The Present and Future of The Society of Corporatist Control in the United States and Western Countries
This is first essay in a series that may become a book, “How to End Corporatism”. NB, the title is NOT “How to End Corporations”
Regulatory capture of agencies by corporate interests in the US is nearly 100%. The will and the interests of the people are diminishingly present in agency policies that exist and how they are implemented. How did we get where we are today? For that we need a timeline of contemporary history. Most timelines of cultural periods in the Western world seem to be unable to put a label on the post 1960’s era in terms that captures the essence of the character of the cultural. Compare the period 1973-2019 – a very long period – to the “Gay 20’s”, the WWII era, the Postwar Era boom, ‘beat-nik’ or ‘counter-culture’ periods. All had a dominant mode of existance – represented by large shifts in cultural attitudes and mores that seemed to slow down to a sludgy 1970s pop era followed by a brief maturation into the current tech era. Cultural evolution, or its mythos at least, it seems, died in the 1980s. Large changes involving radical shifts in the popular mindset that can be compared from decade to decade ceased occurring, by my estimate, somewhere between 1983-6. The largest differences from decade to decade are technological, not cultural. The emergence of cable television, especially 24-hour news, the multi-purpose cell phone, and the public’s use of the internet for social media make of the majority of the differences between 1975 and the present. Each of these also increase in the access that agents of control had over cultural identity via direct constant, direct access to the minds of consumers of information. In the Post-Modern Age, large events in life have seemed to be dominated by scripted international imperial agendas designed to bring cheap oil to the US and its coalition partners. Other imporant major (relatively more recent) major shifts in cultural attitudes include a normalization of encouragement of career-mindedness of women, election of women into public office, a rebuke of intolerance toward minorities, the use of identity politics to (at least on the surface) enforce the ideals of equality among people,
Surely, in the political realm, the processes of new left transitioning into neoliberalism and the new right into neoconservativism have dominated as the priority polarizing themes. The issues that divide us culturally – abortion, environment, religion – are identified by pollsters using multivariate analyses to identify a winning campaign platform. The left/right dichotomy, however, is a falsehood, a tactical distraction, a layer of control: in the post-post modern era, the left has discovered corporatism, and top-down party politics are in now full force on both side of the aisle.
I contend that the major shift away from a society of discipline (Foucoult) toward overt culture of control (Deleuze) began in the 1980’s, and its evidence became crystallized by 9/11, but that the post-post-modern epoch only truly became apparent somewhere between 2010 to 2018 when members of society began to realize that, by definition, the corporate aspects of the US government means mass surveillance by an oligarchy made of careerist government appointees bent on saving their valuable pensions. Even the mass economic causalities of the 2004 Black Monday due to toxic debt salad trading merely served to open the eyes to multiple layers of control by an oligarchy disinterested in the particulars of any individual life, as long as the system is perpetuated. The evidence? No one was prosecuted; only homeowners suffered, and the safeguards that were put in place have once again been ignored.
On the grandscale economic level, the shift from a war and a post-war booming production-based manufacturing economy has been dwindled down to a service and tech economy, with service and tech industries dominating. Clearly this is not sustainable. How can this persist? Clearly it cannot without government policies and laws that favor the interests and agendas of corporations over the rights and safety of individuals. That means war for oil, cancer-causing pesticides in food, aborted fetal cells in vaccines, and suppression of opposing views in favor of safer products and a cleaner planet. Opposing cultural emergences are, of course, undesired, and America in particular is fast losing the hard-won appreciation of the wisdom of the minority viewpoint, never more susceptible to groupthink that characterized pre-war Germany and Japan.
Any undesired cultural emergence is now fully subject to dampening by control of the flow of information, now overtly with willful censorship of posts against “community standards” on Facebook. We certainly now do have a culture of control, in which that which we are allowed to speak and share is subject to oligarchic corporatist regulatory policies: they literally write the bills that representatives “of the people” bring forward.
Society of Control Defines What We Are – Not Where We Are
The shift that no one can put their finger on is a change from a society of discipline to a society of control. This essential realization was captured by minority view sociologists in the 1990’s as a transformation that was clearly new to them. It is now the norm and hardly anyone sees the connection of its coming into full bloom to these earlier works. Comparing the idealized view of the 1950’s in which a working father came home, hung up his hat, and adopted a new in-home role and identity, sociologists realized that corporate control was creeping back into our post-work lives.
For example, the sociologist “Kunda’s study of a high-tech corporation in the United States revealed that the expectation for long working hours was built into the organizational culture and was very difficult to resist once it had been internalized. The organization he called ‘Tech’ attempted to appropriate as much time as possible from organizational members, and this could be done only if workers came to actively desire it themselves. The ‘Tech culture’ was designed to constitute this desire through various mechanisms of role embracement, so that workers would think of themselves as ‘Tech employees’ all the time. As a result of this management approach many employees found their family and home lives suffered, because they gave more and more of themselves to the firm and experienced burnout, role contradiction and other kinds of pathologies (alcoholism, heart attacks, divorce, etc.). Indeed, even though workers endeavoured to maintain some kind of spatial distance, many found that ‘work and nonwork aspects of social ties are experienced as hard to separate, requiring constant definition and redefinition and are never fully resolved’ (Kunda, 1992: 169). “– Contesting the Corporation (Peter Fleming and Andre Spicer, Cambridge, 2007).
In the disciplinary society that we have left behind in which institutions were spatially defined – work, school, barracks, prison, highway. Individuals clocked in, and clocked out and understood their roles in contents. In the society of corporatist control, both time and identities of individuals are “colonized” by companies. According Casey, many of the employees in companies in a society of control are classified as “neurotic and obsessive/compulsives because they have allowed the company to erode the identity boundaries that once separated them from the organization and subsequent burnout as psychic anxiety contradiction become too intense“. Contesting the Corporation (Peter Fleming and Andre Spicer, Cambridge, 2007)
Importantly, control no longer requires any aspect of spatial enforcement and corporate/government reach redefines “individuals”, who were once members of an indivisible group, into “dividuals“. Consider, for example, what the pain of divorce and splitting households experienced by families means for corporations: twice the applicances, twice the energy bills, twice the furniture. In a capitalist society of corporatist control, dividuals are the target of consumer pressure. But that is just the beginning.
From Gilles Deleuze (1992):
“For the school system: continuous forms of control, and the effect on the school of perpetual training, the corresponding abandonment of all university research, the introduction of the ‘corporation’ at all levels of schooling. For the hospital system: the new medicine ‘without doctor or patient’ that singles out potential sick people and subjects at risk, which in no way attests to individuation–as they say–but substitutes for the individual or numerical body the code of a ‘dividual’ material to be controlled. In the corporate system: new ways of handling money, profits, and humans that no longer pass through the old factory form.”
The current society of control was developed under corporations largely controlled by baby boomers, the “me, first” generation who has also seen fit to establish cultural norms and mores that have led to wars for oil, deranged and detached attitudes towards environmental, mass pollution of the air, water, and soil of our planet, and the adoption of medical machinery that injects potent neurotoxins into pregant women, newborns and toddlers in a manner inconsistent with the stated goals of disease prevention and public health. The amoral infrastructure straddles political boundaries and as it loses its grip via the normal decay of power and influence divisions to younger generations, the maintenance of the culture of control increasingly involves the normalization of coercion and the use of fraud by those who think they know better in the place of respect for individual choice. The beast does not like to go unfed when it is hungry – and it is always hungry.
History provides a lesson. When European powers, notably England and Germany, decided that mass slaughter of African people during the Boer Wars was an acceptable moral cost of imperialism, the concentration camp was invented. The atrocities of WWI and WWII represent a second and third generations’ views informed by their callous predecessors, and such practices were internalized and brought into Europe. The culture of control in the US and in Western Countries represents internalized hegemony. There is, however, no manner by which that an imperial power can, in the end, grow via cannabilization, and thus we have an opening.
The most pressing question facing the US and Western societies today is what comes next, now that the culture of corporatist control has shown its oligarchic, imperial and fascist face? Will the relatively impotent Generation X, whom have toiled under the shadow of those imbued with the mental illness of post-war entitlement march the younger generations like robotic sheep into a world increasingly optimized for corporate benefit, feeding the 1%, or will we work with the younger generations to deconstruct and cast off the culture of control, preserve our individual rights, return the earth to natural green power, and develop a future culture of healthy, cooperative self-determinism? I think the latter, largely due to the power of social media. With the emergence of social media, people have begun to master the art of “finding their tribe”, a type of inversion of the culture of control – identifying far more with otherwise strangers online than with their physical neighbors. Some will celebrate real health from within first, and then discover the joys of a thriving environment. Others have strived first to put the planet’s health first, and then recall we all can be better at that task if we are physcially and mentally well. So, the inversion of control is bringing people from different walks of life together, who, if they can look past the superficial difference long enough, will recognize their other selves in people who they might barely say hello to in their own physical neigborhoods.
A hopeful view is that corporatist control cannot reach into the hearts and minds of individuals (Hunsinger, 2018). However, since corporatist control includes as its currency the flow of information, it is clear that populations cannot be assumed to be immune to slight nudges and even to more overt messages, particularly emotional but irrational appeals.
This is a non-conspiracy based reflection and acknowledgement of the power relations among classes; the uber-wealthy need not agree to move society toward one pattern of behavior or another to have the same effect. Rampant reinforcement of materialistic attitudes leads to increased consumption, and the identity of self-value attached to the having of the latest gadget replaces intrinsic self-value with externalized value, increasing the power that corporatist institutions have over the individual. Rampant consumerism comes a great cost, unseen to many, and forgotten by many more.
The erosion of basic human rights is occuring through a rainstorm of dollars. For-profit prison systems, a medical behemoth with unsustainable growth in a vicious cycle of making individual sick with mysterious disease of unknown original, followed by endless diagnostic testing and perpetual treatments to manage disease; addiction of state-run agencies such as child protective services to performance-based (quota-based) revenues are all symptoms of corporatism.
These are not American values – and those of us who recognize this and see passed the smokescreen of the Red/Blue distraction are finding each other. The valuable heterarchy inherent to cross-cultural note comparison is heresy in a culture of corporatist control. Distrust of your allies is inherent to an emerging counter-corporatist agenda developing in our society of control; it is stressful, but it is worth riding out. The powers that be, so to speak, only know one tune: it goes “top-down”, includes control from a distance, and depend on large, consistent revenue streams, ill-gotten or not. They will not sustain themselves. They are abjectly humorless bunk for the history books to one day wonder why they so easily confused their careers with their identities to the tune of the cost of the mental health, peace and general prosperity of their fellow citizens and within families within our nations, and at great cost to the biodiversity on a perfectly viable planet.
I recommended this very clear exploration of similar material in this YouTube video.
References and Further Reading.
Crain, C. Living in a Society of Control. https://www.themantle.com/philosophy/living-society-control#footnote1_3qokazr
Deleuze, G 1992. Postscript on the societies of control https://www.jstor.org/stable/778828?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Fleming, P and Andre Spicer. 2004. ‘You Can Checkout Anytime, but You Can Never Leave’: Spatial Boundaries in a High Commitment Organization. Human Relations. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0018726704042715
Hunsinger, 2018. Knowledge and Cultural Production in the Context of Contemporary Capitalism: a Response to Wittkower. https://fastcapitalism.journal.library.uta.edu/index.php/fastcapitalism/article/view/115