The Rise And Fall Of Corporate Feudalism

Old-Fashioned_Fascism

A decade ago, I was marooned along with a couple of dozen of other international tourists on the rocky lava islet of Palea Kameni, off the legendary Greek island of Thira (Santorini). While we were soaking in its geothermally heated pool, a violent storm suddenly blew into the Aegean. We were told that there was no way we could make it back to port, that we would just have to wait it out.

Sticking my head out into the lacerating wind and rain, I observed a compact cruise ship struggling towards the open waters get blown back and turn stern (tail). And noticing that our open air boat didn’t have any life jackets, I was inclined to agree. For me, there was nothing left to do but start up a round of a popular American song at the time, R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Music really is the universal language…

In the context of the current world economic meltdown, it’s fair to ask: Is this the end of the world as we know it?

After reading Christopher Hedges’ latest article in Truthdig, titled The Corporate Media Circus: The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free, I’d have to answer: I certainly hope so, as painful as the short term effects are and will continue to be.

The Pulitzer Prize Award winning journalist and author of such books as War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and I Don’t Believe In Atheists, describes a world economic system that has gone from bad to worse, from dysfunctional to dystopic. Welcome to the new age of post-apocalyptic corporate feudalism:

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton’s draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Now, in the greatest transfer of wealth in modern history (which W promised early on, BTW), they are dependent for their very survival on the toil and sweat of their taxpaying serfs. But before we consider where we go next, let’ review the techniques they employed to bring us here, lest they rise from the dead and start a whole new reign.

Wielding the dual edge psychological sword of commercial advertising and political propaganda, the former designed to create the desire for specific company products and the latter to insure the election of political hacks willing to do their bidding, our corporate overlords succeeded in controlling the mindspace of their subjects.

The emergence of corporate and government public relations, which drew on the studies of mass psychology by Sigmund Freud and others after World War I, found its bible in Walter Lippmann’s book Public Opinion, a manual for the power elite’s shaping of popular sentiments. Lippmann argued that the key to leadership in the modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate “symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas.” The public mind could be mastered, he wrote, through an “intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance.”

Take, for instance, the ideas and feelings associated with the word symbol “patriotism.” Images of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, generations of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields come to mind. Yet these associations have undergone a slow and subtle transformation, running the gamut from “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” to “product loyalty” in which corporate logos have been prominently and willingly displayed on just about every item of clothing and accessories made. Now, we might as well be walking around with advertising sandwich boards hung around our necks like they did during the last Great Depression.

Or consider the golden rule, once the premier ethic of western society. It was replaced by that most iconic and ironic of consumer rules: “The more you buy, the more you save.” To anybody with two functioning brain cells, this was a certain formula for economic disaster, given a culture where people regularly spent 120% of their paychecks and used their highly leveraged and inflated homes as ready teller machines.

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true.

Just how Kafka-esque the world has become is evident in a front page story in today’s NY Times titled “Aspiring Lawyer Finds Debt Is Bigger Hurdle Than Bar Exam”:

All his life, Robert Bowman wanted to be a lawyer. He overcame a troubled childhood, a tragic accident that nearly cost him a leg and a debilitating Jet Ski collision.

He put himself through community college, worked and borrowed heavily to help pay for college, graduate school and even law school. He took the New York bar examination not once, not twice, not three times, but four, passing it last year. Finally, he seemed to be on his way.

In January, the committee of New York lawyers that reviews applications for admission to the bar interviewed Mr. Bowman, studied his history and the debt he had amassed, and called his persistence remarkable. It recommended his approval.

But a group of five state appellate judges decided this spring that his student loans were too big and his efforts to repay them too meager for him to be a lawyer.

Having accumulated some $400k in debt pursuant to his goal of becoming a productive member of society, Mr. Bowman seems to have has fallen through a rip in the time-space continuum, trapped in a dimension defined by Jospeh Heller’s Catch-22 at one pole and Franz Kafka’s The Trial at the other.

So, how do we confront this new age?  Throughout human history, empowering the powerless has been the goal true revolutionaries (as opposed to the kind of “regime change” promoted by our modern day Jacobins, the neocons).  Hedges offers a way forward:

We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

As a writer part of what you are aiming for is to present things in ways that will resonate with people, which will give voice to feelings and concerns, feelings that may not be fully verbalized,” Ewen said. “You can’t do that simply by providing them with data. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian.”

[…]

The battle ahead will be fought outside the journalistic mainstream, he said. The old forms of journalism are dying or have sold their soul to corporate manipulation and celebrity culture. We must now wed fact to rhetoric. We must appeal to reason and emotion. We must not be afraid to openly take sides, to speak, photograph or write on behalf of the disempowered. And, Ewen believes, we have a chance in the coming crisis to succeed.

The alternative is yet another round of corporate greed and plunder, which remains a strong possibility given the Obama Administration’s choice to rescue and reanimate the old order, presumably to limit the catastrophic effects on those lower down the food train.

Meanwhile, in other news, Michael Jackson’s favorite pet, Bubbles the Chimp, has reportedly been offered a book and movie deal.

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Civilization can hardly progress when the majority of the youth of any generation devote their interests and energies to the materialistic pursuits of the sensory or outer world.
The Urantia Book

[Top image “Old Fashioned Fascism” found here.]

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