds, they would regard it as unfortunate but not their problem. ‘Why should I be forced to adjust my preferences just because they didn’t value their education as much as I did?’ is the meritocratic rhetorical question these pathetic lifeforms often pose to justify their relative privilege. God forbid they should have to learn how to prepare their favorite food or beverages, or have to contemplate, in advance, what they wish to consume. Such a practice might, in some sense, cultivate them, and society mustn’t allow that..
Homo consumens is a sociological subspecies of mankind, so obsessed by the pleasure of consumption that he has little regard for his fellow man’s conditions of labor. He emerged through a process of artificial selection induced by the law of value. His extermination, though indispensable for securing dignity in labor, is not inevitable, even under socialism. If the inhumane nature of service labor, outlined above, is to be surmounted, society must consciously prohibit the forms of production, distribution, and consumption which sustain him. Such is my appeal.
 By which I exclude slavery and indentured servitude, which are better placed in a separate category of coerced labor.
 During our adult years in late capitalist America 1/3 of our day is spent working, another 1/3 sleeping, and the final 1/3 engaged in other activities—much of which is related to work in some capacity anyway, e.g., commuting to our jobs, washing our work clothes, and/or venting to our family and friends about issues at the workplace.