Age of Wonders

heroes Good news, fellow Earthicans: Our heroic epoch’s leading minds shall never cease their valiant, world-historic labors to solve the great challenges of the perilous times. According to the latest Advertising Age:

Few people would suspect that what’s inside an unmarked building some 30 miles north of New York could change __(a)__, even the entire __(b)__. But that’s what __(c)__’s ambitious, high-energy __(d)__ are promising.

This unassuming office park houses the __(e)__ Lab, and inside are the results of months of intense research. __(f)__ have been working to chart a new course for a __(g)__ that has endured __(h)__, just behind __(i)__.

Over several weeks early this year, Brad Jakeman, president-__(j)__ officer, has walked key __(k)__ constituents around the lab, talking about ideas and showing off mock-ups of new __(l)__ machines, samples of __(m)__ and new __(n)__ concepts. It’s a world where __(o)__ specifically — and the __(p)__ generally — is __(q)__ again.

He insists it’s not a pipe dream.

Answer key:

live_for_now(a) = the way consumers view a soda brand

(b) = cola category

(c) = Pepsi

(d) = marketers

(e) = Beverage

(f) = Pepsi execs

(g) = brand

(h) = an embarrassing slip to the No. 3 soda

(i) = Diet Coke

(j) = global enjoyment and chief creative

(k) = Pepsi

(l) = new vending and fountain

(m) = licensed products

(n) = marketing

(o) = Pepsi

(p) = cola category

(q) = cool

And some dare question the entrepreneurial system!

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12 thoughts on “Age of Wonders

  1. Hi Michael,

    This is a great blog (in case if you still wonder if it matters – it does). I appreciate the quite solid (yet accessible) analysis.

    As I’m sure you are aware, the biggest question that remains unanswered is how the hell a large enough and sustained enough social counter-action is going to happen? All – literally all – trends point in the exact opposite direction. The mass society is now completely fragmented, trapped in false consciousness, i.e. unable and unwilling to see the fundamental problems with the capitalist society.

    Where is hope to come from? By the time the looming ecological disasters and resource shortages hit home, the totalitarian grip of the state will simply become explicit.

    This is the key question I am unable even a hint of an answer for – at least, an answer that is palatable. In my mind our best case scenario is the society depicted in the movie “Children of Men”, and the worst case (and not completely implausible) is the local gang rule (“Mad Max style).

    Between barbarism and socialism, all current trends unambiguously favor the barbarism scenario

  2. Hi back to you, Marla. I certainly share your sense of danger. But not literally all the existing factors are negative. And, of course, you yourself can’t really believe that, because the obvious conclusion from that fact would be surrender.

    I’m certainly not optimistic about the prospects of progressive human survival, but the odds are not zero. I’d put it at about 50/50 myself. Very large numbers of people remain decent and open and frustrated. Let’s not give up in advance!

    Meanwhile, please continue commenting.

  3. Thanks. Sure, there is always a possibility for hope, delusional or not, better nurture it with all rational means possible…

    That said, the thought police has been incredibly successful indeed. For example, I find it disturbing that these days the mere mention of Marx somehow constitutes an argument and an insult, or an accusation against people feel the need to defend. A few weeks ago, I wanted to punch Robert Reich in the face – after Bill O’Reily non-chalantly called him a communist who “loves Marx”, the poor chap went out of his way to “fight back”, as if either of those labels is an inherently bad thing.

    It surely is depressing that the intellectual climate by now is such that nobody, except a few marginalized thinkers, can calmly acknowledge the simple fact that Marx is not some sort of a strange monster, but basically a classical economist that simply happened to do a more thorough and thoughtful job than Adam Smith, Ricardo, and the rest of the gang. But, who cares these days? The same applies for the love that Romney & Co. lavish on Adam Smith – if they had actually read him, they’d be aware that he’d hate their guts…

  4. Michael, do you know about this pretense that Wal Mart is fighting poverty? I was in that coffee shop (yes, the …..) the other day, and saw a brochure or something about WM fighting poverty. I wanted to throw up, but simply turned away, and tried to ignore the outrageousness of it. In fact, there’s so much outrageous stuff out there I cannot keep up…(I mean when I go to the grocery store and there is this obnoxious in-house radio with insincere voices of people who sound like they are high on some sort of happy pill and they start talking about buying fresh XX (Name of a processed food company_ ) meat—–I just want to scream: that’s not what “fresh” means……but people seem to be used to it…..Anyway,in case you have something to say about WM…..I thought I’d mention it. (I don’t read your blog often enough, but benefit and enjoy it whenever I do….)

  5. Michael, do you know about this pretense that Wal Mart is fighting poverty? I was in that coffee shop (yes, the …..) the other day, and saw a brochure or something about WM fighting poverty. I wanted to throw up, but simply turned away, and was outraged—How can they get away with that? –Do people really think this is normal (in a normative sense of course!)??

  6. Marla, of course, raises a very central question.
    1. Yet the onus of response should go to the blog proprietor – I have my own perspective, but Mr. Dawson has done the brave intellectual work of both writing a book and expanding upon it with this essential blog – becoming this generation’s Vance Packard or Leslie Savan, and then some.
    2. Commenters should want to comment, though I have found that on other sites, the proprietor becomes all peevish or censorious when his or her biases are not reflected by the commenting angle – so Common Dreams, Louis Proyect, Paul Street, mrzine all become pathetic timorous fascists when they get the slightest challenge from their left flank.
    3. I think all the signs are down for “progressive social reality” in the abstract, but that the upper class will continue to have an unimaginably rich life of tweeting and vacationing and drinking Pepsi out of some biodegradable container.
    4. Sorry, I have never studied Marx. I hear him referenced all the time, but I just can’t too excited by any guru from the 1800’s. The Grundrisse, value theory, the declining rate of profit – have at it, boys, but there’s a world burining out there…

  7. Martin, there are many Marx overviews/textbooks out there that are short but decent, and even some of his own shorter work, other than Capital (e.g. The economic Manuscripts), will do for the basics.

    I understand the hesitation to dive in (Capital vol. 1 alone is more than 1000 pages!), and it is probably not necessary for most people to work through each and every detail. But the reason Marx is still important today is because he shows, through rigorous analysis (that has not been successfully refuted to date to my knowledge) how and why capitalism is ridden with internal contradictions and simply unsustainable (socially, economically, ecologically) as a long-term social arrangement. This is important because a lot of what passes for progressive thought these dances around this problem and instead wastes time with minor tweaks to the system…

  8. Marla, I think the society is still 90 percent as red-baiting as it ever was. Just like in the field of race relations, it’s simply become more polite in form and indirect in execution. But being a socialist or even using socialist ideas is still a ticket to oblivion. “We” won the Cold War, so “we” have never had to say we’re sorry or admit the nature of “our” own profound corruptions. Wouldn’t it be amazing to get a look at the black book of capitalism one day?

    As for Marx, I like Karl Korsch’s idea that the only orthodoxy it carries is a dedication to Marx’s method, a.k.a. historical materialism. The best statement of that method lies in a chapter in Marvin Harris’s The Rise of Anthropological Theory, imho.

    William Appleman Williams argued that denial and avoidance of Marx was the USA’s “great evasion.” He thought it might eventually prove to be a fatal evasion.

  9. Mark, I didn’t know about that particular sickening lie. One presumes this does not mean they are switching over to paying living wages to their employees…

    ;-)

  10. Michael, It’s a bit odd, you know. We know it’s a lie, but I didn’t have the heart to actually read the thing. By the way, if you forgive me for departing from the specific topic of your post…..I was disheartened to realize (after a couple of years) what exactly is most offensive about The Coffee Shop (a euphemism)…It is a g.d. factory—and this is due to the “drive through” window. There is a lesson in that, though I don’t know quite how to spell it out. It’s not enough that cars do the damage they do (to civility and the environment), but they also increase the work load of the people working in this coffee factory. And as the drivers don’t stretch their legs, it’s part of an anti-body, anti-health culture. (I don’t count gyms as healthy places.) As I live with my elderly parents, there are days when I simply want to escape for an hour to read a book. Now that I’ve seen the ugliness of the place, I might have to read elsewhere. In fact, a friend (who is also a Ph.D. in Philosophy without official work) has started a sort of Philosophical Institute in the upper floor of a factory building, and i may take refuge there………Finally, I want to add: what fooled me was that I’d been to branches of The Coffee Shop in Europe where no such frenetic atmosphere existed—-because they had no “drive through” window…….

  11. Michael, here are a few anecdotes from my life that you will find relevant:

    I grew up in a formerly socialist country in Eastern Europe. Having been in the US for 10 years, in a better than average middle class occupation, I have concluded that my quality of life is not much better than it was 20 years ago under a disintegrating communist regime, and in some aspects it is worse. Consider a few details:

    1. As a kid and a young adult, it never occured to me that I need more than one pair of pants and 1 pair of shoes – both were available, but people both what they needed, wore them out, and then bought replacements. On the contrary, now my closet has more clothes than I could wear in a lifetime, for no good reason. Sure, I, and other people did have product related fantasies and some fascination with the rare western consumer goods that made it beyond the iron curtain, but such fantasies were either related to actual needs, or to curiosity and apparent differences in variety and packaging quality (!)

    2. For most of my life, i did not own a car, and never felt a need for it. I did buy a car after the regime collapse, and then promptly sold it – it was completely unnecessary, and made my life harder, not easier. On the other hand, here in the US I am FORCED to own a car, and I HATE it. I lived in Chicago for 2 years, and it was a brief breath of relief as I could perfectly get by without a car…

    3. The quality of the housing stock here is demonstrably WORSE than anything I have seen back home. In fact, I had not seen houses and apartment buildings made out of wood/plywood before I moved here. Even the “poor” back home live in solid stone, brick, or concrete houses that will last a very long time.

    4. My access to cultural and basic life amenities is much more restricted here than it used to be – I have to drive 0.5 mile to the grocery store, because there is no sidewalk.

    5. Access to good quality education and healthcare was free and unrestricted. Here, I will shortly have to go broke to move into a neighborhood with a half-decent school, and tremble of the implications of any medical problem – in spite of having an overpriced insurance.

    6. There was no such thing as unemployment and homelessness. Everybody was expected to work, but there was also work available for everybody.

    7. Obviously, there was still major inequality – between the party bureaucratic elite and everybody else. Yet it was nowhere as severe as what currently exists in the west. The party privileges primarily rendered ability to access collective facilities, and to avoid some of the most opressive aspects of the socialist society (e.g. being told where to work after you graduate from college…)

    I could probably think of many more, but my main point is that was it not for the unfortunate tyrannical and criminal implementation of the socialist regimes, most people today probably live far worse than they would under a socialist economy… Oh, and by the way – the socialist regimes did not collapse due to their economic inadequacy – they collapsed because the top honchos saw an opportunity to transform their political power into economic one, and that’s exactly what happened.

    One final difference that makes me very worried for the US. Back in socialist EE, the ruling elite was ignorant, but they knew they were ignorant and had the common sense to often consult scientists before making key decisions. The current western neo-liberal elite is just as ignorant, but they don’t know it and thus ignore even the tiniest bits of common sense emanating from the academic community.

  12. Fascinating, Marla. Have you seen Dmitry Orlov’s book, Reinventing Collapse? He is quite cynical and apolitical, but he makes many of the same arguments you make. I find them very convincing. This overclass not only believes its own cover story, but is actually larger and more internally competitive than the Stalinists were. Hence, it has way more hubris. Quite dangerous.

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