Layers of Exploitation

cookie jar photo Karl Marx saw exploitation as the core behavioral process in any class society. Overclasses always rule (and indulge themselves) by means of regimes for taking advantage of those who lack alternatives to being taken advantage of.

For rather obvious reasons, this remains a big and vastly under-researched topic. How exactly do rulers deploy threats and tricks to keep paying themselves from the sacrifices of others?

In the corporate capitalist epoch, one thing they do is big business marketing, which, as TCT readers know, is a form of class-struggle-from-above.

I mention all this because The New York Times today is running a letter from Lawrence D. Fink, CEO of BlackRock, to his firm’s shareholders. In the letter, Fink acknowledges that one of the foundational features of modern corporations is their ability to operate without direct accountability to the public that grants their charters:

Society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private,serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

Behind closed doors, this is how CEOs understand their basic situation, though, as soon as the public inquires directly into this confidential fact, the CEOs of course flip over into insisting that even the largest corporations are merely enlarged mom-and-pop shops and thus nobody’s business but their shareholders’.

But, off the record, they know: Under present arrangements, one of the exploited parties is definitely the public in general.

Ad Tolerance

Here’s what they’re working in the overclass, as the world faces multiple immanent threats to the material basis for continuing the project of human civilization:

With endless ways to consume content, consumers are developing preferences for live, streamed, online and ad-supported content. Understand watching behaviors and consumers’ tolerance for different ad characteristics.

The associated video shows that, to corporate capital’s main task force, the big question is how to keep tricking people into wasting their lives spectating the trivial and stupid “content” that exists to deliver advertising into passive brains.

The basis for the whole thing, as enunciated at the 28-minute mark by the woman in the video is “what consumers are willing to tolerate.” Not exactly the free-choice utopia of econ textbooks and political speeches, is it?

And need we comment — yeah, alas, we do — on the use of the words “consumer” and “consume” here? The bias is so massive and massively obvious, yet what passes for the progressive left continues to talk exactly like this.

Trick Society

Corporate capitalism is totalitarian. Left unchecked, it leads to a society where, outside the shrinking, increasingly commercialized sphere of family and friends, everything is a trick, and tricking is the standard form of social relations. It is a recipe for disaster, as current events show.

A Mall in the Car

When one edits a blog on cars-first transportation and a blog on market totalitarianism, news such as this poses the question of where to comment. Since marketing and market totalitarianism are the bigger, deeper phenomenon, I choose TCT.

Shopping, despite the obvious distracted driving portents, is about to enter the cockpit of the car in a serious way.

Here is a screenshot of General Motors’ initial version of its Marketplace dashware:

dashboard-shopping

“Marketplace is not meant to be an in-vehicle digital billboard,” Santiago Chamorro, GM vice president of global connected customer experience [ROFL!], says to Automotive News.

That, my friends, is a lie.

Alexa Skills

So, corporations are now promoting “smart” appliances. The motive, of course, is further increase in big business marketing capacities, which are thoroughly totalitarian.

The other factor here, as is the case with the corporate command over paid labor processes, is the question of skills. At this late stage of corporate capitalism, the overclass stands so confident and unchallenged, they don’t even feel much need to euphemize about this. Witness Alexa Skills, which shamelessly names the process of alienating, commercializing, and commodifying human abilities.

If you think this doesn’t matter because each individual skill transfer is trivial, recall the piranha effect. Then, ask yourself: How many phone numbers do you know these days? Where did that form of mental acuity go?

Annals of Commodification

‘Tis once again the season of peak selling, so a roving TCTer’s thoughts naturally turn to the topic of how, even as their socio-economic order finishes devouring the basis for the further maturation of human society, corporate capitalists continue to provide solutions to non-problems.

Now, so far, the system’s critics have been rather less than careful with the topic of product provision and use, having committed to treating it as “consumption” and then swinging various crude hammers pointlessly around the room. Herbert Marcuse, foreshadowing if not script-writing for Ronald Reagan, based his work on the presumption that average black people in the Jim Crow United States had Cadillacs. Such things not only flew with the left but became classics of supposedly critical theory.

Mainstream critics of leftist cultural critics are, sadly, largely correct when they say the left has tended to be way too cavalier about the existence of great capitalist products. This is funny (in both senses) in part because Marx and Engels famously praised some features of capitalism. Yet few subsequent thinkers in the Marxian tradition have thought with precision about the indisputable and extremely important fact that a great many of the products business society has managed to work out and make affordable are things any sane democracy would want to retain in any decent, sustainable future.

The fact that the system also is quite good at turning broad public scientific breakthroughs (for which it then takes undeserved credit, of course) into actual gadgets is nothing to sneeze at, either, if we want to make such a future.

But, having said all this, it remains true that corporate capitalism is, by its core design, drowning us in silly-ass, often hi-tech, crapola.

Once TCT‘s editor finishes his ongoing book about the ultimate platform for this systemic project, our TCT website will get an overdue structural upgrade and thereby return to seeking user interactivity. One thing we’ll work on then is gathering nominees not only for the annual Golden Hicksie, but also a reader-fueled competition for most offensive new commodity of whatever years we have left.

Perhaps, inspired by this here new product, which I encountered yesterday, we will call that new award the Consumer Trap Turkey of the Year:

turkey-fryer

That, friends, is the Waring electric turkey fryer. It retails for more than $600. One would love to know how many times each one sold will ever be used. Surely, the ever-so-perfectly-named Conair Corporation knows. It is the entity that puts this beautifully stupid thing on the market.