Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want? By Paul Roberts


Staff Review by Chris Saliba

In this compelling and accessible essay on consumerism, Paul Roberts suggests we need to embrace more traditional values to overcome an economy that continues to preach instant gratification.

Paul Roberts is an American journalist who specialises in energy issues. In his two previous books, The End of Oil and The End of Food, he tackled the perilous futures of these commodities. In this new book, The Impulse Society, Roberts shifts gear from investigative journalism to a more personal, opinion piece style. The book is really an elegant critique of modern day capitalism and the political ideology that supports it.

Roberts argues that in essence the West’s corporate culture has turned into a race to the bottom, “a hunt for yield”. This corporate model is now followed by pretty much all sectors of society. Especially politics. Every citizen now thinks short term; instant gratification is the norm. Technology has helped us achieve what Roberts calls an “impulse society”. The barrier between the self and what the economy can provide the self has been greatly reduced. In becoming consumers that demand our every desire be satisfied, we have switched off the rational part of our brains and prefer to live on sensations. More than ever, we think in terms of ourselves, rather than society as a whole. Technology is only speeding up this process.

The Impulse Society doesn’t provide too many, if any, solutions to these problems. The underlying tone suggests that the best way to combat our self-centred economy is to become a more traditionally conservative society. That means more participation in public life, sacrificing for the greater good, delaying gratification. The very opposite of what the advertisers preach to us.

Many people have written on this subject, such as environmentalist Bill McKibben in books like Deep Economy. What recommends Roberts book is that he is more politically to the centre: he doesn’t see the solution to the current dilemma in left or right wing politics. If anything, the solution lies in traditional social values, the sort of values that were prized before modern economies were opened up to globalisation and when resources were more scarce.

The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want? by Paul Roberts. Published by Bloomsbury.  ISBN: 9781408851609  RR: $29.99

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