Pay Someone to Name Your Child? How We Are Outsourcing Our Personal Affairs
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AN: When you give your talks, what is it you want for people to take away?
AH: Three things at least. One is that the market goes deep. It’s not just an external system. It comes with a culture that influences how we look for gratification and meaning. Even if we don’t buy anything at all, we can develop a commercial way of seeing life. It affects not just what we want but how we want. We can focus on the “perfect” birthday party, or the “perfect” wedding — the result, that which was purchased. And we can stop looking for gratification in the process that brought about that result — the making the cake together, or blowing up the birthday balloons. So the book asks us to ask ourselves how it is we’ve been influenced. Where are we drawing the line?
The second message concerns the real source of the problem — a growing imbalance between the market and everything else (the government, civic society and community, families). Our culture has grown out of whack and we’re not looking in the right place to set it straight. We’re looking for balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government — and that’s well and good. But we’re not looking at the balance between the market and everything else. And we’re in a strange political moment. We’re downsizing the non-military side of the government. We’re privatizing prisons, parks, schools and libraries. We’re shrinking the public sphere. And in The Outsourced Self, I’m asking: Are we doing the same thing to private life?
In the end, I think we’re being sold a bill of goods: that all the policies that promote a free-market — deregulation, service cuts, privatization, regressive taxation — actually go with or help strengthen families. Actually each of these policies has an unobserved downside for the family. (I did a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, also on AlterNet on this.) Deregulation of ads on Saturday morning TV for junk foods are making kids obese, susceptible to diabetes, high medical bills and distress that hurts families. Service cuts in public library staff, public parks hours, after-school programs, HeadStart — all hurt families. A tax structure that exacerbates the class gap hurts the physical and mental health of the poor, as we know, but also the middle-class. And a self-oriented, free-market way of thinking can butt into a “we-oriented” happy family way of thinking, too.