Posted by: Dan | November 20, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: II.1 (cont.)

The Means

Having demonstrated that neoclassicism disciplines both desire and imagination, one must ask how capitalism accomplishes this. There are three primary means: credit-debt, consumption-accumulation, and advertising.

Credit and its necessary other half, debt, is a powerful means of socializing people into a disciplined existence. As Baudrillard observes: “credit pretends to promote a civilization of modern consumers at last freed from the constraints of property, but in reality it institutes a whole system of integration which combines social mythology with brutal economic pressure… credit is a social realm.”[90] He goes on to say that “credit is in fact a systematic socio-economic training… for generations of consumers who would otherwise, in a life of subsistence, have escaped demand planning and would not have been exploitable as consumption power. Credit is a disciplinary process.”[91] Debt becomes a means of enslaving the members of society so that, even if they have not been fully disciplined, they are incapable of escaping the control imposed by the credit companies, with whom one must deal if one is to participate within society.[92] Credit-debt is the universalisation of slavery to the neoclassical powers.

Secondly, consumption and its corollary, accumulation, become a means of discipline because “the consumer internalizes the agency of social control and its norms in the very process of consuming.”[93] Alfred Marshall’s observation that it is new activities that give rise to new wants (rather than vice versa) is quite significant – we are then equipped to realize that it is the act of consuming that drives one to consume (rather than vice versa).[94] Consequently, for as long as we participate in consumption-accumulation, we will be displined by neoclassicism. Thus, we become capitalists, regardless of whether or not we ‘believe’ in capitalism.[95] Here it is important to maintain a distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘belief.’ Faith is distinguished from belief because of its active commitment – thus, for example, the Hebrews believed in many gods but only had faith in YHWH.[96] Moreover, while one can believe something but not have faith in that thing, one can also have faith in something without believing in it. This, in fact, is the situation of most Christians who live within the realm of neoclassicism – many of them do not believe in capitalism, but, as consumers-accumulators, they demonstrate their faith in it.

Thirdly, advertising is also an essential means of disciplining the desire and imagination of the public. It is advertising that continually influences the desires, and tastes of consumers. Further, advertising transforms and blurs the distinction between a ‘luxury’ and a ‘necessity’. Ultimately, within neoclassicism, advertising operates as the simulacrum of the gift – they come to us free of charge![97] Consequently, one must realize that ads themselves are objects of consumption, and it is in this way that advertising becomes so effective at disciplining the public. Baudrillard, again:

even though we may be getting better and better at resisting advertising in the imperative, we are at the same time becoming ever more susceptible to advertising in the indicative – that is, to its actual existence as a product to be consumed at a secondary level, and as the clear expression of a culture.[98]

Hence, ads are a means of forced consumption – which is precisely why ads must be made enjoyable, and which is why the boundary between advertising and entertainment has now been almost completely abolished.[99]
[90] The System of Objects, 175-76; emphasis added. Bell Jr. adds: “the credit card has surpassed the time card as the dominant mechanism for insertion into the economy” (Liberation Theology After the End of History, 32).
[91] The Consumer Society, 81.
[92] Hence, debt becomes what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as “savage inscription,” a means of marking, and possessing a person (Anti-Oedipus, 185-90); cf. Wallis, 50. A striking example of this was a recent television ad campaign that promoted a “MuchMusic” credit card. The credit card was presented as a way in which youth could be liberated from their parents. In reality, however, the credit card simply transfers the youth’s dependence from (in this case) his parents to the credit company itself. Essentially, one has moved from a situation of dependence, to a situation of slavery!
[93] Baudrillard, The System of Objects, 192.
[94] Alfred Marshall, Principles in Economics: an introductory volume (London: Macmillan, 1920), 76. Hence Canvaugh’s observation that “dissatisfaction and fulfillment cease to be opposites” (“Consumption, the Market, and the Eucharist”); cf. Zizek’s comments on the ‘looping’ of desire in On Belief, 92-94.
[95] Cf. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 375; Massumi, 128-39; James B. Twitchell, Branded Nation: The Marketing of MegaChurch, College, Inc., and Museumworld (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 273. This is a point not sufficiently addressed by Jean-Francois Lyotard when he defines postmodernity as “incredulity toward metanarratives” (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10, trans. by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984], xxiv). Regardless of one’s incredulity, capitalism still functions as a metanarrative (in the worst possible way).
[96] Zizek, following Octave Mannoni, provides this example; On Belief, 109.
[97] Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 164-65.
[98] The System of Objects, 180.
[99] MTV and MuchMusic are early examples of the blurring of the boundaries between entertainment and advertising. One also think of advertising compilations that are presented as television specials (“World’s Best/Funniest/Whatever Ads!”), and the amount of product placement within entertainment media – and especially good example of this was the recent “Transformers” movie which was funded by a film studio (DreamWorks), a car manufacturer (Chevrolet), a toy company (Hasbro) and the United State Army!

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