Late > Never

So, The New York Times is starting to make some rather sane observations about the nature of our society:

We are living in the world’s most advanced surveillance system. This system wasn’t created deliberately. It was built through the interplay of technological advance and the profit motive. It was built to make money.

Quite so.

This development, which, barring sharp democratic intervention, only promises to intensify, was, of course, quite predictable quite some time ago. We here at TCT saw and named it in 2003, when the TCT book emerged. The pertinent phenomenon is “market totalitarianism.”

The NYT being both a major commercial enterprise and a major ideological organ of TPTB, the true origin of this deep reality has to be denied, of course.

Hence, a phenomenon which springs directly from corporate capital itself — itself a phenomenon which sprang straight from Adam Smithian capitalist normalcy — has to be attributed instead to mere bad apples:

The greatest trick technology companies ever played was persuading society to surveil itself.

[NYT, emphasis added]

In this preposterous but ascendant misreading, market totalitarianism is just a trick played by one rogue sector within our dominant socio-economic order. One question that willfully silly excuse begs is who buys all the data and for what purpose?

Evidence That “Consumerism” Is Not Our Problem

Richard Eckersley is a very skilled and important researcher into the details of how our world actually works.

Among the topics Eckersley investigates is the question of what the mass of people actually like, want, prefer, and worry about, and whether (or not) and how (or how not) our dominant institutions care about and encasulate those actual desires.

Here is what Eckersley reports about the increasing advocacy of well-being indexes as a replacement for, or accompaniment to, GDP statistics. Such nice ideas, Eckersley suggests, do not go far enough:

Public perceptions of the future have been another dimension of my research. And I am not aware of any progress indicators that reflect the depth of people’s concern (which existed well before climate change gave it a tangible focus).

Richard Eckersley

Ordinary people, in other words, are far more worried about the future and desirous of macro-alternatives than any “happiness indicator” scales show. If, of course, one bothers to actually look.

That, alas, remains something very few thinkers, including the purported mavens of green consciousness, do.

Instead, among such would-be leaders, the phantasm of “consumerism” continues to trample this whole field of reality into a plane of hopeless hallucinatory mush.

TCT will say it again: “Consumer” analysis is barking up the wrong tree. The masses are already way more complex and thoughtful and open to hearing the news than their would-be saviors bother to know.

It is beyond high time for the arrival of an empirical perspective on off-the-job life in the modern world.

Victoria’s Demise

Despite the unrelenting flood of elite-sponsored nationalism, militarism, and commercialism, many areas of on-the-ground American culture have been improving rapidly. Sexism, despite setbacks like the Madonnian faux feminism that took hold in the 1980s and continues to work its evil ways, is one of the great social sins we the people have been chipping away at, despite our confounding institutional order.

TCT mentions this because there is important news on this happy front: Victoria’s Secret, the corporate lingerie pusher that has always sold its wares via dangerous sexist “aspirational” images, seems to be dying. In the climate that now seems to be solidifying, VS can apparently no longer run its hateful “fashion shows.”

According to Advertising Age:

It’s official now: There will not be a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show this year. At a time when many other lingerie brands (like Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty) are celebrating real women’s bodies, some consumers found Victoria’s Secret’s display of thin models strutting in lingerie and stilettos to be backwards and off-putting.

TCT looks forward to the day when we no longer let people call us “consumers,” a label that only a capitalist should ever embrace. But, meanwhile, it remains important to count our wins, along with our struggles and losses.

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!

Progress at The Baffler

snake image The Baffler, as evidenced by its very title, has generally promoted the Frankfurt School’s haughtily flippant approach to issues of so-called “consumption.” The core premise of this now-classic analytic style is the hypothesis that corporate capitalism’s ever-expanding commodity galaxy has, by establishing something called “consumerism” or “consumer culture,” made us all equal and all insane.

In his hugely influential and immensely over-rated 1964 book, One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse set the basic terms of this particular escape from realism. Here is the core presumption of modern “consumption studies,” the foundational axiom I think of as “Marcuse’s Big If”:

If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is as attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.

By treating this always-preposterous “if” as an established fact, the task for the would-be anti-consumerist expositor becomes not explaining how the sphere of product design and product use works, but rather pointing out how crazy people are for participating in prevailing “consumer” activities.

I mention all this because The Baffler has just published a very useful essay that goes some distance toward breaking away from Frankfurtian “consumer studies” tail-chasing. Though he still uses the word “consumer” too blithely, Alex Pereene, the essay’s author, points out that, when it comes down to it, there has been a general failure among supposed experts “to account for the social and psychological context of consumer spending.”

Bingo.

Pareene adds that, while everybody keeps promoting and swallowing Marcuse’s If, the reality is that ordinary people are made to “settle for LCD TVs as a new generation of robber barons shot cars into space because they couldn’t figure out what else to do with the staggering amount of money they have.”

Well said, Baffler, and may you continue to get less baffled and baffling.

Answer to Facebook Spying

Were it charged with doing so, the United States Postal Service could easily create and maintain a non-commercial, not-for-profit, no-advertising, completely secure alternative to Facebook, which exists to harvest marketing data for its corporate clients. The fact that such an obvious thing remains unmentioned and unmentionable speaks volumes.