This chapter of Being Consumed concerns globalization. In particular Cavanaugh explores the relationship of the universal to the particular. This is an age old philosophical problem of the one and the many. How should the local and global, one and the many be related?
In Christianity, we claim to be a universal faith, but one marked by the particularity of Christ. This paradox is difficult to overcome…or live into. At different extremes Christians can be exclusivist and deny God’s presence even in the world, while others claim a radical inclusivism that renders the particularity of Christ null and void. Neither stance is faithful to Jesus or helpful in fulfilling our mission of embodying God’s mission to the world in communities of reconciliation.
Cavanaugh goes on to talk about this paradox in globalization. Globalization at once attempts to claim both diversity, and universal dominion. There is a global system of ordering our lives that dictates the terms by which people, countries and corporations can participate in the economic order. It is universal and all-encompassing. Proponents point out that this is expressed in a myriad of ways and really produces diversity of choices and cultures.
However, I would argue with Cavanaugh that this diversity of choice is an illusion masking the worldview that it is ultimately offering to the world…consumerism. There are unlimited forms of culturally relevant, contextualized products and choices, but in the end the product they are selling is the belief in consumption. This passage really drives home the point,
The giant brewer Miller responds [to advertising by "microbrews"] with an ad touting the virtues of good old macrobrew: “It’s time to drink beer made in vats the size of Rhode Island.” What we don’t see is that Plank Road and Leinenkugel are both owned by Miller, which in turn is owned by a South African conglomerate. So much for diversity. The surface appearance of diversity in fact masks a stifling homogeneity.(69)
The Eucharist is also an antidote to this problem. Christ is the “concrete universal.” In the Eucharist the body and blood of Christ are offered to the local gathering in order to unite them with the Body of Christ. “The closer one is attached to the particular community gathered around one particular altar, the more united one becomes to the universal” (71). He contrasts this with the effect of consumerism. The consumer “becomes a kind of empty shell, itself dependent on the constant novelty of the particular for its being, yet itself simultaneously destroying the particularity of the many and thus negating its own being” (74-75). Whoa! That sounds serious.
It is important to point out that this is not an anti-capitalist rant. “The call to Christians is not so much either to embrace or try to replace abstractions such as ‘capitalism’ with other abstraction. It is rather to sustain forms of economy, community and culture that recognize the universality of the individual person” (86). Once again Cavanaugh draws on a relevant example to this blog in order to illustrate how the church can overcome the problem of globalization in practice, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). We can create alternative economies by connecting farmers and eaters, overcoming the abstraction of consumerism. Food no longer comes from some anonymous distant place; rather it comes from another particular human being, and the consumer enters into a relationship with that producer” (87).