Posted by: Dan | November 21, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: II.2

II.2 – The Conquest of the Public and the Punishment of the Undisciplined

Having argued that neoclassicism has disciplined the desire and imagination of the public, primarily by means of credit-debt, consumption-accumulation, and advertising, it is now worth demonstrating the ways in which neoclassicism dominates all areas of our public life together. In particular it has come to dominate public stories and symbols, public space, public time, public language and discourse, and public bodies.

To begin with, it comes as no surprise that capitalism-as-religion comes to dominate public stories. Storytelling, after all, is the core of a culture, and the foundational element of any philosophy, worldview, religion, or system of meaning.[100] So, what is the dominant form of storytelling within neoclassicism? It is branding. Branding is the process of applying a story to a product, and those who consume these products then receive their identities from that narrative, thereby forming “communities of brand users.”[101] Furthermore, there is no narrative, symbol, or story that is impervious to branding – the power of branding is that it is capable of appropriating all other religious symbols and narratives and using those symbols to produce profit and consumption.{102]

Yet all stories require liturgies. Liturgies are the formative telling and physical representation of foundational stories. When Marshall McLuhan tells us that “the medium is the message,” he has captured the importance of liturgies – how you tell a story is just as important, and formative, as the content thereof.[103] The liturgy of neoclassicism is found within, and produced by, television, film, and the popular entertainment media. As Benjamin Barber notes:

Hollywood is McWorld’s storyteller, and it inculcates secularism, passivity, consumerism, vicariousness, impulse buying, and an accelerated pace of life, not as a result of its overt themes and explicit story-lines but by virtue of what Hollywood is and how its products are consumed.[104]

Watching one’s daily shows is just as liturgical as attending daily Mass, and attending a weekly movie matinee, is just as liturgical an experience as attending a weekly church service.

However, advertising is the most prominent way in which neoclassicism tells its (religious) stories.[105] The prominence of advertising displays the dominance of neoclassicism’s stories. This prominence of advertising points to the second way in which neoclassicism has conquered the public—by dominating public space. Virtually all public space, and all public venues, have been branded or filled with advertising of one sort or another.[106] Furthermore, the local institution of neoclassicism, the shopping mall – which functions both as neoclassicism’s theme park and its temple – demonstrates this conquest of public space in another way: the birth of the (suburban) shopping mall brought death to vibrant inner-city communities.

Furthermore, although advertising and shopping primarily reshape local space, the globalization of neoclassicism has also accomplished a reconfiguring of global space. Globalization promotes a “myth of catholicity” in that it presents the world as a ‘global village’ or as a single united whole, and by doing so it makes the way in which real space remains rigidly segmented.[107]

Finally, not content to restructure local and global space, neoclassicism, through its alliance with computer technology, also causes people to reimagine bodily space.[108] With the birth of the internet and the creation of cyberspace comes the liberation of the “Self” from the physical body. Is one enters into cyberspace, the result is the loss of embodiment and of real space for engagement with representations and the simulacra of other people.[109] Here all the macro and the micro reorientations of space come together: in cyberspace, global space is collapsed and we become advertisements of ourselves.

This, then, leads to the third way neoclassicism has conquered the public. Along with conquering public space, it has also conquered public time. It is done this in two primary ways. To begin with, it has, to a certain extent, abolished time. Again, computer technology has played an important role in this as transactions that used to take days or weeks can now be accomplished by click of a button. The primary result of this is the loss of leisure time—the loss of rest. Because neoclassicism is premised upon competition rest and leisure, rather than being an assumed part of human existence, become something that is earned.[110] Ironically, precisely because leisure times is earned, it becomes a status sign and a locus of competition and is thereby transformed into another variation of work. Consequently, many people end of preferring work to free time![111]

The second way in which neoclassicism conquers public time is by appropriating the calendar and all public festivals. All festivals – from Easter, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas, to New Years – become consumption-festivals, just as other significant dates – like Birthdays – are also primarily celebrated through consumption. Regardless of whether or not one accepts the symbols and values that neoclassicism associates with those festivals, one demonstrates one loyalty to capitalism by participating in those events.[112]

The fourth way that neoclassicism conquers the public is by conquering public language and discourse related to economics. Neoclassicism establishes limits on the type of knowledge permitted (i.e. only descriptive knowledge, free of value judgments is permissible), by establishing the type of language that is permitted (i.e. the most authoritative language is that which is mathematical and can be expressed in using symbolic logic) and by establishing the boundaries of the discussion (i.e. economics is a distinct realm of science). This is a classic example of Foucault’s point that, rather than seeing power as a product of knowledge, we must see knowledge as a product of power.[113] Consequently, when a neoclassicist like Milton Friedman is questioned about the social cost of the economic advice he gave to General Pinochet he can simply respond by saying “silly question.”[114] Consequently, neoclassicism is also content to tolerate dissenting voices because it knows that, any voices of dissent that remain within these limits will be impotent, and any voices of dissent that violate these limits will be considered irrelevant.[115]

Finally, neoclassicism conquers the public by conquering all public bodies. The assault on the public is rooted in neoclassicism’s individualistic anthropology. By defining people as individuals, community is fractured on a fundamental level. Foucault expresses this well:

[t]he individual, that is, is not the vis-à-vis of power; it is, I believe, one of its prime effects… the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power, exercised over bodies.[116]

Further, when people relate to one another primarily as commodities, producers, and consumers, then everything else that makes up a person’s life is relegated to the private sphere.[117] Consequently, the notions of civil society, community, politics, and ‘life together,’ are seriously weakened and, in general, reduced to one’s family, colleagues, and close friends.[118] Ultimately, this neoclassical assault upon all public bodies is now expressed in its assault upon the democratic State. Nowhere is this more clear than in the United States, where neoclassicism is strongest.[119] Increasingly, a corporate State-within-a-State has replaced the public State. Amazingly, prominent representatives of neoclassicism openly declared this agenda. Hence, Donald Rumsfeld (then the U.S. Secretary of Defense) stated the following in a speech that he delivered on September 10, 2001:

The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America… Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today… The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy… today we declare war on bureaucracy.[120]

However, there are a few bodies that have been greatly strengthened, and not weakened, by the advance of neoclassicism. In particular, multinational corporations, and international banks, have gained greater and greater power within the public realm – so that some, not satisfied with being granted ‘human’ rights, have also attained to the legal rights held by nation States.[121] Therefore, the result of this is the increasing dominance of corporate bodies over the public realm, as all other public bodies have become impotent, if not extinct. The result of this is like the “Panopticon” effect described by Foucault.[122] Whenever everybody is, for all intents and purposes, separated from everybody else, an intimate exchange is established between the individual and the power exercised over that individual, so that the individual, and all individuals, become self-disciplining.[123] The disciplined public is the in-habited public, possessed by neoclassicism. Consequently, the individual, living under the constant surveillance of the credit-companies and banks, voluntarily acts in the way that neoclassicism requires.

Having observed the ways in which neoclassicism both disciplines and conquers the public, it is worth concluding this section by asking what happens to those within neoclassicism who cannot be disciplined and conquered. It has already been observed as to what happens to many in the two-thirds world who have resisted neoclassicism – they have been tortured, disappeared, and murdered – but things tend to play out differently in the West. Within the West, the judicial, penal, psychiatric, and medical systems intervene, and the undisciplined are frequently imprisoned, medicated, or institutionalized; for, as Milton Friedman observes, “[f]reedom is a tenable objective only for responsible individuals. We do not believe in freedom for madmen.”[124] Thus, those who refuse the disciplines of neoclassicism are presented as marginal, dangerous, immoral, or insane, and are treated as such.[125]
____________
[100] Cf. Twitchell, 5, 21; N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 38-40. Doctrines, then, are merely shorthand ways of referring to elements within a greater story (and thus stories are not simply illustrations of doctrinal foundations).
[101] Twitchell, 24; cf. 4, 18. Twitchell sees this as a good thing, arguing that the proliferation of branding at a global scale will provide us all with common stories, thereby overcoming all conflicts and differences (298-301).
[102] Hence, a golf club can be described as ‘forgiving,’ a kitchen appliance as ‘revolutionary,’ and so on and so forth.
[103] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, with an introduction by Lewis H. Laphan (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994), 7-21; cf. Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 122-23.
[104] Barber, 97.
[105] Another revelation of the religious nature of neoclassicism and its storytelling is the way in which ads plant a sense of inadequacy, insecurity, sin, guilt or shame within the within the consumer, before it then presents a remedy (i.e. redemption, absolution, relief, etc.) in the purchase of a certain product (cf. Horsley, 118).
[106] This point is explored in some detail by Naomi Klein in No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 200), 3-8, 38, 59-60; cf. Barber 64.
[107] On globalization as a “myth of catholicity,” f. William T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (New York: T & T Clark Ltd, 2002), 97-112.
[108] The alliance between neoclassicism and computer technology should come as no surprise as, from the beginning, capitalism was wed with technological advances. Indeed, the form a culture takes as constantly been related to technological development. Hence, feudalism is related to the invention of the stirrup (cf. Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change [Oxford: Clarendon, 1962], 1-38), industrialism to the invention of the clock (cf. Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization [New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1934], 9-59), and capitalism to both computer technology and the dominance of a technological mode of thinking and being (cf. Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology [New York: Vintage Books, 1993]; Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” in Basic Writings, ed. by David Farrell Krell [New York: HarperCollins, Publishers, Inc., 1977], 307-41).
[109] Be that interaction through blogs, sites like Myspace and Facebook, or through virtual worlds like Second Life. Cf. Zizek, On Belief, 48-49, 52-55.
[110] Cf. Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 154.
[111] Ibid., 155-57.
[112] Cf. Horsley, 106-23, wherein Christmas is explored as the festival of consumer capitalism.
[113] Cf. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. by Colin Gordon, trans. by Colin Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 133; Discipline and Punish, 27. This is a point further developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their discussion of “overcoding,” the “order-word,” and “regimes of signs” (cf. Anti-Oedipus, 199-206; A Thousand Plateaus, 75-148). It also leads Lacan to conclude that “the impact of the market structures is not null in the field of truth, but it is scabrous there” (Lacan, 33).
[114] Which is exactly what Friedman did say when questioned on this topic; cf. Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 97. Hence, as Klein also notes, the human rights abuses that often come with the expansion of neoclassicism are rarely connected with economics per se – “just as economists don’t talk about torture, human rights groups don’t talk about economics” (Ibid., 148).
[115] Cf. Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, 48; Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 194-96.
[116] Power/Knowledge, 98; second emphasis added. Cf. Discipline and Punish, 192-94, 218.
[117] Cf. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, trans. by James W. Leitch (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1967), 308-15.
[118] Cf. Chomsky and Hermann, xiv-xviii; Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 319-20.
[119] What is significant about the United State (although a great deal of this holds true for other countries with a long democratic tradition) is that it has demonstrated that neoclassicism is able to overthrow well established democracies, and not simply democracies in the making; cf. Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 121, 501-508.
[120] Cf. Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 343-44. Accessed 3 November 2007. Online: http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=430. Emphasis added.
[121] Cf. Chomsky, Profit Over People, 142.
[122] Foucault is drawing on Bentham’s work; cf. Discipline and Punish, 201-202.
[123] Ibid., 237; Power/Knowledge, 155
[124] Friedman, 33; cf. Foucault, Discipline and Punish; Madness and Civilization; The Birth of the Clinic.
[125] Cf. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 14-17.

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