Image from Snoopman … which also has Lorde’s censored speech on corporatized totalitarianism :

Shaping corporate totalitarianism out of democratic ideas in the 20th & 21st centuries … a response to Max Atkinson’s Whither the Liberal conscience

Except perhaps for its past twenty years, the last century had its main impetus through the two world wars & the preparation for the third. The tremendous expenditure of human and material resources called forth by war was a powerful wasting tool that guaranteed force marched production. The challenge was to maintain the war waste pace in peacetime. Eventually, this was accomplished by (and by no means an exhaustive list), continuing partial militarisation, increased participation in the industrial workforce, higher wages, heavy borrowing, rapid introduction of new technology through substantial investment in research and development and an unprecedented application of advertising and marketing.

War production was therefore transformed into production war, as industry groups geared up to assault markets and each other with ever increasing barrages of product and service ordinance.

In this process, marketing became the tactical planning agency of the production war effort; its role being to plan and execute product and service invasions of civil populations. Wartime propaganda ministries transmogrified into advertising agencies that continued the job of recruiting attention and effort, through ever more omnipresent information media, ever more systematically and scientifically skilful use of Orwellian consciousness manipulation and ever more privacy impinging databases. Armed with the latest psychological warfare techniques, armies of sales agitprops spread a quasi religious cult of enthusiasm to venerate, acquire and expend production ordinance as fast as possible.

Over this period, as would be expected in a ‘wartime’ economy, civilian society has been progressively stripped of its lower priority social, domestic and existentially stabilising features to make way for the production ‘war effort’. External enemies started to lose the war wasting business to the commercial command structures and their armies of increasingly battle hardened veteran shop troops.

In many ways, Cold War was the perfect partner to production war. It eased people into the idea that wars could be an ongoing low level struggle conducted to win hearts and minds as much as territory, and most of all, be indefinitely protracted. Learning to live with the protracted threat of nuclear annihilation and the progressive blurring of the distinction between peace and war, populations were trained and inured to the rigors of permanent mobilisation for production wars. It also justified a quasi military economy whose ongoingly prodigious ‘peacetime’ expenditures could continue to pump prime the ‘civilian’ economy. Further, as with previous ‘Hot’ Wars, its R and D and merchandisable technology spin offs could be siphoned into the market economy at much less than market price; e.g., the nuclear and electronics industries.

Traditional warfare has been of its nature temporary. Populations at war could look forward to being demobilised when it is all over and to go back to a ‘normal’ life; i.e., to concentrate on rebuilding domesticity and less stressful civilian working environments. With the emergence of production war, this is not, or at least much less the case. Mid to late twentieth century industrial societies have been kept in a state of permanent and increasing mobilisation and arousal. Gradually, gross overproduction has become an institutionalised and invisible outcome of competitive supply and aggressive marketing. We have learnt to ride this tiger unconsciously; balancing the increasing stress and exhaustion caused by permanent mobilisation, with the prospect of being eaten by the competitive forces we have unleashed.

Charles, an account executive and his wife Nina, a part time nursing sister, were out celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary at a nice little restaurant. The children had been sent off to their grandparents for a few days. They had long been really looking forward to a much needed R and R, out of the Front Line. His very long hours and heavy responsibilities at the agency and her hospital shifts on top of her domestic duties had made their marriage a routine of tiredness, separation and loneliness. Above all, it had eroded the intimacy of their early days together. They had a lot of ‘quality time’ catching up to do.

The hors d’oevres were just being served when the company mobile he had conscientiously ‘forgotten’ to turn off silently raised its alarm inside his top pocket. It was the international office. The message said ring urgently re a large new contract. He had been ‘scrambled’, just as surely as a Battle of Britain pilot. An hour and four overseas calls later, they were able to get through the main course, but he was distracted as well as embarrassed and she, tight-lipped.

In one of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s stories of the Soviet Terror in the 1930s, he recounts how at one particular Party meeting, no one dared to be the first to stop the spontaneous and enthusiastic applauding that marked all political gatherings in those days. The secret police were there looking for their quota of political ‘offenders’ to send to the slave camps and any excuse would do. To be the first person to stop applauding would be a certain indicator of a less than total commitment to the regime. The terrified victims of this nightmarish game kept frantically grinning and applauding until some of them started to collapse, hours later.

The market equivalent of the secret police is subsumed into the much less controversial sounding notions of ‘competition’, ‘customer service’ and World’s Best Practice’. Like the evolution of the Soviet secret police, it starts its life as an uncontroversial institutional necessity to marginalize and/or discipline and/or remove anti-system elements. Later, it moves in to take care of disgruntled minority opposition, non-conformists and borderline players. It then graduates into a system wide goad that lies in wait for the first person or entity to fail to make the pace or at least keep up with it. Finally, its role knows no limitation and it is at liberty to change the rules, pace and character of the game at will, so that neither the most powerful oligarch, nor the most insignificant and obscure humbleton is immune to being ‘taken to the wall’.

Increasingly psychopathic and irrational demands are made and then enforced against anyone less than totally enthusiastic, focused or in the lockstep.

Like the evolution of the Soviet secret police, it starts its life as an uncontroversial institutional necessity to marginalize and/or discipline and/or remove anti-system elements. Later, it moves in to take care of disgruntled minority opposition, non-conformists and borderline players. It then graduates into a system wide goad that lies in wait for the first person or entity to fail to make the pace or at least keep up with it. Finally, its role knows no limitation and it is at liberty to change the rules, pace and character of the game at will, so that neither the most powerful oligarch, nor the most insignificant and obscure humbleton is immune to being ‘taken to the wall’
Increasingly psychopathic and irrational demands are made and then enforced against anyone less than totally enthusiastic, focused or in the lockstep.

“Customer service has to become the driving focus of our organisation. Our ability to gain, keep and value add our customers is the key to not only profitability, but our very survival. Now that our economy has been de-regulated, we are not just competing on a national level any more. We are now constantly being compared against world’s best practice. It is not a static target, but a constantly moving and accelerating one. If we are to be at the leading edge of that practice, we must constantly up the ante by consistently beating our customers’ expectations. If we don’t, others will and we will be at risk of losing our customers to them.

By constantly beating our customers’ expectations, we continue to impress them, keep their confidence, build a long-term relationship with them and stimulate them to act as valuable advocates for us in the marketplace. Most importantly, they will be much less likely to think of going elsewhere; if they do, they will be much less inclined to compare us with others on the basis of purely cost; and if they do, they will almost invariably give us a final bite at the contractual cherry because they really would like us to get the business if possible.

If we have built up a portfolio of customers like that, not only is our success as a business assured, but so is your financial reward and security of employment. You win, we win and the customer wins.

However, this happy outcome does not happen serendipitously! Only through a very thorough, disciplined and consistent effort can we hope to come even close to the ideal of service we profess, not just most of the time, but every time, with every customer. You will take a real and solicitous interest in them, their needs and their goals. You will listen carefully to and remember everything they say to you. You will follow up relentlessly and check and recheck that every commitment we make to them is met without fuss or problems. We will provide the resources, training and systems to help you do this. We will also put in place the management controls to monitor and assess your performance, give you feedback and steadily strengthen you as an operator. In return, we expect your utmost commitment, for whatever it takes, nothing must ever be too much trouble for a customer.”

“Wait a minute!” he thought as the speaker finished his presentation. “This sounds like a butler or chief steward talking to the people below stairs about how they must treat the master of the house and his family. The main difference now is that the roles are now much more interchangeable. When I am the customer, I can expect my contractors to be ‘below the stairs’, while I play the pampered and indulged martinet and when I am the contractor vice versa.

The other difference now is that masters no longer beat servants for not meeting expected levels of service. Today’s servants beat themselves with a whip called ‘Great Expectations’. They add extra thongs and lead weights to this whip and call it ‘Exceeding Expectations’. Unfortunately, once the contractors have beaten themselves black and blue with this weapon, it no longer exceeds anything. So a longer handle and a strong flagellator must be employed so that it becomes ‘Exceedingly Exceeded Expectations’ and so on and so forth until the contractor is a bloody pulp. I am not indulging the customer enough! Whack! I only missed just one little whim! Whack! I forgot to ask if it was upsized fries with that? Whack! Arghhhh!”

He remembered the stories told to him by his grandfather of a golden romantic period when consumers were seen but not heard, ate what they were given and ‘liked’ it, and patiently waited in queues for service at the provider’s convenience, not theirs. Oh salad days! Bring back the Soviet Union and rationing! Give them Spartan Black Sea styled holiday camps situated on cold pebble beaches where the deck chairs have to be wheedled out of mountainously fat middle aged women who try to hoard them in case people wear them out or misuse them!”

Of course he wasn’t going to last long. The electronic sniffer dogs were bound to notice even the most closeted subversive eventually.

At the call centre where he worked, he occasionally indulged in ‘extra-curricula’ conversations with callers. He liked to think it added a certain personal touch to his phone presentation and besides, some of them were very nice people. However, he had to be careful to ensure that his contact time per caller average was not noticeably affected. Even so, regular monitoring of his calls did reveal his little peccadillo and the Big Brother Supervisor had already warned against this practice.

One day, a desperately lonely and sad young woman was connected to his call station. He could sense the weary despair in her voice, even as she described in the most matter of fact way her customer service problem. He knew it was dangerous to ‘get personal’ with a caller, but almost without thinking, he gave her an emotional cue which she took up with alacrity and transparently blew out his call time average for that day. The call monitoring system immediately picked it up and it wasn’t long before his supervisor had listened to the recording and ‘called him in’.

“It’s not as if this is the first time we have addressed this problem with you! It is bad enough that you have had an inappropriate interaction with a phone client, but to use our system to make a social date with one is a totally unacceptable breach of our protocols! I want you to clear your desk immediately and you will return your office access card now. We will issue you with a final pay statement and cheque within fifteen minutes and a security person will escort you off the premises. And don’t try to get another job in this industry because you will be wasting your time. Good day.”

As he headed for the dole office, he pondered the wisdom of meeting employer expectations. He wondered how he was going to cope once the bank noticed his pay was no longer being credited and started to question his card and mortgage debt. He reflected gloomily on how long he would be condemned to a cold and cheerless exile from the workforce and how much income penalty he would have to pay once he was allowed back.

He could only hope the date he had set up was worth the price of his job, future employment prospects and financial security.

And that is just the production side. The iron grip of conformity and regimentation doesn’t stop there. As the world of free citizens devolves into pampered customers, the relentlessly pervasive marketing system seeps into every psychological nook and cranny until it is all there is.

The rise of bottled water as a major consumer product is not just about the clever marketing of a completely wasteful and useless product. It is about the increasingly totalitarian power of marketing.

A couple of generations ago, its appearance would have been met by a chorus of derision and mirth. The product and its brand would have promptly sunk and been seen as a lesson; that if one has half a brain and a desire not to lose money, one doesn’t try to ‘sell snow to Eskimos’. Shoppers are not fools.

Over a 60 year period, that has all changed. During that time, marketing has become more deeply entrenched in the collective consciousness than the Nazi and Soviet propaganda ministries could have ever dreamed of achieving. The clumsy methods of these earlier totalitarians required back up from a state security apparatus. Not any more. The privatized version is extremely user friendly, so its subjects will let it do things that once would have been ‘difficult’, even with the threat of force. They are free; i.e., expertly trained, to spontaneously respond to market signals, regardless of cost, or how much they have to sacrifice in both present wealth and future income.

Shoppers who once just ‘bought stuff” are now consumers. These days they seem so very young they glow, smiling with iconic brand satisfaction. And after three generations of market conditioning, the latest batch are the best trained economic shop troops ever to patrol the planet, constantly searching and ‘taking out’ opportunities to save money by spending. In the world of Digital Doublethink, spending is saving. Same, same. Ask anybody.

And naturally, we drink bottled water at four thousand times the price of tap, because its cool and everyone says it cool; the people in media land; everybody. The bottled water billboards are full of gorgeous young things so enjoying their bottled water that it would be almost impossible to have it any other way… So you drink the waters of content…..waters that don’t just slake thirst and melt the ice, but cool the spirit….as you raise a little piece of heaven to your lips and say to yourself, “No bubbles. No sugar. Just throwaway refreshment, Mmmmm”.

Only aging losers do tap!

And so it was that apparently secular people had entangled themselves with new Gods, and priests, who ruled them with the same mixture of absolutism, hidden agenda and arbitrary capriciousness as those of old. Salvation came down to earth and its acolytes threw up temples, rituals, prayers, incantation and numberless sermons in magazines, on billboards and through the digital mirror of reflections:.

Over time, the economic drivers of production warfare gradually conflated with, then colonized and finally pulverized everything they touched, from natural ecosystems to social/political ones and the psycho-social software that made sense of them. And in the process, an economic system that had revolutionized the means of production and distribution, now closed in on consciousness, to wrap it in a totalitarianism fully optioned with egalitarian democratic features and ‘free’ choices, that would eventually blunt disciplined critical thought and paralyze non market social governance.

In effect, libertarian social deregulation had been subsumed by marketed consumer ‘choice’. The citizen had been subsumed by the customer. And finally, intellectual life was subsumed by ideological cliche and dogma, conceptual conflation or fudging and the conversion of libertarian language into the language of conformity and administration; i.e., the building of the institutional power of libertarian apparatchiks.

These ‘Libertarchs’ were used as ideological attack vehicles in the struggle against traditionalists, whose ideas of moral/social discipline, mentorship and social governance would limit or obstruct production war objectives. Right behind their assault came the marketing war machines to occupy the now vacated traditionalist territory And the Libertarchs were rewarded for their work by being ‘given’ effective control of the institutional system of social administration within state bureaucracies and parts of the parliamentary and legal systems.

Libertarian language became the language of deregulatory orthodoxy and social authority. It was progressively endowed with ambiguous properties that could quickly discredit and destroy traditionalist ideology and then be itself unobtrusively shifted from the deregulatory language of civil administration to that of commerce; i.e., a transition from political democratic discourse of citizens to that of marketed propaganda to customers; from political demand and rights to the customer is always right; from democratic dreaming to consumer desires, whims and fantasies; from the voices of humanists to those of the masters of business administration.

Totalitarian thought conflation makes it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between ‘humanistic compassion’ and an indiscriminate soft touch, ‘freedom’ and life without boundaries, ‘authoritarianism’ and firmness, ‘justice’ and sectional interest, ‘fairness’ and special pleading, ‘tolerance’ and indulgence, ‘respect’ and uncritical regard, ‘compromise’ and being compromised, ‘flexibility’ and weakness, ‘concern for ‘the value of human life’ and cowardice, ‘dissent’ and treason, ‘repression’ and discipline, ‘assault’ and chastisement, and ‘abuse’ and toughness.

Distinguishing ‘disadvantage’ and dysfunctional willfulness, ‘individualism’ and egoism, plausibility and truthfulness, and excuse making and honest justification, became all but impossible.

Desire and fantasy became synonymous with ‘needs’, needs with ‘rights’, human rights with consumer entitlement, and ‘democracy’ with consumer satisfaction.

‘Love’ conflated with lust and eroticism, ‘sexuality’ with identity (sexistentialism), ‘homophobia’ with reproductive gender consciousness, and sexual ‘alternativism’ with sexual error/corruption, parody, infantilism and/or cruelty.

‘Equality’ metamorphosed into creative equivalencing that legitimized reward for the incompetent, promotion of the unqualified, penalizing the industrious, and in the name of equality, exploiting the unequal by getting them to compete as ‘equals’ out of their league against stronger players who control the rules against them.

Whatever truth values had been originally embedded in the human rights movement, as part of post World War attacks on traditional state sponsored totalitarian violence, European imperialism and racism, their longer term effect was to dishonestly corrupt and obfuscate political discourse into a barrage of negative cliches, euphemisms, excuses and soggy indulgences. What had once been critical discernment, ordinary judgment, belief, social generalization and inter-ethnic criticism, fudged into ‘discrimination’, ‘judgmentality’, ‘prejudice’ ‘stereotyping’ and ‘racism’.

As time went by, this was all too often ‘crying wolf’ in order intimidate and silence opposition by using devices suspiciously similar to prejudice, judgmentality and stereotyping, to create critical vacuums around designated ideological ‘sacred sites’.

Not dissimilarly to the degradation of Marxism-Leninism into Soviet Cominternspeak during the 1930s, ideological discourse fudged and then hollowed out into name calling, sloganeering, oracular declamation, creative history rewriting, retrospective moral revisionism and the labeling language of heresy or political deviationism, as libertarian apparatchiks cleaned out the ideological leftovers of the pre-capitalist and ‘imperialist’ periods, sometimes using the classic techniques of discredit and delegitimation used in Soviet show trials.

In their wake, marketing, advertising and entertainment behemoths took control of mass social consciousness, freed not just from past constraints, but anything. The wholesale removal of ‘old fashioned’ and ‘obsolete’ traditional values did not produce replacement autonomy controls, but a libertarian social management vacuum that available commercial inputs could easily fill, right under the collective nose, without anyone realizing the enormity of the substitution that had occurred.

The giveaway was the systematic unbundling and marginalization of the corresponding mirror obligations that underwrite every social entitlement or benefit. It was a sign of the times when children were given human rights without first being trained to social obedience, respect.and mature responsible judgment. Instead they were trained to market obedience and the consumer lockstep. And this was the new ‘freedom’. Freedom without internalized discipline and a system to build and enforce its boundaries is an invitation to colonization and slavery.

The disappearance of powerful training mentoring within disciplined social management models meant traditional adulthood was traded in on the ever newer one of the adolescent consumer idealtype. The ‘Consumerbabelet’ is now as fully under the control of ‘the proud sponsors’ and the Pied Pipers of Cool, as Mao’s young Red guards in China were in the 1960s, when adult society was set upon and brought to heel by its political master, using its children.

The Cultural revolution collapsed under the welter of its own violence. Mao died. But in The West, the children’s revolution goes on, like some terrible infantile inter-generational disorder, that leaves mass adult populations as children, stripped of all other social software, except the production drivers and consumer responders.

The combined effect of production side productivity intensification, totalitarian consumer marketing management and the systematic disablement of autonomous intellectual or moral judgment was to create a society with such a seamless capacity to concentrate social energy towards the production war effort, that it could ‘defund’ and disable other ‘civilian’ social and existential infrastructure, subject workforces to much greater stress levels (and in some places drive workers to suicide), block anything that might obstruct their function as shop troops and convert thought into ‘war’ propaganda consumerspeak that defends the sacred right to obey spontaneously through the politics of desire management and satisfaction.

The great philosophers of The Enlightenment would have wept to see their ideas reduced to the banalities and lies that subsist at the heart of any dictatorship, even a demogarchic one, armed with all the elaborate trappings of democratic participation and consent.

First published on , here

A poetic summary of the above …

Alice no longer has to wander
through a looking glass
to check out Cheshire cats,
all shiny furred and sleek
with well filed claws
polished smiles
and eyes that prey upon
victims yet unseen
while still digesting
on their pawns
sacrificed upon the table
of a heartless Queen
atop looking glass towers
where all the clubs are exclusive
and the breathtaking views
go for thousands of miles.

M Hatter in marketing still does teas
with focus groupies on his knees
but now inspired guesses
scuttle back beneath
imagination’s tresses
giving way to science
interrogated, quantified and engineered
in full house suites
of diamonds steeped in blood,
And polished for their views
On Foxtel News.

Alice eventually stayed
Doing awfully-Important-Work
for White Rabbit solutions,
down labyrinthine burrows
at Wonderland Inc
designing algorithms and reality syncs
for the spades in suits
Who carry guns they like to shoot
‘cos all their cards are bulletproof
And though the maths is good
the calculations stink.

The only dissonance to be found
is the whining doggerel whimsey hound
that occasionally embarrasses guests
by pissing from pots to the clash of spoons and restless rattle of half full cups who’ve heard it all before but only recall the suck and lap of pursing lips not what they said nor the howling lament of tea gone cold forgotten in the rush of feet to make it past the golden door before it forever shuts the last remaining trading floor on the last remaining chequered board where all the pieces must be sold and the king will do as he is told.

Christopher Nagle is … a pilgrim and have been since I was a young man who found that the religion of his forebears no longer worked. I worked through Marxism until there was nothing left of it. Then 9/11 happened, and, as I reflected on it over the next two years, everything came into focus. It wasn’t just an attack on imperial America, nor was it just an attack on capitalism. It was an attack on the modern world. And this illuminated and made sense of a very long meditation on what was wrong with the world I lived in, why I felt so alienated from it and what it was that I needed to see and do, to move consciousness into a post-modern phase.