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Long Read of the Week: “The IKEA Humans: The Social Base of Contemporary Liberalism “


Consider more closely where this IKEA dresser and its underlying substance came from. That story begins at a logging camp somewhere in the world — quite possibly in an illegally harvested old-growth forest in Russia or China. (It is impossible to say exactly, since IKEA has torpedoed laws that would require them to disclose their sources.) The loggers in this mystery forest fell trees of various sorts and pass them on to a logging company that might manage scores of camps. The logging company then sells the trees to a sawmill which gathers material from several dozen logging companies and cuts them into boards. Several sawmills in a region then supply the lumber to a larger board-mill that cuts the wood into even smaller pieces. Small suppliers buy the board from several board-mills and transport a portion of it to large suppliers, which in turn gather and pulverize the various materials in a chemical soup and press it into lighter, cheaper chunks. IKEA then buys this “composite material” to cut into the components of a Malm or Hemnes, sorts it into boxes, and distributes it to over 300 stores around the world, leaving the final assembly to the customers. Even a simple desk or dresser contains, by IKEA’s own admission, at least 26 different species of wood from at least 18 different countries — and usually far more. The result is a sleek but crumbly piece of furniture, sure to camouflage into any new apartment. Jennifer and Jason use their dressers every day without a thought as to the work or the materials that made them.

We must not sneer at Jennifer and Jason, many readers are sure to point out, for choosing IKEA. Their incomes, though high in the global scale, are likely to be lower than their parents’ were, and they often have to move in order to climb the employment ladder. It is only reasonable for them to buy something inexpensive, transportable, and replaceable. IKEA fulfills an important niche in the middle-class market — for cheap furniture that still retains a semblance of respectability. The company has exploited this market to become the global empire that Sweden never had, a kind of Viking revenge on the modern age.

Still, there is a good chance that Jennifer and Jason actually like their IKEA dressers, and prefer them to the old oak chest that their grandparents tried to foist on them. Indeed, the extraordinary popularity of IKEA testifies not only to its convenience but to its ability to appeal to the middle-class self-image. Jennifer and Jason are drawn to IKEA because it reflects who they are: they too are modern, movable, and interchangeable, their wants satisfiable in any neighborhood with a food co-op and a coffee shop. More fundamentally, Jennifer and Jason are untraceable, a “composite material” made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees — Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that. They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionals’ kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peers’, and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably “spiritual but not religious.” They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city. Whereas the Veneerings’ high fashion covered over an essential vulgarity, Jennifer’s and Jason’s urbane style masks a hollowness.

RTWT AT : The IKEA Humans: The Social Base of Contemporary Liberalism – Jacobite

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  • BillH September 19, 2017, 9:53 AM

    One of the beauties of being a Hoover baby is never having seen an IKEA, let alone having been in one. There’s probably one in our city, but if so, I’ve no idea where it is. Probably in Yuppieville on the far east side.

  • Rick September 19, 2017, 10:01 AM

    IKEA = LORAX

  • Bunny September 19, 2017, 10:16 AM

    Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking read.
    “In short, most IKEA humans’ professed liberal tolerance serves as a thin veneer for a lack of principle. Jennifer and Jason are unintentional Nietzcheans — having no core commitments or beliefs, they fall back on the will to power as their motivating principle…”
    As the author notes, it’s happening on the right, as well. There seems to be a lot of wishcasting regarding winning at any cost around the edges of the online right, even to the point of depriving whole groups of citizens of their civil rights and soft eugenics and purging of undesirables. As Archbishop Chaput said, “When a nation loses a firm sense of truth and it’s obligations, what remains, and all that remains, is power and the struggle to get it. That’s reality, and democracies have no magic immunity to reality.” This is the disturbing thing about the vacuity and vapidity of IKEA people. If they are thinking about it at all, they react to a perceived existential threat with a survivor’s anything goes mentality. Their cure is as bad as the disease.

  • Butch September 19, 2017, 10:32 AM

    Bunny, with all due respect, we are facing an existential threat. The left wants to deprive me and those like me of our rights and ultimately our lives. I see nothing wrong with returning the favor. No more losing with dignity because we don’t stoop to their level. That moral high ground will result in you kneeling next to a ditch, waiting for the pistol muzzle against the back of your head.

    I didn’t want these rules and I doubt the left will like being made to live under them as well.

    The cure, if the right prevails, will still be better than the left’s desired end state.

  • Denny September 19, 2017, 10:54 AM

    Liberalism = whatever is cheaper and easier, always disregarding the morality and honesty of hard work and life loving craftsmanship.

    The abortion of human children, covetous materialism, loveless sexual promiscuity and the government god provider (at someone else’s expense) are good examples.

  • Bunny September 19, 2017, 11:09 AM

    I get what you’re saying, but when I look outside, I don’t see a revolution or a civil war. I see a preponderance of “normies” going to work, having mostly pleasant and productive interactions with people of all sorts of races and ethnicities, coming home and dealing with the kids and watching television. Outside of some cataclysmic black swan event, I don’t see anyone putting down the Doritos and getting busy with the Revolution™. I wish people would stop with agitation and counterproductive imaginings and come up with some here-and-now, real world solutions.

  • ghostsniper September 19, 2017, 11:46 AM

    If you want solutions you have to create them yourself.
    Have you not learned anything at all your whole life?
    You won’t like my solutions, as I won’t like yours.
    Each person gets to, and is required to, create their own solutions to any and everything they are involved in.

    I guess for a long time now people have gotten used to the gov’t or any of it’s numerous constituents to provide solutions to anything they can think of. Damn the cost as long as I don’t have to pay for it, they say. This gov’t coddling has resulted in generations of adults incapable of acting as or performing as responsible people. Instead they are all dependents, upon an entity that is cut from the same cloth.

    This model may work on a micro level but with 300+mil people it crumbles along the edges and has deep fractures throughout the core. It can’t sustain itself as the structural integrity has been compromised completely. It’s like watching slow motion video of one of those planned demolitions of a long abandoned building. Puffs of smoke, slow shudders, pieces fall, leaning, crumbling, gravity working it’s magic as the whole thing slowly slides downward into a final heap of debris and smoke, everything reduced to nothing or value.

    Can you survive such a thing?
    Perhaps, but you have to create distance between yourself and that which is destroying yourself.

    But that is boring.

    Most people are addicted to the fake life on high.

    They believe the smoke is part of the show. The shudders are so frequent they have become normalized. Always looking at their small screens they never look out the window and see the horizon changing. They are unaware the USS America is listing heavy to starboard. As velocity increases at some point they may become aware that something is wrong but it will be too late. They are already caught up in the inertia of the thing and even if they jump they will be crushed before they hit the ground.

    The first step in avoiding danger is to not be where danger exists.
    But the real first step is in seeing the world as it is rather than how you’d like and reaching out and taking what you want rather than begging others to provide you with solutions.

  • Teri Pittman September 19, 2017, 12:44 PM

    It’s truly appalling how dumb folks are these days. Think of it, we have humans that are totally incapable of growing their own food. In fact, they seem to be incapable of shopping for it and cutting things up when they get it home. What we need is a financial collapse along the lines of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, we’d see a lot more folks die if we got one.

  • Bunny September 19, 2017, 12:45 PM

    Like most people, I live in society, Ghost. No man is an island, right? And you’re correct, I wouldn’t like living in the boonies with my assorted weaponry, an army of one (and maybe a few like-minded neighbors) yelling at people to get off my lawn if the SHTF. Nor do I want to spend the rest of my limited time on this earth in anticipation of such event. That being said, I do see the fractures but don’t have any solutions except wresting political control from the destroyers, however that might be done. I’m waiting for all the geniuses on the internet to come up with something feasible, because I’m irresponsible that way (just kidding, it’s that I honestly have no ideas). Lots of people can define the problem, but have no solution. No one can see into the future with certainty and the direction we as a society go is mostly beyond my control, really.

  • Bunny September 19, 2017, 12:47 PM

    Gosh, Terri, you’re a real ray of sunshine.

  • Howard Nelson September 19, 2017, 7:47 PM

    Bunny, where could you and your neighbors be of value
    to your local community?

    What do we generally want from our local government?
    Crime and fire prevention
    Enforcement of health standards in food- providing establishments.
    Truthful, warts-and-all, competent education for our kids in local public schools. Appropriate textbooks, curricula, teaching
    Available electricity, clean water, trash collection.
    System for quickly recalling ineffective officials.
    Independently supervised ‘lie detection’ annual tests of the top five local government officials responsible for allocating funds and/or approving contracts. Severe penalties for malfeasance.
    Local road repair and prompt snow removal.
    Prompt, competent response from local government to community problems — rat and other dangerous animal infestations, frequent local flooding, …

    The locals residents may be most effective as an organized group of concerned citizens or by hiring and giving clear direction to benevolent assassins.
    Funding for all the above by collecting payments of attention from local residents and by coercing volunteerism.

  • Chris September 19, 2017, 8:15 PM

    Or I could alternatively hypothesize that IKEA shoppers on average tend to be conservative because they place priority on value per dollar over ornamentation. They prefer to work themselves to assemble a household good than to pay unionized workers to build and assemble their furniture. They prefer the clean lines and straight stylings that harken back to the mid-century modern ethos when America was ascendant.

    Judging a people by its furniture purchases seems about as accurate as judging them by their breakfast cereal. Silly, easily refuted, and with just a touch of we’re better than the poor beggars to get a bunch of folks to agree with you… because after all, you boomers, did such a bang-up job at running things it’s just obvious that your furnishings are better than the “other” folks.

  • Bunny September 19, 2017, 9:04 PM

    You just made one of the author’s points:
    “Many observers have pointed out the self-obsession common to the millennial generation, while the venture capitalist Bruce Gibney, one of the founders of PayPal, calls American baby-boomers ‘a generation of sociopaths’ for their reckless self-indulgence at the expense of the nation. In both cases, generational animosity serves to distract from the real root of the problem, which is class: at least since the Victorian age, if not longer, as traditional social bonds and duties collapse, the affluent among us have become craven and self-serving.”

  • Rob De Witt September 19, 2017, 11:03 PM

    Tl;dr.

  • Larry Geiger September 20, 2017, 5:20 AM

    Judging people by the place they shop seems kink of shallow. Yes, many people are like sheeple or lemmings. But that’s always been obvious. The folks that choose their own way will find the products and vendors they like and patronize them. I have IKEA products. My wife likes the packages of green and red plastic sheets that she uses for chopping boards for vegetables (green) and meat (red). I’ve been in the IKEA store in Orlando. It’s just a store. Efficient in some ways and less efficient in others. We are getting some new doors so we went to Doors by Tim here in our local community. We shop at Lowes for rakes, shovels, treated wood and deck screws. We shop at Publix where “Shopping is a pleasure”. So what. I also shop at the rope ladies shop in a narrow store front down on US-1. The grandchildren think it’s a toy store. The rope lady watches them like a hawk. She has all kinds of rope and string and cleats and hooks and things. I have always found it hard to understand people that make a big deal about retail people. Don’t like Nieman Marcus then go somewhere else. Don’t like IKEA then go to Badcock or RTGo. I don’t care. I just sold my GoldWing. Harley people are always putting down other bikes and bikers but the other bikers mostly don’t care. They just choose what they like (power, smoothness, convenience, quiet) and ride away. Anyway, have fun. It only really matters if you are an employee at Sears.

  • ghostsniper September 21, 2017, 8:28 AM

    Speaking of Publix, this was published in the Ft Myers News Press in 2004 when the new Publix had opened on Burnt Store Road (Guess who Bob (Black) was?):

    Ten Reasons Why Bob just LOVESSSS grocery shopping at Publix.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    1. All those beautiful but vacant handicap parking spaces.
    Wait a minute, they ain’t vacant, they’re occupied by people that have permits but yet still are able to walk far enough to latch onto one of those motorized carts Publix is so kind to provide for their needy customers. You know the ones, they block the aisles and ask everybody to reach stuff on the top shelf for them, then they make their way back to their car with their 3 cans of Garbanzo beans, whatever they are.

    2. That efficient curbside service. Its pretty cool how the designers of the Publix buildings have created a little niche (fire lane) along the front of the building that is outlined in big yellow diagonal lines so the sucker moms can quickly grab some green from the ATM, run inside and snag a load of fried chicken and a bag of salad and a coupla 2 liters for supper, I mean, it’ll only take a min, ya know.

    3. The deli. My favorite thing in the whole wide world. All you have to do is find where they put the red ticket machine today and get yourself a ticket that keeps everybody straight and in perfect order. The digital counter on the wall is on customer 63 and I look at my ticket and it says 19. WTF??? Oh well, this won’t take as long as it seems, as soon as number 63 gets done with his 4 pounds of Boars Head thinly sliced honey ham and that 6 pounds of medium sliced swiss, with paper between – pleeze, and 3 pounds of thick sliced Smoked Turkey, and BTW do you guys have any of that mesquite guinea pig gums like I got up at the Loxahatchee store last week?, and can I have just a taste of that beautifully rare and dripping with vampire juice roast beef? Oh well, as long as I can get out of here by 9pm I’ll be happy.

    3. The bakery. What can I say? I go weak in the knees at the Publix bakery, all the smells, all the sights, all the variety, and everything packaged in 12s. Who eats 12 of one thing? I only want 2 croissants but it seems everybody is on break. Nope, they’re all out in the aisles giving samples to everybody in sight complete with garnishes and drinking material. Guess I’ll mozy over there and get me a microdot of that chocolate cake they’re dispersing at the end of aisle 8.

    4. The meat dept. Man, I’m in heaven. Look at that Porterhouse with 4″ of fat around the perimeter and at least a 3 pound bone and its only, gasp, $29.38. Wow, I better get 2! Think I’ll get me some of them newspaper porkchops too. Yes, you can read a newspaper through them, but hey, they’re only $13.53 for 2 so why not?. Now, I’ll get me some chicken breasts and I’ll be all set for the week. Hmmm….no chicken breasts, just gigantic turkey breasts that are labeled chicken and they’re packaged in those nifty 5 packs for just $17.26. Such a deal. Wait a minute, they really are chicken breasts but the Publix butcher took the time out of his busy day to inject them with ammonia so they would be nice and fluffy and fresh. Oh yeah, I gotta get some fish too. Lets see, that salmon has a nice yellowish-greenish tint around the edge and its on sale today only for $8.99/lb but wait, the nice lady behind the counter winked at me and said to come back tomorrow and it will be further reduced. Such a nice lady. As I turned to go she squeezed my hiney with a wet gloved hand that felt like the Terminator. For the rest of the night my a55 smelt like cod.

    5. Cans. Publix is so amazing. To ward away shoppers boredom they put full pallets of stuff all up and down the aisles so the customers have to really pay attention to where they’re going WHILE trying to find that most elusive can of Del Monte Asparagus tips and let opposing shoppers traverse this one lane highway simultaneously. Leave it to Publix to come up with unique and exciting ways to make a 30 minute shopping trip seem like 4 hours. I luv it, I luv it, I luv it…..

    6.Frozen foods. Holy Kow. Where do I begin? The frosted doors. The blacked out lights. The misplaced items. The ever changing choices. The wet towels heaped in the corner. Again, Publix to the rescue to ward off boredom and routine. I mean, how many days in a row can you eat Banquet 5 for $5 meatloaf meals? And why should you when you can alternate the meatloaf dinners with Swanson 8/ $5 Turkey potpies complete with extra gristle? Whoops, don’t forget to grab a boxed pizza and don’t worry about the name or the flavor as they all taste the same anyway. Publix really knows how to make a chore fun!!!

    7. The garden of Eden. Er, I mean, the produce department. Wow. How is this even possible. Unbelievably, Publix out does itself in the produce dept. I think they sit up in them windows on the 2nd floor and try to decide which veggies and fruits any given customers might want and then they rush down there at the last minute and whisk all of them away except for one, so that the customer is not taxed by making unnecessary choices. After all, who needs more than 1 Indonesian cherry tomato? I mean, really. You are aware it was a closet marketing genius and a master of efficiency, Publix employee that back in 1995 discovered that if he chopped up lettuce and cabbage and a few carrots and stuffed it in plastic bags he could sell if for 200 times the price of the individual ingredients. And guess what, they pass that saving to us, their customers!!!!! I think.

    8. Check out. Sadly, it is now time to leave Publix. But Publix is not done with me yet. Oh no, they are saving the best for last. I only have 8 items in my hands so I make my way amongst the long lines of happy customers waiting to check out, to the express lane that Publix is so thoughtful to provide. Looky! There’s only 22 people in the express lane so it will surely go fast. Just as soon as that little old lady with 11 items in her cart gets through writing out the check. Oh dear, the poor soul has misplaced her drivers license. What shall she do, what shall she do? Ahhh, the red and blue haired cashier has summonsed the manager, now everything will get right back on track. Whats that? The manager is helping the Wells Fargo doodz load up the ATM machine, well then, I guess the assistant manager will be here shortly. There she is…..but wait! The assistant manager is outside in the fire lane helping a lady with a bag of chicken and a bag of salad clean up the spilled 2 liter bottle that sprayed all over the Wells Fargo truck parked behind her. This is getting exciting now. Wow. There’s always something cooking at Publix. Never a dull moment.

    Going to Publix isn’t just a weekly chore its an adventure, filled with fun, excitement, mystery and economic sense that rates right up there with a week at Disney or a cruise in the Caribbean.

    Ya know, I don’t see how I ever existed before Publix came into my life and showed me how lovely the world really can be!
    Now I hafta get my list together for my next exciting trip to Publix next week!
    I always have difficulty going to sleep at night after my shopping sprees at Publix, I just lie in bed for hours wondering, ‘How do they do it?’.