Life Under Market Totalitarianism

cartoon of consumer trap

Corporate capitalism is totalitarian. By its very nature, it drives its constituent organizations and primary beneficiaries to pursue activities that, without being centrally planned, lead, in the aggregate, to increasing, increasingly effective rentier-class dictation of both the flow and the details of all three spheres of modern life (paid labor, personal life, and politics).

This was one of the main points made in The Consumer Trap book, published way back in 2003.

Both that book and the point about market totalitarianism have gone over like a lead balloon, of course.

Sociology, the incubator and natural home to such ideas, remains generally dominated by pseudo-empiricism and specifically — on the subject of power and personal life — intoxicated with its “consumption studies” snipe hunt.

Marxian thought, meanwhile, barely exists any more, and, to the extent it does, remains as prone as ever to favoring arcane and/or insane mastications of “what Marx said” over investigation of new ideas and perspectives, no matter how huge and overdue and unfathomed in 1867.

In any event, the fact remains that corporate capitalism yields market totalitarianism, and this process could and should be carefully explored and explained, with an eye to transcending it.

Toward this end, TCT would like to mention this short essay in The Atlantic. Its author, Judith Shulevitz, is onto something. In its own rambling, shambling, yet exactingly micro-planned way, our prevailing social order is doing to the fabric of social life what state totalitarians did in different, cruder ways:

It’s a cliché among political philosophers that if you want to create the conditions for tyranny, you sever the bonds of intimate relationships and local community. “Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She focused on the role of terror in breaking down social and family ties in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. But we don’t need a secret police to turn us into atomized, isolated souls. All it takes is for us to stand by while unbridled capitalism rips apart the temporal preserves that used to let us cultivate the seeds of civil society and nurture the sadly fragile shoots of affection, affinity, and solidarity.

The Engine of American Unreason

Many wonder about the sources of the profound irrationality of contemporary U.S. culture and society. The main modern engine of this continuing trend has long bragged about what it does, and why, and how:

SAP Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman made the point that this is also good business. She said “humans experience 27 different kinds of feelings and today consumers are using emotions more and more to drive purchasing decisions. In a study of 1,400 ad campaigns, those with purely emotional content performed twice as well as those with purely rational content.” But from there her message got a bit more, well, transactional. “We need to get experiential data to help us understand those 27 feelings,” she said.

Reported in Advertising Age, October 7, 2019

Our Media Catastrophe

The Reagan Revolution will go down as one of human history’s most successful elite schemes. As its remarkable run nears the half-century mark, it still shows precious few signs of even being politically named as a problem, to say nothing of actually being reversed. At this late date, what passes for a left continues to wander around in various self-referential circles grasping (perhaps) at micro-straws (including plastic straws) while mumble-ranting about stillborn, punch-pulling neologisms like “neo-liberalism” and “intersectionality.”

One important sign of the continuing addlepated weakness of the forces of reason and survival is their lack of alarm about the fact that, by this point, all the major outlets of public communication are in the full control of the corporate capitalist machine. As folks like Bernie Sanders labor to get civilized medical insurance mentioned within the Democratic Party branding operation, this issue, along with the other unmentioned whopper of one-person-one-vote, lies all but untouched, despite the paint-peeling facts-at-hand, which now make the institutional landscapes enumerated by Herman and Chomsky and Bagdikian look like the epoch of Common Sense and the committees of correspondence.

To wit: In any democratic society, this “news story,” which NBC News, the child of the Comcast theft-empire, would not only have cost Comcast/NBC its broadcasting licenses, but would be Exhibit A in the long-overdue move to democratize and diversify the U.S. communications infrastructure.

As it is, such shameless self-advertising propaganda by the single greatest opponent of universal media accesss goes by completely unnoticed.

13.24% to 24.24%

Those are the interest rates, “based on creditworthiness,” on the pending Apple Card, as oh-so-helpfully backed by your friends and mine at good old Goldman Sachs.

Such, it turns out, are the “interest rates that are among the lowest in the industry .”

“A new kind of credit card,” they say. “Doing things in a whole new way,” they say.

Or maybe just a sign that Apple can’t think of anything other than this to do with its ocean of unused cash?

A quarter trillion ROFLs.

A Worthy Idea: Media Strike!

Larry Sanger is a libertarian, so he has not thought through modern life’s inevitable collective dimension. We homo sapiens face unavoidable problems of how to make macro-choices and how to account for the various dilemmas of group size/social scale. In the 21st century, with 8 billion of us afoot, these shared conundrums are certainly not going to go happily away if we don’t face up to them.

His libertarian bent also means that, despite his own deep immersion in it, Sanger doesn’t seem to remember that government invented both computers and the internet.

Of course, as a libertarian, Sanger also ignores the reality that capitalists hate price competition and generally try to swallow and merge with their business competitors — making capitalism an inherently centralizing (and totalitarian) institutional order.

It thus isn’t surprising that Sanger’s call for a boycott, on July 4 and 5, of the corporate media oligopolies does not include a demand for the only institutional arrangement that could ever possibly achieve his stated goals: lavish, bleeding-edge public provision of both internet access and elementary social media platforms/apps (non-commercial alternatives to Facebook, Google, etc.).

If he thought it through, Sanger would be calling for the USPS to enter the field of modern communications media access provision and internet software development/operation, i.e., for it to fulfill its Constitutional duties by making available a safe (private), non-commercial, cutting-edge basis for maximum democratic correspondence amongst We, the People.

But, despite this fatal flaw, TCT thinks Sanger’s boycott — and it actually uses the word “strike”! — is, for now, an excellent idea. Let’s do this!

On July 4 and July 5, do not use any corporate internet or cellular media or apps. If you must look at TCT or some other non-commercial app, and if you also somehow have a way to do so without going through a corporate access pipe, please choose a non-proprietary, non-corporate browser.

As for TCT, we will be on strike then!