Like the Air We Breathe 2

Edward Hopper, People in the Sun (1960)

Like the Air We Breathe. Part 2

2. How Capital Achieves Cultural Hegemony

Our core (‘Gramscian’) argument here is that Capital needs a generalised ‘culture of Capital’ in order to maintain its social domination over minds as well as core economic decision making. Capital needs to create and maintain the core frameworks of meaning (i.e. culture) that permeate society. These frameworks come to define ‘normality’. This culture then pervades all social institutions from the family and school to the media and entertainment industries. It becomes part of the almost invisible interpersonal fabric of a society, a thoroughly ‘normal’ and almost ethereal net or veil of unexamined assumptions and values that lies over most social interaction. Some of those assumptions and values are often indicated in both obvious terms like ‘individualism’, ‘materialism’, ‘market values’, ‘consumerism’, ‘scientism’, ‘reductionism’, and also in less obvious ones like socially prevalent definitions of ‘work’, ‘achievement’, ‘success’, ‘meaning’ or ‘happiness’.

(a) Families

• Make people totally dependent on your system by historically, violently separating people from their autonomous means of livelihood (land, households, tools, skills), from nature and from their traditional communities and structures of meaning/cultures (industrialisation, modernisation)
• Introduce the factory system and wage labour (i.e. the compulsion to work for someone else in order to survive) and attendant waged work-oriented culture (‘Protestant’ work ethic, thrift, clock time orientation/punctuality, self-repression, authoritarian character, ‘materialism’)
• Dis-empower and reduce the family to an isolated, non-productive economic unit of consumption and recuperation from wage labour
• Encourage the urban breaking up of extended families/support networks and the development of ever smaller family units of consumption and social isolation

(b) Corporate Media and Culture Industry

• Ensure that the main channels of public information, discourse and entertainment (the media) are firmly in private hands and run as for-profit corporations selling industrially produced cultural commodities (‘information’, ‘entertainment’) and corporate advertising space
• Counteract and sideline any remaining socialising agencies (family, community, church, school) by swamping society with medial socialisation through powerful, industrially produced images, especially via TV and the internet
• Brainwash and socialise children from infancy by short-circuiting natural, active, sensory and body-oriented learning and inundating them with the passive and cerebral consumption of entertaining, fast, fragmented images, stories, role models and commercials and video/computer games
• De-politicise people by letting TV commodify and reframe politics and social issues as disconnected (meaningless) items of personalised trivia and ‘celebrity’ sound bites, lurid sensationalism and ‘entertaining’ spectacles of passive consumption
• For the presentation or debate of social issues, help manufacture consent by setting narrowly liberal parameters of ‘pluralist’ discourse which disallow views that radically question the system itself
• Further help manufacture consent by setting narrow parameters of ‘newsworthiness’ so that phenomena or events that might undermine trust in the system are generally not even reported (e.g. the system’s millions of ‘unworthy’ victims, the lack of effective regulation of corporate activities)

(c) Advertising Industry

• Using all the insights and tools of psychoanalysis and behaviourism, create powerful marketing images embodying capitalist values that appeal to unconscious drives and conditioned responses
• Create ‘perfect’, often sexualised and gendered, self-images and styles that build on and reinforce a pervasive sense of personal inadequacy which can then be apparently alleviated by buying commodities
• Effectively privatise public consciousness and space by monopolising and saturating media and public urban space with advertising
• Brainwash children from infancy with saturation marketing so that as many as 200,000 TV commercials will have been seen by age 18
• Artificially create and maintain a broad variety of segmented ‘style’ markets (gender, age group, sexual orientation) that reinforce segmented group identities and social divisions

(d) PR Industry, Think Tanks, Front Groups

• Create a separate propaganda (‘public relations’) industry exclusively concerned with manipulating public opinion for the benefit of corporate and state interests and disseminating corporate and state propaganda
• Use mass PR and advertising campaigns to swamp poorly funded alternative views
• Provide media with video and audio news releases then broadcast without disclosure of their corporate PR origins
• Fund a plethora of private propaganda institutes (‘think tanks’) and publications to work on framing public debates in the corporate interest, especially in economic matters
• Set up and fund a plethora of ‘independent’ and ‘citizen’ front groups to counteract the work of progressive NGOs

(e) Research and Universities

• Reduce public funding of universities and public research institutions so that these must become more dependent on corporate funding/sponsorship/partnerships and research for corporate needs rather than public welfare
• Restrict free academic research and the traditional intellectual commons by commodifying research and knowledge as saleable ‘intellectual property rights’
• Create revolving career doors between Big Business and academia

3. How Capital Runs Democratic Governments

Our core argument here is that democratic governments are not democratic at all in the original sense of ‘run by the people’. They are in fact democratically elected oligarchies run by Capital. They are the formally interchangeable, state executive wing of the same elites that make up Capital. Major political parties always represent nothing but differing wings of the one (‘System’) Party. Minor parties may at times present more seemingly ‘radical’ agendas; however, even these ‘opposition’ agendas are as good as never systemic, are ditched as soon as coalition executive power is achieved (for systemic, not ‘betrayal’, reasons) and serve to dissipate and bind more radical energies to a belief in reforming the system rather than re-structuring and replacing it. These reforms are often those of the more advanced wing of Capital and express the conditions that the system currently needs in order to expand or maintain itself .

• Make sure all fundamental economic decisions (e.g. on investments) are always quarantined from democratic and governmental interference (‘let the markets/managers decide’, ‘efficiency’, ‘cut red tape’, ‘de-regulate’, ‘privatise’ etc)
• Create your own unelected global economic government/administration to where necessary directly or indirectly override elected national governments (World Bank, IMF, WTO)
• Where necessary use your own institutional autonomy to economically blackmail elected governments that seem to threaten your interests in any way (threat of capital strike/flight, currency devaluation plus corporate media backup)
• Through a system of ‘revolving doors’ between the various bureaucracies of Big Business and Big Government, make sure that essentially the same people run both
• Now and again you can even have your own CEOs directly run governments (e.g. Bush-Cheney administration) and/or write their actual political policies for them yourselves (e.g. PM Howard’s energy and climate change policy)
• Make sure that all key policy decisions are not made in the public arena, democratic parties, elected parliaments or even cabinets but behind closed doors in meetings between the most senior members of the political executive, bureaucracy and industry lobbyists
• Embed own interests in the political bureaucracy by infiltrating it via the non-public committee system and influencing the advice it provides to the political executive
• Where possible even embed your own lobbyists as part of official government delegations to international conferences
• Via industry-government partnerships and your own ‘think tanks’, provide direct advice and research work for government in your own interests
• Guarantee easy access to government executives and make politicians and parties financially dependent on you by a system of overt and covert donations to party funding
• Back up your power over government by selectively framing issues in your own interest and maintaining constant ideological pressure via your own corporate media editors, commentators, radio talk-back hosts, PR industries and polling consultants.

[cf. my essay Political Myths We Live By, posted 12/12/09, for further arguments on the fallacies of democratic political systems]


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on January 29, 2011.

2 Responses to “Like the Air We Breathe 2”

  1. hey this was great! ‘…ever smaller family units of consumption’ In London I was told I must not share my college books with my sisters because I was depriving the authors of money they deserved.

    • Thanks for the comment, kolembo. Yep, sharing is a pretty subversive activity these days I reckon, it lessens profits and makes us more independent of the system. So it must be good. P.

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