Jenni Russell’s article for the Guardian newspaper that appeared on 6th December 2003 raises contemporary problems in social interactions. She laments the fact that as individual, isolated consumers of a capitalist society, people are gradually losing their humanity. In its place, they are acquiring rather unsavory social tendencies, the most blatant of which is lack of politeness in social interactions. People are always conscious of their own image and social status that they act in an overtly aggressive manner. Hence, there is a tendency for people to take offense where none was intended and inflict hurt where none was warranted. Modern industrial society, as primarily represented by the United States of America and countries in Western Europe, place undue primacy to the superficial over the substantial. This is nowhere truer than with respect to the Public Relations industry’s constant barrage of illusory imagery and ego-stroking message in the form of advertisements. This is a pitiable state of affairs, as the current standards of civilization are poorer compared to a century past. This essay will argue that Jenni Russell’s point of view holds valid and that it is imperative that our standard of civility improves at the earliest.
Russell’s criticism against the capitalist-consumer culture is backed by fact. In this economic paradigm, people are stripped of their higher identities to be equated to units of consumption. By being recognized for their ability to consume products, they themselves turn into commodities. In many ways the bloodshed and human loss witnessed in geopolitical conflicts is a symptom of this fundamental flaw in the global economic order. Though Russell doesn’t go to the extent of linking the two phenomena, the connection is obvious to the discerning reader.
The anecdotal evidence for commonplace hostility that Russell presents is experienced by all of us. We’ve all been in situations explained by her, whether it is an unpleasant exchange with a billing clerk or being the victim of an insecure boss in office. This accessible and verifiable reference to real-life situations makes Russell’s arguments quite strong. Further, what makes the author’s arguments hold ground is the background research and supportive evidence. For example, she notes,
“Last month new scientific research demonstrated that the brain reacts to a social snub in just the same way as it does to a physical injury. In effect, by our thoughtless and self-protective behavior, we are going through our days delivering small social injuries to one another, each one of which is felt as acutely as physical pain.” (Russell, 211)