Marketing and the Thoughtless Society

If I were asked to choose the word that best describes the quality of daily life in corporate capitalist America, that word would be “thoughtless.” Ordinary people here aren’t often really consciously hostile to one another — just as they aren’t often conscious of real political and historical facts. Instead, they are simply heedless of anybody and anything that doesn’t reside or resonate within their bubbleworlds of home, car, workplace, and cell phone PIM.

The lion’s share of the blame for this rests not with ordinary people, but with corporate capitalism. This socio-economic order performs its function of further enriching the already rich by the constant growth of marketing and commodification. As this process unfolds, corporate media and messages, all of which are anchored in profit-making, increasingly crowd out non-commercial activities. As a result, the stuff of salesmanship — flattery, encouragement of navel-gazing and the acquisitive attitude, fear of a “mean world” beyond the supposed safety of packaged entertainments — increasingly erodes the social-psychological basis for thoughtfulness.

Sometimes, this crowding out is literally physical. Take the ongoing decline of automotive turn-signaling. This safety device (within our insanely unsafe corporate capitalist/autos-first transportation regime) is losing ground not just to continuing marketing-induced cognitive and ethical impairment, but to the cellular telephone itself, which, despite its peddlers’ denials, is now part and parcel of driving for growing numbers of ordinary Americans. The task of holding a steering wheel and a cellular phone simply leaves no hand free to flick the turn blinker.

Raymond Williams called this whole crucial process of decline “mobile privatization,” and knew it stemmed from the normal operation of modern capitalism. Alas, thoughtlessness is not just a core symptom of mobile privatization, but it serves as a very effective vaccine against criticism of it and resistance to it. It takes thoughtfulness to care about thoughtlessness!

Funny, isn’t it? In this supposedly “religious” society, institutional normalcy is killing the very basis of all but the pettiest, most selfish, least ethically relevant kinds of caring.

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