by Michael Dawson
Capitalism's apologists have always painted their allegedly history-ending system as the antithesis of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism, of course, is the sort of modern social order in which a ruling elite tries to control all aspects of life of its subject population, especially via threats and appeals to forms of propaganda-induced unreason.
Capitalism, they say, is the opposite of totalitarianism, as it is inherently not just respectful of, but actively encouraging of, the advancement of independent self-interested calculation and free choice among the masses.
Alas, they lie.
As Noam Chomsky says, in the real world, capitalists hate the kinds of competitive "markets" classically assumed by Adam Smith. Those "classic" (and purportedly still extant) situations are simply not conducive to maximizing owners' profits, as they tend to require price- and management-minimization. Because of these noisome pressures, amid the Great Depression of the 1870s-1890s, the overclass used its clout to launch the corporate age. Capitalism quickly became corporate capitalism.
By the 1920s, the overclass began to realize that diverting some of its bounteous new corporate cash flows into managing workers not just at work but also off the job could, if well and carefully done, become yet another source of ROI.
In the 1950s, accelerating movement in this direction yielded the breakthrough now known in boardrooms and business schools as "the marketing revolution." Ever since its consolidation -- most especially in the core selling zones created by a combination of early capitalist plunder and employment patterns, mid-20th-century democratic footholds, and the need to bolster the Cold War storyline -- corporate capitalists have devoted ever-growing budgets to managing the realm of what we uninformed commoners still quaintly think of as our "free time."
Needless to say, the science of capitalist behavioral management has become ever more ambitious. Take a look at Emotionomics, a new book in which corporate consultant Dan Hill reports and muses on the growing practice of corporate "neuromarketing."
Here's the overall context:
Described by marketing super-guru Philip Kotler as "a revelation," the book not only tips the hand of core big business marketing attitudes and methods, but it is indeed a "revelation" -- an especially clear, not-for-public ears enunciation of the true voice of corporate capital.
Hill's core revelation is a naked, un-self-conscious admission of the reality of market totalitarianism at the heart of corporate capitalist normalcy.
Hill, whose "blue-chip clients have included Target, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate, and Kellogg, among many others," counsels his audience of corporate planners to once-and-for-all stop kidding themselves about the "world's love affair with rationality":
Breakthroughs in brain science have revealed that people are primarily emotional decision-makers. . . . Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behavior. As a result, companies able to identify, quantify, and thereby act on achieving emotional buy-in or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.
It doesn't get much plainer than that: both workers and "consumers" are objects of detailed, ongoing, essentially emotional managerial control campaigns.
As Noam Chomsky also frequently points out, big business corporations are "unaccountable private tyrannies." These days, they are also getting increasingly clear amongst themselves about the classical nature of their tyranny: Stripped of the standard self-congratulating, self-excusing managerial jargon, this nature is nothing less than pure totalitarianism.
Michael Dawson is a writer and sociology teacher living in Portland, Oregon, author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (University of Illinois Press, 2005) and Automobiles Ueber Alles: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States (a book forthcoming from Monthly Review Press). Visit his blog: <www.consumertrap.com>.
Today as always in the age of "the Pentagon system," inherently statist militarism supplies the useful function of diverting government priorities away from social needs and towards the selfish interests of the privileged few. Beneath disingenuous "free market" rhetoric disseminated to de-legitimize the undesirable direction of public resources to the broad populace, the "business community" has long (since at least the Great Depression) understood that government must play a central role in sustaining the system of private profit. It makes a critical distinction, however, between left-handed government service to social needs and right-handed government investment in the wasteful and destructive missions of militarism. The first form of government activity interferes with the authoritarian prerogatives of investors and managers and is therefore rejected as a "functional" policy option by the politically super-influential business elite.
The second form is welcomed by the domestic power elite because it provides no challenge to business rule while diverting public resources to dominant private interests. It offers added lovely benefits to the American ruling class. It encourages the manufacture of mass fear and mindless nationalistic conformity while legitimizing the use of coercion against those who dare to criticize existing social hierarchies and doctrines at home and abroad (for useful discussions, see Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy [New York: Hill and Wang, 1991], pp. 32, 81, 82, 108-109). It also underpins a global and remarkably expensive state-run empire, replete with more than 700 global bases located in nearly every country on earth (Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [New York: Metropolitan, 2004], pp. 151-184). The costs of that empire are distributed over the entirety of American society but its profits "revert to a few within . In this respect," Noam Chomsky noted in 1969, "the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege" (Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State [New York: New Press, 1970-, p. 47). It's not for nothing that big business feels repeatedly threatened by the ironic specter of peace - the terrible threat of a social-democratic "peace dividend."
Consistent with those "perverted priorities" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) , the imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be profit bonanzas for leading "defense" and petroleum corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Exxon-Mobil, and Conoco-Phillips (See Paul Street. "Profit Surge," Empire & Inequality Report, No. 10, ZNet [February 10, 2007], at www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=12089§ionID=10). Military spending and oil prices have risen hand in hand in the new age of permanent U.S.-led state-terrorist "war on terror" - a war that happens by more than pure coincidence to be focused on the super-strategic heart of the world's energy center.