Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul
The author unless otherwise noted is James Livingston, the Rutgers historian and flaneur-in-waiting, not the theologian who writes books I can’t understand.
The title of the blog is homage to Raymond Williams, who, like Harold Cruse, C. Wright Mills, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, and, yes, Daniel Bell and Richard Hofstadter–it’s a long list I’ll truncate–saved us from a belated adherence to vulgar Marxism, and let us approach the cultural apparatus of post-industrial society with fresh eyes.
I’ve been blogging for about a decade now, since my opposition to the war in and on Iraq boiled over into rage against its apologists and executives. The site itself has gone through several incarnations. I started at Blogspot because it was easy, moved to Soapblox because my managing editor urged me to–this version of the blog, when I was at my most fevered, is forever lost to posterity because the man who runs that company took a personal interest in destroying any vestige of it, merely because I called him an asshole–and landed here at WordPress when it was clear I couldn’t repair those middle ages.
I was trained as an historian, and I did a lot of old-fashioned archival work for the first book (Origins of the Federal Reserve System [Cornell, 1986]). Since then I’ve written four other non-fiction books, each less archivally informed than the last, the most recent of which is Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul (Basic, 2011).
But I grew up thinking I’d be a novelist, and have always thought that “writing” meant either that it was fiction or that it was good. This notion has got me in some trouble among my fellow historians, who have suggested that what I have written about pragmatism or feminism is “imaginative” and “fanciful,” implying that I have created the historical record needed to verify my claims. I take them to mean that the writing is good.
I hope we’re both right. Meanwhile, here are some words I live by.
“A man knowes no more of righteousness than he hath power to act”–Gerrard Winstanley. “We live forward, but we understand backward”–Soren Kierkegaard. “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master”–Abraham Lincoln. “No specter assails us in more varied disguises than loneliness, and one of its most impenetrable masks is called love”–Arthur Schnitzler. “Day follows day, and its contents are simply added. They are not themselves true, they simply come and are. The truth is what we say about them”– William James. “Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live”–Hannah Arendt. “To write history is so difficult that most historians are forced to make concessions to the technique of legend”–Erich Auerbach.