Australia Claimed: White Possession & the Redundancy of Reclaim Australia

Despite the rallies and Channel 7’s broadcast of an “in-depth” interview with the founders of Reclaim Australia, the disintegration of the far-right populist movement appears imminent. Unlike their American cousins, The Tea Party, they do not have significant financial backing and the poor showing of “patriots” at the Parramatta rally last month suggests that this grass-roots movement lacks organisation and/or a critical mass of people willing to get out on the streets to call for “non-patriots” to get out of the country. However, the devolution of this movement is not a victory of Australian multi-culturalism or common-sense.

Reclaim Australia gets small numbers to their rallies because they are unnecessary. Why spend a Sunday afternoon shouting in the streets when the political and economic system is silently re-asserting the normal order of things?

The normal order of things is maintained through symbolic and systemic modes of violence. Unlike physical violence directed at specific subjects, the symbolic and systemic violence operates in the background. For example, the violence inherent in the production cheap consumer goods that benefit the lives of some while exposing factory workers to physical harm when making our flat-screen TVs in Mexcio or iPhone’s in China.

Most of us do not see this violence because it isn’t directed at us. We only see the subjective violence of shootings or physical aggression. The subjective form of violence overshadows the systemic and symbolic forms of violence that allow the normal order of things to continue smoothly (for some). This is the violence inherent in fierce border protection policies or laws that target racial and religious minorities. It is the violence embodied in language that strips subjects of their humanness (e.g. illegal maritime arrivals) and makes the violence that they suffer either excusable or somehow deserving.

SystDuck-Rabbit_illusionemic and symbolic violence tends to be invisible to those who benefit from the normal order of things that those modes of violence sustain. It is like a trompe l’oeil or the duck-rabbit illusion. For those who benefit these policies and arrangements look like caring necessity – “we need to protect ourselves” or “It is prudent to monitor Muslim boys because they are prone to radicalization”. However, to those on the other side, these policies and arrangements are experienced as exclusion and brutality.

In this context, Reclaim Australia will wither away, not because there is insufficient support for their message, but because Australia is already well and truly claimed. This claim is sustained by the long history of violent colonisation and occupation, the effects of which persist today. However, it is a claim that needs to be continually reasserted on the bodies and lives of non-white migrants.

In her recent book The White Possessive, Aileen Moreton-Robinson describes this “claim” as a white possession. White Australia’s existence as sovereign possessor is derived from the dispossession of Indigenous lands. As Moreton-Robinson notes, there is a deep anxiety that ‘racial others’ will in turn dispossess white Australia. The main utility of Reclaim Australia is as a warning that the normal order of things is being challenged. It is like a “flare-up” of the appendix in the body of white Australia, or to use another metaphor, a canary in a mine. Reclaim Australia is an expression of the anxiety that white Australia’s sovereignty is challenged.

The fear associated with a challenge to white sovereignty is seen in Native Title disputes. There is a deep fear that Indigenous claims will dispossess white Australian sovereignty over cities, suburbs, parks, beaches, arable lands, and natural resources (see Kerr and Cox’s ‘Setting Up the Nyoongar Tent Embassy‘). Yet, the reality does not lend credence to the anxieties and fears of white Australia – ‘the majority of Indigenous people in Australia do not have land rights, nor do they have legal ownership of their sacred sites.’

In the case of Islam, the fear of dispossession is also unfounded. According to the 2011 census, 2.2 % of the Australian population indicated they were affiliated with Islam. Of course the debates over Australia, radicalization, extremism, Islam, citizenship, borders and all the other nodes connected to this assemblage are not about evidence or facts. But control over who is admitted into white Australia, and the form that admittance takes. Some are wholly absorbed, while others remain in permanent parenthesis (asylum seekers).

While those attending Reclaim Australia rallies (and those sympathetic to their narrative) may feel that Islam is an existential threat to the white claim to Australia, the terms and conditions of political and social reality are established by and for a white Australia. The challenge is not to reclaim Australia, but to place the current claim in the context of historical and contemporary forms of violence that privilege those who possess whiteness and its associated symbols and markers.

In the words of Stan Grant, we need to challenge that violence and our own attachment and benefit from it.

Australians who so laudably challenge the bigots among them need also challenge themselves. What are they prepared to give up? Land, history, flag, anthem, myth or identity – all of it is on the table if we are truly serious. Other countries fight wars over these things: we can do it in peace.

 

 

 

 

Consumer Ethnocentrism: Part 1 Country of Origin Food Labels

In 1989 my uncle returned from a trip to the US with a pair of basketball shoes that were not yet available in Australia. Having seen them on the feet of American basketball stars, my friends and I coveted these shoes, and I was the first to own a pair. Taking them out of their box, I noticed the label at the back of the tongue: Made in Indonesia. I was disappointed. These shoes were not from the land of Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan but from an island I knew little about, 3000

kilometers to the north of Australia. Rather than the genuine product and official brand of champions, I was in possession of a cheap imitation. My sense of disappointment was not alleviated when an older boy assured me that the shoes were in fact fake.

The revelation that my basketball shoes were not made in America was my first conscious encounter with globalised manufacturing and trade. The now commonplace statement, ‘Made in Indonesia’, took some of the sheen off the brand, which was so carefully manufactured in marketing and design offices far removed (geographically, economically and culturally) from the factories in which the shoes were manufactured.

Buying like “us”

While I would like to say that the disappointment I felt in learning that the shoes were made in Indonesia was due to concern for the conditions of the workers, this would be disingenuous and perhaps a bit much to expect of a 9 year-old. My disappointment was due to the otherness of Indonesia. These shoes were not made by people like “us” – me, my friends, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. They were made by “them” – people I knew little of, except that they weren’t in the NBA, didn’t play basketball, didn’t appear in the multi-million dollar commercials, and according to a friend’s father, were waiting for an opportune time to invade Australia. These feelings of parochialism, or perhaps more accurately racism and xenophobia, were an early expression “consumer ethnocentrism”.

Ethnocentrism is the attitude that distinguishes between an “in-group” and “out-group”. Terence Shimp and Subhash Sharma developed the concept of consumer ethnocentrism to ‘represent the beliefs held by American consumers about the appropriateness, indeed morality, of purchasing foreign made products’ [1: 180]. According Shimp and Sharma’s study on the psychology of ethnocentric consumers ‘purchasing imported products is wrong because, in their minds, it hurts the domestic economy, causes loss of jobs, and is plainly unpatriotic’ [1]. While Shimp and Sharma focused on the 1980s American automobile industry, I suggest that consumer ethnocentrism is increasing in the food industry through current debates over country-of-origin labelling and local sourcing movements.

Global Food and Ethnocentric Consumption

The global food system has led to an increase in ignorance and confusion about where food comes from and the conditions under which it is produced. This ignorance is manifest in at least two forms. First, a general ignorance about the way food is produced and where it comes from, i.e. what season does asparagus

grow or what part of a pig does bacon come from? And second, where geographically does the asparagus I purchased in the supermarket come from or a more complex question, where was my microwave dinner produced, and were the ingredients all from the same location? Unlike my basketball shoes, the country-of-origin labelling on food products is not as clear. And some food products may use ingredients, manufacturing processes and labor from a variety of countries.

Since the early twentieth century, the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 and Commerce (Imports) Regulations 1940 has enforced country-of-origin labelling for clothing imported into Australia [2], with similar legislation in place in the US (Tariff Act of 1930). However, these laws do not address the importation of food products. Over the past decade, country-of-origin labelling for food products has become a significant issue for consumer’s, workers’ unions and food companies in the US [3, 4], Australia [5-7], and the European Union [8, 9].

Country-of-Origin Labelling and Food Safety

There are a number of reasons why consumer groups and sectors of the food industry want country-of-origin labelling regulations for food products. A common reason is food safety. With the interconnection of the global food system, governments and consumers are concerned by food poisoning outbreaks, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad-cow disease”, and possibility by the threat of cross-contamination [10]. The recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia associated with Nanna’s Mixed Berries from Chinese factories has re-invigorated the country-of-origin labelling debate.

A second argument for the introduction of country-of-origin labelling is to protect domestic markets. For example, canned food company, SPC Ardmona, made 150 redundancies and closed a production factory in Australia. According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union this is partly due to a lack of adequate labelling laws that allow major supermarkets in Australia to stock cheap imported foods without being required to inform the consumer [7]. Furthermore, while the label may state “Made in Australia” this is allowed ‘even if only a few of the ingredients are grown in Australia’ [5]. As a result, companies that use local workers and ingredients are squeezed out of the market by cheaper imported goods.

Food safety and the protection of domestic markets are significant issues, yet they can also become enmeshed with more explicit manifestations of consumer ethnocentrism. With products and brands representing “us” or “them”. In Part Two, I discuss the example of “in-group” ethnocentric consumption in relation to Dick Smith’s response to Kraft Foods ownership of Vegemite. In Part Three I use the call for US consumers to boycott French products in response to the French government’s refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” to highlight “out-group” ethnocentric consumption.

References

  1. Shimp, T.A. and S. Sharma, Consumer Ethnocentrism: Construction and Validation of the CETSCALE. Journal of Marketing Research, 1987. 24(3): p. 280-289.
  2. Australian Customs Service. Australian Customs Service Fact Sheet. 2007 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/FS_clothing.pdf.
  3. Lusk, J.L., et al., Consumer Behavior, Public Policy, and Country-of-Origin Labeling. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 2006. 28(2): p. 284-292.
  4. Loureiro, M.L. and W.J. Umberger, A choice experiment model for beef: What US consumer responses tell us about relative preferences for food safety, country-of-origin labeling and traceability. Food Policy, 2007. 32(4): p. 496-514.
  5. Peacock, M. Food Labelling inquiry chair disappointed Federal Government drops key recommendations. PM 2011 [cited 2012 February 6]; Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-01/food-labelling-inquiry-chair-disappointed-federal/3707464.
  6. Blewett, N., et al., Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy. 2011, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.
  7. Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. SPC regional job losses show need for food labelling laws and watchdog on supermarkets. 2011 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://www.amwu.org.au/read-article/news-detail/749/SPC-regional-job-losses-show-need-for-food-labelling-laws-and-watchdog-on-supermarkets/.
  8. Miller, J.W., Country labeling sets off EU debate, in The Wall Street Journal. 2011, News Corporation: New York.
  9. Department of Environment, F.a.R.A. Country of origin labelling. 2011 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/food/labelling/country-origin/.
  10. Smith DeWaal, C., Food Protection and Defense: Preparing for a Crisis. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology, 2007. 8(1).

Ivan Illich and the Idol of Lifestyle

Ivan Illlich, the Austrian philosopher, Catholic priest and iconoclast, was asked to give a lecture to a group of American Lutheran pastors on the topic of life. Rather outlining a philosophy of life, Illich called life an idol.

Illich said the pastors were dismayed by his characterisation. After all Jesus is the ‘bread of life’, ‘the way, the truth and the life’, and promises abundant life.

"Ivan Illich" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Illich.jpg#/media/File:Ivan_Illich.jpg

“Ivan Illich” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Illich.jpg#/media/File:Ivan_Illich.jpg

What could it mean to call life an idol?

For Illich, life is an idol worshiped and used by marketers, theologians, politicians, scientists, journalists, and activist to motivate, reveal and hide all sorts of responses, actions and emotions. Yet, there is never any attempt to provide an adequate definition.

In his acerbic style Illich says ‘when I used the word life today, I could just as well just cough or clear my throat or say “shit”’.

For Illich, life becomes an idol because it is an empty signifier that can be filled with whatever meaning an authoritative and persuasive speaker gives. In his terms, life is an amoeba word. A word that when thrown into a conversation ‘makes waves, but it doesn’t hit anything. It has all these connotations, but it does not designate anything precisely’.

Other amoeba words could be freedom, family, democracy, race, secular, or gender. Illich was not suggesting that the things these words signify or represent are necessarily unimportant or shit. Rather they tend to hide or assume what is at stake.

Amoeba words are imprecise yet produce deep cultural and emotional resonance. Perhaps the more important a topic is the more amoeba words appear.

The use of lifestyle is a case in point. Despite its banal appearance it is a divisive word. It divides lives as “in” and part of “us” from those that are “out” and part of “them”. Sure, lifestyle is used to market insurance or sell funeral packages, but it is also used to identify what is valued and can be disregarded.

The idol of lifestyle is used to justify the careful inclusion of some lives and in the same movement violent exclusion of others.

George H.W. Bush infamously told the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that the American way of life was not negotiable. The rest of the world may burn, but the American lifestyle has such a high value that it will not be compromised.

Tony Abbott’s recent comments about lifestyle choices and remote Aboriginal communities reveal the divisive nature of the term.

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”

There are lifestyles that ‘fully participate in the life of our country’ and there are lifestyles that are outside of “our country”. Being “inside” grants security, celebration and flourishing, while being “outside” leads to abandonment and exposure. Of course, to be outside is a choice and therefore removes responsibility for care from the “inside”.

Screenshot 2015-03-11 18.26.22

Like Illich’s observations, the idol of life and amoeba words continue to abound in political and popular discourse. Perhaps coughing or saying shit in their stead may interrupt the pronouncements of false prophets and disrupt the flow of worshiping these false gods.

See – Cayley, David. 1992. Ivan Illich in conversation. Concord, Ontario: House Of Anansi

Make good choices, kid: biopolitics of children’s bodies and school lunch reform in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (2015)

 

Perhaps my favourite description of Jamie Oliver is “mockney gobshite”. This analysis, however, seems a little more sophisticated and looks at the biopower of moralizing discoursed around food, schools and young bodies in the US.

Foucault News

Gibson, K.E., Dempsey, S.E.
Make good choices, kid: biopolitics of children’s bodies and school lunch reform in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
(2015) Children’s Geographies, 13 (1), pp. 44-58.

DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2013.827875

Abstract
In recent debates surrounding childhood nutrition and US school lunch reforms, the child’s body serves as a contested battleground in a destructive politics of blame over obesity and diabetes. Scalar discourses of the body play a significant role in constructing food-related problems and their solutions. We illustrate our claims through a critical analysis of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution; a celebrated national television program centered on chef Oliver’s attempts to address childhood nutrition through school lunch reform. Informed by Foucault’s biopolitics, our analysis highlights how moralizing scalar discourses of the body frames nutrition as an individual problem of personal choice. Food politics, when played out at the scale of young bodies, masks class divisions, marginalities, and governmental policies that…

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Depoliticising Indigenous Health via Consensus and Statistics

‘Politics’ has become a dirty word in Australia. To ‘politicise’ an issue is regarded as obfuscation. Good governments ‘govern’ and make ‘policies’. And good oppositions should work with governments to produce policies not debate endlessly, or so we’re told – usually by sitting governments.

While a lot of the ‘politics’ has devolved into oppositional tactics, political debate is essential for democracy.

At a minimum political debate should reveal the reasons and justifications for a particular policy. However, false consensus and the use of statistics are increasingly used to depoliticise debate of important issues. A recent example is Indigenous health.

Dangerous Consensus

indexIndigenous health is an area where “every opposition wants the government to succeed”. However, perhaps it is this consensus that has resulted in continual failure.

The 7th Closing the Gap report was presented in Parliament earlier this month. Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave a sobering speech, noting that most targets were not on track “despite the concerted effort of successive governments since the first report”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, however, called on the Government to reverse the budget cuts to social services that disproportionately affect Indigenous populations and compound existing inequalities. Coalition MPs were unhappy with this suggestion. Some walked out and others said Shorten was playing political games on an important occasion.

The focus on consensus – that everyone wants to Close the Gap – has reduced Indigenous health and education to a national human interest story. It is bracketed from the realm of politics and serves either to inspire or a cathartic release. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu writes that “human interest stories create a political vacuum. They depoliticize and reduce what goes on in the world to the level of anecdote and scandal”.

In breaking with the ritual bipartisanship, where Opposition and Government solemnly agree that “more should be done but it is all so very difficult”, Bill Shorten re-politicised Indigenous health, if only briefly.

While liberal political philosophy values consensus established via publicly justifiable reasons, when consensus is assumed, publicly justifiable reasons become redundant. The presumption of consensus between the two major parties on indigenous health (and anti-terror legislation and asylum seeker policy) lowers the expectation of rigorous political arguments for or against certain positions.

Shorten broke with the consensus game and exposed the gap between Abbott’s rhetoric of “concerted efforts” and the first budget he delivered. Budgets are not simply economic documents, but reflect political and moral decisions about the lives that are valued.

Politics of Life Expectancy

Not unrelated, last month Treasure Joe Hockey attracted ridicule with his comment in a 3AW interview ‘that somewhere in the world today, it’s highly probable, that a child is being born that is going to live to a 150’.

Close-the-Gap

Hockey’s comment received some support from Professor Peter Smith who points to advances in medicine and public health as reasons to expect a continued increase in human life expectancy.

Professor John Quiggin however suggested that these claims are highly dubious and ignore the fact that the extension of life expectancy in the 20th Century ‘came from a reduction in death rates for the young.’

Will Cairns also pointed to the success of reducing death rates. Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia that

our numbers plummet as we approach 100 years of age because all of these interventions [public health, disease treatment, nutrition] make no difference to the reality that we eventually wear out and die. Apart from the odd unverified outlier, only one person has ever been confirmed as living for more than 120 years.

Hiding Politics in the Statistics

Like the assumption of a consensus, Hockey’s use of life expectancy statistics to justify changes to the health system hides the political nature of these decisions.

Altering the financing of the health system through strategies such as co-payment schemes may appear reasonable. We are told Australia’s population is ageing and more people need to use the health system. However, what these statistics hide is the disparities of life expectancy in Australia.

While a child may be born today to live to 150 120, the latest ‘Closing the Gap‘ report reveals that Indigenous Australians born today can expect to live more than a decade less than non-Indigenous Australians.

The reality of significant gaps in life expectancy should be the cause for alarm and inspire the creation of a more equitable health system. Yet often population statistics hide the details. As Professor Mick Dobson notes, ‘Statistics of shortened life expectancy are our mothers and fathers, uncles and aunties who live diminished lives. We die silently under these statistics.’

Statistics: measuring and managing people

Vital statistics have been used to govern populations since the 17th century. But it’s important not slide over the word “statistics” too quickly as its literal meaning is hidden through repeated use.

Statistics is not simply about numbers but “state craft“. By knowing birth and death rates, and the incidence of disease it is possible to establish probabilities of epidemics, movement of people, and to order the State in a rational manner.

Vital statistics also enable the segmentation and division of populations. We see this all the time in professional sports. The explosion of statistics about batting averages, field goal percentage, or a players historical probability of kicking a goal from a certain angle against a certain team all help coaching staff to know who is performing and who is not.

Divisions in the details

Despite appearances, the use of statistics as political tool for governing a population is not neutral. Historian and philosopher Michel Foucault notes the way vital statistics introduce a power over life or biopolitics. The increased knowledge about nutrition, physiology and sexuality in the 19th century lead to the creation of norms from statistical averages that allowed political strategies to regulate human life. Close-the-Gap-005

Statistical analyses are used in public health to show the distribution of disease and enable interventions in populations. But as Foucault notes, these techniques also allow the identification of lives that are healthy and should be fostered and which lives are not performing and can be neglected.

A danger with the celebration of a statistically increasing life expectancy, is that it masks the very real health inequalities faced by many Australians. This is seen in a number of areas:

  • allow for certain health issues to be prioritised (e.g. ageing population), while others marginalised (e.g. health inequalities)
  • enable the allocation of funding towards some research (e.g. Medical Research Future Fund), while moving it away from other areas (e.g. preventive health)
  • suggest a particular financing models for the health system (e.g. co-payment), yet discount others (e.g. progressive taxation).

These are not simply economic decisions, but political and ethical decisions about which lives count. For too long the supposed neutrality of statistics and the assumption of consensus have allowed the political reality of Indigenous health inequalities to be hidden. To close the gap we need to recognise the historical and political processes that have made it and maintain it.

The Nightmares of Tony Abbott

In promising a new approach to government Tony Abbott has reverted to the well-thumbed pages of the politics of fear playbook that dominated domestic and international political rhetoric between 2001 – 2008.

In a speech to the nation he repeated his four step plan for terrorism – ‘a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim‘ – but also drew bizarre links between ISIS and people who “cheat” the welfare system.

It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt.

There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink.

And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.

We are a free and fair nation. But that doesn’t mean we should let bad people play us for mugs, and all too often they have: Well, that’s going to stop.

In connecting immigration, welfare, and the judicial system to ISIS – or as he prefers “the Islamist death cult” – the Prime Minister bundles complex and disparate institutions and policies under one banner of “national security under threat”. In using this politics of fear that equates the people on welfare or bail with ISIS, Abbott hopes to swiftly pass new legislation that purports to secure us from these fears and neuter any opposition.

The rise of the Islamist death cult in the Middle East has seen the emergence of new threats where any extremist can grab a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim and carry out a terror attack.

As a nation we are responding to this threat. Abroad, Australia is working with allies to disrupt and degrade the Islamist death cult. At home, we have provided our security services with more powers, more resources and stronger laws.

We are currently considering additional legislation on data retention that’s before the Parliament – and this will make it easier to keep you safe and we want to get this legislation passed as quickly as we can.

But this is an old trick and a trick that further reveals that Tony Abbott (and most senior Australian politicians) are bereft of ideas. There is no vision other than more freedoms and less threats.

As the BBC documentary ‘Power of Nightmares‘ shows, politicians in Western liberal democracies following September 11, 2001 no longer offered visions for a grand future. They, and we, have grown cynical of dreams where “the only fear is fear itself”. Instead, the focus is on nightmares. Whoever can portray the greatest fears, yet also assurance of deliverance, is king.

This tactic arguably receded with the elections of Rudd in 2007 and Obama in 2008. Both had optimistic visions. Rudd had his “2020 Summit” and Obama his “Yes We Can”. However, with financial crises, widening gaps in economic equality within nations and between them, as well as the return of Islamic terrorism with ISIS, these optimistic slogans rang hollow and arguably reinforced cynicism. Today, there is a return to a politics of fear.

With his leadership in question Tony Abbott is resorting to a tactic he knows well from his time in the Howard Government. He may not be able to answer who he is or what he stands for in positive terms, but he is able to conduct an orchestra of threats and fears – Labor, ISIS, debt, welfare fraud, radicalisation of youth, ‘inter-generational theft’, and lenient bail laws. In orchestrating these fears, he is able to give us this assurance: “As a country, we won’t let evil people exploit our freedom.”

Abbott is hopeful that this new tough line of government will save his leadership. Perhaps it will. But maybe this time we will recognise the old negative tune and demand something new – something more courageous and imaginative than borders and laws to protect “us” from a fictional “them”. Perhaps we will recognise the folly of jumping at nightmares and spectres that we help create and sustain.

See Tony Abbott’s full message here: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2015-02-15/message-prime-minister-0

Setting breakfast free: Kellogg’s and the enfolding of otium into negotium

Kellogg’s have released a new liquid breakfast product creatively called “To Go”. Unlike “for here” breakfasts such as cereal, pancakes or eggs, “To Go” enables mobility when consuming the so-called most important meal of the day.

What interests me about “To Go” is the commercial. I don’t particularly care about its taste or nutritional value. And I will most likely never eat/drink or purchase a “To Go”. Yet the commercial, with its energetic music, attempted profundity, and predictable cast of Joe and Jane go-getters, provokes a visceral rage in me.

This reaction is not simply due to the fact that I like breakfast while seated. What disturbs me is Kellogg’s answer to its own questions – ‘What if breakfast was set free? Where might it take you? Where might you go?’ According to Kellogg’s, the freeing of breakfast comes through a liquid that you can drink on the go. Where might you go? Well, it is pretty clear that you are going to work.

At face value these are stupid questions developed by marketeers and focus groups. But pausing over these questions illuminates features of our predicament and produce lines of inquiry that disrupt the narratives multinationals that think a liquid breakfast or other consumer products are the answer.

‘When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love’ – Marcus Aurelius

In asking us to imagine a world where breakfast has been set free, Kellogg’s unwittingly provides us an opportunity to ponder our current world where breakfast has been enslaved. Or more accurately, the time to prepare and eat breakfast while sitting, reading and conversing has been abducted and taken from us.

The morning hours and the breakfast meal have long been considered a time for self care or otium. Morning practices of prayer, reading, writing, meditation or contemplation have been encouraged by religious and non-religious sources as ways to cultivate the self.

‘Otium cum dignitate’ (leisure with dignity) – Cicero

In the past, otium distinguished, cultivated and separated the self from the ordinary and everyday concerns of negotium.  In our age, however, practices of the self are increasingly subsumed into negotium that focus on subsistence. Bernard Stiegler defines negotium as human commerce that is focused on ‘the imperative of subsistence’ to the degree that ‘it can render inaccessible the dignity of existence’ (Stiegler, The Decadence of Industrial Democracies, Polity: 2011, 100).

Stiegler (among others) contend that the ‘modern age’ or ‘industrial democracy’ has made it increasingly difficult to establish a form of life that is shaped by logics other than those of the market and the practices of consumption. Otium has been incorporated in the culture industry that repackages practices of the self into consumer items or relations – yoga (Lulu Lemon), alternative agriculture (Whole Foods), feminism (Lean In), and so on.

The dominance of negotium does not destroy otium, but makes it indistinguishable. That is, otium no longer shapes an existence that is separate from the subsistence of negotium, but existence and subsistence are conflated. Hence, Kellogg’s sets breakfast free from the old notion of time that held breakfast as part of otium and distinct from negotium. “To Go” enfolds breakfast into work and frees us from the indigestion of hurridely scoffing our eggs down our throats to make the bus in time or to beat the traffic.

Where will we go? To work with dignity.