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Nov 24 2011

Kvetch kvetch

The Chief Rabbi (as the Telegraph sycophantically calls him) decided to go off in a brand new direction and talk about the inadequacy of consumerism as a worldview. Gosh you know what – he’s totally right!!

Speaking at an interfaith reception attended by the Queen this week, Lord Sacks said: “People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long.

“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.

“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

He went on: “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.”

I love it that he said that to an audience that included the queen – since she’s so utterly separated from any kind of consumerism doncha know. No consumerism about our Brenda! She makes last year’s T shirts do for another decade, so she does. She dines on lentils and coarse rye bread. There’s a rust spot on the undercarriage of one of her Bentleys.

In an attempt to highlight the link between faith and happiness, Lord Sacks pointed out that on the Jewish day of rest, the Shabbat, the devout spend time with their families rather than spending money in shops.

Yes, and? What’s the connection? Lots of the non-devout also spend time with their families rather than spending money in shops. Furthermore, those two items don’t exhaust the possibilities for how to spend non-job time. There are many alternatives to spending money in shops other than spending time with one’s family – and furthermore, spending money in shops does not exclude spending time with one’s family: the family can all go shopping together.

The connection perhaps is that people who slavishly obey what they take to be The Rules about “the sabbath” are more or less forced to spend time with their families by being forbidden to go to the shops, or unable to go to the shops because the shops are all closed, or some such thing. Whatever it is, the whole idea is a silly bossy interfering piece of nonsense, from someone with a vested interest in more people being more devout so that there will be something for chief rabbis to do, besides flattering the queen for being so abstemious.

The Chief Rabbi, who has represented Britain’s 300,000 Jews since 1991 and is due to step down in 2013, said: “Therefore the answer to the consumer society is the world of faith, which the Jews call the world of Shabbat, where you can’t shop and you can’t spend and you spend your time with things that matter, with family.

“Unless we get back to these values we will succeed in making our children and grandchildren ever unhappier.”

There you go: the true bossy note: you can’t shop, you can’t spend, you spend your time with what I say matters. And in what sense does the chief rabbi “represent” Britain’s 300 thousand Jews? Did they elect him? Are all 300 thousand “devout”? I think the answer to both questions is no, so I don’t see how he can be said to represent them.

He represents unelected chiefs of things, like the queen, more than he represents all British Jews, if you ask me.

32 comments

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  1. 1
    Roy Sablosky

    Yes. I like the comparison in the last paragraph. Monarchs are self-appointed by definition. So are clergymen. The monarchy acquires power by force. The clergy acquires it through deceit.

  2. 2
    RJW

    @#1 Roy Sablosky,

    “Monarchs are self-appointed by definition.” Nonsense. The British people could abolish their monarchy any time they chose, so far they have chosen not to do so. There’s an enormous diference between Constitutional monarchies, most of which function as de facto republics, and absolutist regimes.

    Yes, the Queen isn’t elected but then, neither is the government of the USA. I’m not a monarchist BTW, however, many monarchies have far fewer social inequalities and more inclusive political systems than many republics, including the US.

    The world has moved on since the 18th century.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    I beg your pardon? The government of the US is unelected in the same sense as the queen? Care to back that up?

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Also – “The British people could abolish their monarchy any time they chose, so far they have chosen not to do so” is just silly. No they couldn’t, and no they haven’t. Putting up with an existing institution isn’t the same as choosing not to abolish it.

  5. 5
    sailor1031

    As dysfunctional as many families are, maybe one thing a lot of them don’t want to do is spend time together. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to get away from my father, if i had been unlucky enough not to have avoided him in the first place.

    Ophelia: there is a case to be made that the government of the US is selected by moneyed interests and the voting is just a formal choosing between candidates who are already acceptable to the rich and powerful. But that’s true of most so-called democracies.

    My belief is that the USA is currently governed by DHS anyway.

  6. 6
    Hamilton Jacobi

    Therefore the answer to the consumer society is the world of faith

    I don’t have any iProducts and I really do dine on lentils. However, I would rather go hiking than go to church. Do I need to bring a note from my mother or something?

  7. 7
    ianbelson

    Rabbi Sacks for gets one other I, the I-Thou of Martin Buber. You cant have the Thou without the I.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    sailor, sure, I know, and I’ve made the case often myself. But RJW didn’t bother to make that case, or any case; RJW just made a flat assertion that’s not literally true. That’s why I said “in the same sense as the queen” – yes the US system is grotesquely flawed and getting steadily worse (thank you Supreme Court!) but that’s not what RJW said.

  9. 9
    SAWells

    Could I point out that in the 1640s, the English actually did decide to get rid of the King, using a large axe? The 1650s was spent finding out that Cromwell was not really an improvement, that monarchy was restored in 1660, and there was ANOTHER revolution around 1690 which kicked out one monarch (James II Stuart), brought in a more acceptable candidate (William of Orange), and established the basis of the current constitutional monarchy. Although of course, the UK has no constitution.

    It’s an example of the essential weirdness of the UK political system: a 350-year-old post-monarchy monarchy.

  10. 10
    AsqJames

    “the UK has no constitution.”

    Yes we do. It’s not written down in a single document (or even a small number of them). It’s evolved slowly through lots and lots of little changes like Magna Carta, the various Acts of Union, the Act of Settlement, the Parliament Acts, the Human Rights Act, devolution, etc. Why just the other week a new change was announced: the end of primogeniture. If we keep going at this rate, pretty soon we’ll be all the way into the 20th century!

    OK, it’s a muddle of compromises and patches applied as and when needed, basically all a little bit ‘Heath Robinson’, but it really does exist.

  11. 11
    Dave

    As a matter of fact, many of the most democratic countries in the world are monarchies. Several of them are ruled by the same queen: the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. But one also has to mention Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands. Belgium is so democratic they have been managing without a government at all for more than a year!

    None of which alters the fact that the so-called ‘Chief Rabbi’ is a poompous prick.

  12. 12
    Hamilton Jacobi

    Life is so unfair. When I make typos, I just look like a git who can’t spell, but other people get to make cool typos like “poompous”. That’s even better than “sniny”.

  13. 13
    James

    And what does he mean by consumerism anyway? I’ve never encountered a definition of consumerism more robust than “people buying things other people disapprove of”.

  14. 14
    Stewart

    “Sniny” is a typo? (Just kidding?) Did anyone see that little poster floating around FB lately (can’t find it now at short notice) to the effect that “every time you make a typo the errorists win”?

  15. 15
    Ezra Resnick

    I like this bit at the very end of the article:

    A spokesman for Lord Sacks said later: “The Chief Rabbi meant no criticism of either Steve Jobs personally or the contribution Apple has made to the development of technology in the 21st century.

    “He admires both and indeed uses an iPhone and an iPad on a daily basis. The Chief Rabbi was simply pointing out the potential dangers of consumerism when taken too far.”

    I guess his “faith” (and the fact that he didn’t buy his gadgets on the sabbath) allows the Rabbi to partake of the fruits of the individualistic consumer society without succumbing to egocentrism and unhappiness. Or maybe it’s a special power that comes with being a Lord.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Heh yes I was admiring “poompous” too. We should make that Our Special Typo the way “sniny” is That Other blog’s.

  17. 17
    Stewart

    I thought pingbacks were one of those species that didn’t survive the Flood (because they were ugly-looking, of course).

  18. 18
    Stewart

    I don’t mind cosmetic editing in a good cause, but when it removes the reason for a bad joke…

  19. 19
    Rrr

    Nevermind, Stewart, it’s cool. As you say, a bad joke indeed. Good riddance.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    Sorry! I’ll put them back if you really want, but they were just a bunch of ugly html plus my confusion…

  21. 21
    sailor1031

    Ophelia: I agree. I was just trying to give RJW a chance to explain if he had indeed misspoke – guess s/he hadn’t though!

  22. 22
    Aratina Cage

    “The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.”

    I suppose now would be the right time to debut our Gnu product: iGod.* With iGod, you get any god, anytime, anywhere! Choose from our vast library of deities stored conveniently in the iCloud. iMagine: all your godly needs right at your fingertips. Become one of the elite–become an iTheist. Buy your iGod today!

    * Not available in Communist China, where iGod is made.

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    Ha! Quick, develop it now so that you can get it on the shelves today – it’s the officially mandated (in the US) Shopping Day you know. I’m staying away from the windows so that I won’t get dragged off to the mall by the cops.

  24. 24
    Stewart

    No, you can leave it as it is; all the better to confuse latecomers to the thread.

  25. 25
    RJW

    #3&4

    Are you seriously claiming that the citizens of the UK, if they so chose, could not abolish the monarchy? That really is a silly and insulting comment, of course they could, so could Canadians (Sailor?) Ausralians, New Zealanders etc, it’s not 1776 in the rest of the world. Most monarchies are monarchies through democratic will.

    “Yes, the Queen isn’t elected but then, neither is the government of the USA.” Yes, admittedly, a somewhat glib comment but intended to ridicule some fashionable nonsense.

    Let’s put it this way, in a parliamentary system, members of the government are usually members of parliament, that is, elected by the voters. As far as I understand it, in the US, the voters elect a quasi-monarch who then appoints government officials. Who elected Hillary Clinton for example, or the various secretaries for this or that?

    Now, I have no idea as to whether the parliamentary system or the US presidential system is ‘superior’, my objection is to comments from Americans who are often monumentally ignorant of the political systems of other nations and who judge from a US perspective.

    Most Western European monarchies, Australia and Canada score better on social indices than republican USA, something to contemplate, perhaps, when considering ‘privilege’.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Well RJW if you object to comments from Americans you’d just better stop reading B&W. I’m an American.

  27. 27
    Ophelia Benson

    And of course I’m saying the citizens of the UK can’t just “choose” to end the monarchy. It’s ridiculously simplistic to say that they can. How would they start? Equally of course I’m not saying that there’s no way the UK could ever end the monarchy no matter how unpopular it became etc etc, but it certainly isn’t true that they can just “choose” to end it just like that.

  28. 28
    RJW

    #27 “Well RJW if you object to comments from Americans you’d just better stop reading B&W. I’m an American.”

    Of course not,that’s a completely unfair comment. I’m objecting to ill-informed comments from any source, I thought that’s the purpose of this site.

    #28 Of course the citizens of the UK can ‘choose’ to end the monarchy. The process would start when a majority of UK voters in a referendum(and parliament)voted for the abolition of the monarchy.
    Do you think that Her Majesty would call out Her Armed Forces to crush Her traitorous subjects–it’s the 21st century.
    The process wouldn’t be as easy as with countries with a written constitution, where the monarchy could simply be voted out of existence. It’s rather patronizing to claim that the British can’t abolish their monarchy if they so choose, Britain is a democracy after all.

    The only difficulties would occur in deciding how much money the Royals could take with them into private life.

    Even though B&W is an intersting site, I’ll take your advice and stop visiting, I just couldn’t refrain from pointing out nonsense,fashionable or otherwise, when I saw it.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s not the least bit unfair – you said “my objection is to comments from Americans who are often monumentally ignorant of the political systems of other nations and who judge from a US perspective.” That’s a blanket objection to comments from Americans. Maybe you didn’t intend it to be, but then you wrote carelessly. You often do – your comments are so general or sweeping or both that they are often just wrong.

    How often do UK citizens get to decide things like the future of the monarchy via a referendum? Is national policy ever conducted via referendum in the UK?

    In any case – as you admitted, without noticing you had, it would require a majority. That means that unless a majority wants to end the monarchy, it’s not the case that “The British people could abolish their monarchy any time they chose.” Some of the British people would prevent the rest of the British people from doing so.

    Sorry to be rude, but you made a lot of hasty assertions in a dogmatic way, and that gets on my nerves. You’re not good at being precise about your claims. That’s why you’re not my first choice for an assistant in pointing out nonsense. Hasta luego.

  30. 30
    Alistair Wall

    The UK had a referendum before joining the European Union, and there has been at least one referendum on home rule for Scotland.

  31. 31
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah thank you. I remember that now.

    My real point is that despite the declining popularity of the monarchy, it seems very unlikely that UK citizens can just “choose” to get rid of it any time soon. That’s not because they’ve “chosen” not to, either – it’s not as simple as that, to put it mildly.

    It’s “nonsense” if you* like, to look at a given institution and conclude that because it’s still there, citizens have “chosen” not to get rid of it. There are churches all over my neighborhood; I haven’t “chosen” not to get rid of them; getting rid of them is not an option.

    *General you; not you Alistair.

  32. 32
    sailor1031

    @26: yes – I am canadian; In regard to the monarchy in Canada I suppose it would require the governing party to introduce a bill to amend the constitution to abolish the monarchy. Presumably it would be replaced by a presidency. I think there would be many pro & con but it could certainly pass. Especially among older canadians there is still affection for the monarchy and, as the royals have a very low profile in Canada, we have been spared the fatuities of the heir-apparent and egregious behaviour of other royals to a large extent. It certainly wouldn’t happen because only some of the people wanted to; it would have to be as a result of overwhelming public support for it.
    There probably isn’t much push to get rid of the monarchy for the simple reason that with Governors-general being canadians put in office on a regular basis and having few functions beyond signing bills into law and appearing in public, it’s all quite similar to a european presidency anyway.
    Bottom line – other than her picture being on the money and the stamps the Queen doesn’t have much daily impact on canadian lives. Nor, thankfully, do we have the british gutter press to keep the pot boiling at all times.

  1. 33

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