Thursday, February 25, 2010

Joe Bageant: The Corporate State 1

Round Midnight: Tortillas and the Corporate State
By Joe Bageant article link article link
February 25, 2010 "ICH"

... There is a terrible science fiction-like awe in the autonomous American economic monolith, in the way that it provides for us, feeds on us and keeps us as its both its lavish pets and slaves. The commodity economy long ago enslaved Americans and other "developed" capitalist societies. But Americans in particular. The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can conceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage. Inescapable, global, all permeating, the commodities economy rules so thoroughly most cannot imagine any other possible kind of economy.

It comes down to owning stuff, and that the stuff we own also owns us (as anyone paying rent for a storage locker can attest). Transmogrified by industrial materialism, we have become what we own. More specifically, what we are observed by the rest of our society as owning. In the commodified society of industrial materialism, owning is being. So much so, that politicians bandy the term "ownership society" about, not only without causing the public to gag, but to cheers. Even liberals who claim to dislike the term don't want to be in a "We don't own shit society."

Early modern capitalism was more or less understandable, if not always pleasant. One can see why a pre-industrial world that had owned less would embrace owning a bit more. Who gave a damn if it came from Adam Smith's "unseen hand," the hand that was taking care of the already rich, who in turn managed the order of the world as seen through the lens of aristocratic and bourgeoisie English commerce. "If we work our guts out Nellie, we can buy a pork knuckle every Sunday. And a featherbed, if you get my drift. Woo Hoo!"

Enter the reign of the bourgeoisie, self-appointed and self-interested middlemen to anything and everything. The sheer complexity of the industrial revolution and associated finance was a dog that could fatten many fleas.

When the bourgeoisie did not get what it felt was a good cut of the action from the monarchies, it raised hell, sometimes enough to cause revolutions. If they won, as they did in America, they took credit for establishing democracy. If they lost, they fobbed it off as a "people's revolution," leaving the working slobs, the actual producers of wealth, to face the king's hangmen.

Even when "the people" occasionally win one of those "people's revolutions", we never really win. Not in the end. For instance, here in Mexico, contrary to what we've seen in Zapata movies, there has never been a successful people's revolution in terms of lasting and real egalitarian reform. Just armed struggle, and many promises of reform, always to be abandoned after the revolution. They were subsequently wiped out by the politically potent urban middle class, in league with traditional elites, such as the haciendados and corporatists. The bourgeoisie never gives up its profitable connections to the elites. Same as in America. The bourgeoisie lives at the pleasure of the elites.

However, in the people's revolutions it was mainly "the people" who got killed. So they get naming rights. The people own their revolution only in death. Just as in the U.S., the elites here and the business classes get everything else and rent it back to us as mortgages or whatever.

You can argue that people have always screwed other people for a buck, or a drachma or a shekel. You will win with that argument every time. However, the real issue is about how many people got screwed and how hard by how few. Under 250 years of capitalism, the rising take from the ongoing screw job has grown astronomical. Enough to buy every political tub-thumper in Washington and a Supreme Court. Enough that if the elite cartels on Wall Street rip 300 million Americans for trillions, leaving them squinting at the fine print on their eviction notices, they cannot do jack about it. Except pay the next ransom demand for their credit. On their credit cards. Then sign their children into future debt slavery.

We are all Mexicans now ...

Humping the Big Lie

Meanwhile, somebody has to hump The Big Lie, maintain the appearance to the rest of the world that American cowboy capitalism is stable. Also keep Americans sold on The Big Lie's flip side, the number two tune: "We are the richest and most blessed people on earth because of capitalism (but currently going through a rough patch). Proof is offered: "Step right up and see for yourselves! Just look at the spectacular services and goods that bury us in wonderment! Now go buy a PT Cruiser."

Decades ago, the spectacle of commodity capitalism, the sheer variety of possible stuff to own, ways to be, possible appearances of being, came to constitute a commodity in itself -- enchantment as a product, product as enchantment. Materialistic enchantment as commodity was so powerful in scale and scope, and so thorough in mind saturation that it came to colonize our consciousness in what Guy Debord aptly deemed "the society of the spectacle."

No ordinary person could ever have withstood such a colonization of human consciousness as the American people have seen. Consciousness being simply awareness, there was no surviving the onslaught. The tsunami of false possibilities and pseudo choices constituted entire constellations in the psyche, of goods, and images of goods large and small: hair dryers, iPods, anti-bacterial wipes, cable television, ammunition, plastic siding, gourmet foods, this HP notebook computer in my lap, the Prius and the Porsche, even words such as Google, Microsoft, China Mobile, Vodafone, Marlboro… They all have psychological and social meaning in our commoditized consciousness, that battlefield where each commodity vies for preeminence with every other commodity in the shifting exposition of stuff we are permitted to labor to pay for.

It can now be honestly stated that mere goods and services express the citizenry and the American culture in its entirety. Citizenship in a consumer society is consumership. Consumer culture consumes all rival cultures, replacing them with "pop culture," which is simply deeming the marketplace as culture. Hip Hop is a good example. So is the modern cinema, and all of the music and book publishing industry. Corporate industry and its products are not culture, despite all the new definitions of culture bourgeois academia and the marketplace come up with on behalf of the corporations that fund both of them.

Your iPod shall set you free!

Freedom and personal identity exists as freedom to choose identity from among the commodities, and particularly the entertainments, offered. The Mac person as opposed to the Windows person. The Mariah Carey or Rihanna Fenty fan as opposed to the Eric Clapton fan. Each is convinced he or she is different because of their chosen commodity. Yet at the root of this, they all purchased a computer or a CD from a faceless corporation grounded in the toxic wastelands and sweatshops of Asia and elsewhere. Those who, in a fit of defiance, choose Indy music choose a product originating in and listened to through digital equipment produced in the bowels of monolithic corporate commodities generators.

We may gaze at the hologram and dream of living larger, or conversely, living the uncorrupted "simple life" on that little organic farm in Vermont. In the end though, the lucky ones among us, all those people out there in anonymous Terra Condominia, out there in the sprawling suburban nether land, must be content with a flat screen television. Watching those commercials for the Super Bowl commercials, delivered to us breathlessly as "news," The News is the liturgy of the commodity economy -- whose scope and omniscience no man can grasp, but only consume as manna. We are feasters at the table of goods and services, most of which are not only unnecessary, distractive and mind killing, but earth destroying in both their manufacture and their use. This matters not a bit in an illusionary world of appearances. The commodity economy in its bounty, also offers us a chance to "buy green." To text a link to the Earth First website.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Mammon or Messiah research contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is presented without profit for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.