The Adverse

Think of the permutations of the act of “turning” — Latin vertere meaning “to turn” forming the stem word for other words like universe, converse, reverse, inverse, transverse, introvert, extrovert, divert, averse, subvert, pervert, and advert. The affixes uni-, con-, re-, trans-, intro-, in-, extro-, di-, a- and per-, ad-, sub-, and so on differentiate or articulate the stem word in various degrees and acts of turning. “Universe” got its name from the perception of the unity of motion in the Turning when the Earth was still considered the centre of the universe and the heavens moved about it in cyclic regularities. The minimum unit of time for the universe was a full day, dawn to dawn or dusk to dusk — one full turn of the sky. Like the “verse” or chorus of a song, or music, it had an harmonious, unitary and recurrent rhythm and tempo. The Universe and the Wheel of Space and Time or the Sun Wheel symbol are the same notion of the Turning, as is the ancient symbol of the ouroboros. It was a “kosmos“, as the Greeks called Universe, or harmonious “order”.

The word “advert” is a peculiar one because it bears a double entendre — it means not only to “turn to” or “turn towards”, but also “turn against”. Adverse is different from averse in the sense that the a- prefix in relation to the turning implies action in the other direction — away from, as something repellent or off-putting.

There’s a remarkable richness of expressive terms for the act of turning as action itself precisely because “impermanence” is the rule of life, which is churning and turning always, not haphazardly or randomly, but always in definite patterned ways and dynamics as mapped by our grammars. Vertere and its various permutations map the flux of energy as it manifests as events according to a pattern logic. Subvert and subversion means to draw or turn down; invert and inversion to turn outside in or upside down; pervert or perversion means to “turn through” from one state to its contrary state; divert and diversion means to turn aside or deflect; transverse to turn over or across; convert and conversion means to “turn thoroughly” or altogether or completely; and of course introvert and extrovert signify turning inwards or turning outwards. It is all the shape of action, and action as the flow of energy all within this recurrent and harmonious Turning called “Universe”.  And, of course, its from this very understanding of the recurrent and harmonious turning that the “Clockwork Universe” metaphor was erected, and the notion of Universe not as song or music, as “When the Morning Stars sang together”,  but as a speechless and wordless and unconscious machine.

Blake, for example, did not see the universe as a blind clockwork or as an unconscious machine. For him, it was very much alive and very vocal — verse and chorus. The logico-mathematical relationships mapped by quantitative science (the mental-rational consciousness) were, instead, music and melody. Universe was verse and chorus — God’s poetry. For Blake, God was fundamentally an artist — especially a poet, musician and singer of songs — and not a clockmaker; and atoms are like the notes in a vast musical score, a vast symphony. And, indeed, its very possible to contemplate Universe as that without at all violating the logical and mathematical harmonies of the quantitative scientist, for poetry and music also imply these same logical and mathematical harmonies. For Nietzsche, too, thinking should be like music and dance. For Blake, mankind had simply become deaf, dumb, and blind to the essential music of Universe, and now only perceived the quantitative or mathematical relations between things.

In any case, my interest here today is the ambiguity of that word “advertise” in its sense of “turning towards” and as also “turning against” — in the sense of adversity or the adversary and adversarial, and the implications for that in “brand culture” or the branded universe — which I have taken to calling The Adverse, which is, in my estimation, a Grand Illusion, a magician’s spell cast over the senses. And there’s no question in my mind, at least, that contemporary “advertising” is adversarial. Behind the pretty and amusing pictures on your TV or your magazines, marketers use the language of warfare and psychological warfare — of “winning hearts and minds” or “targeting” and “occupying” or “owning” the “human mind, heart, and spirit”. Yes, marketing 3.0 is especially concerned to “occupy” the human spirit, and as you may have noticed, especially in professional athletics, human “assets” are often described as “properties”. That’s the whole idea of seducing people into adopting cradle to grave “branded behaviours”. Record companies, too, will often speak of their artists as “properties”, and if you are a celebrity who, foolishly, endorses some product like Pepsi, and you get caught out drinking a Coke — well, God help you. You are property too.

If marketing 1.0 and marketing 2.0 were concerned with conquering and managing minds and hearts, respectively, the ambitions of marketing 3.0 is to “occupy” and “manage” the spirit. This is the whole significance of “holistic branding” — managerialism, managing the consumer as a “whole being” — mind, body, and soul. Same old wolf, different fleece this time, but comes endearingly tripping the light fantastic on little dove’s feet. But beneath the facade of concern there lurks still the ravening maw that wants to conquer and manage. This “managerialism” is the meaning of Mickunas’ “technocratic shamanism”.

Why? Because it is afraid. That fear, uncertainty and insecurity comes through in all my reading of “marketing 3.0”. The system is afraid. It has sensed the emergence of something it doesn’t understand fully and which it doesn’t quite yet know how to command and control — the “spiritual”. This “spiritual” is the potential adversary which it fears as turning away from the culture of consumption and the power of branding. They’re concerned about losing their “property” — hearts and minds, and want to restore “trust” and “confidence” in marketing and in the system of production and consumption and to be perceived as “authentic”. Apparently, that confidence and trust has been slipping (especially since the market meltdown of 2008). Marketing 3.0’s task is to restore confidence and trust in capitalism as also capable of supplying “meaning”. “Spiritual marketing” (as Philip Kotler calls it in Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit) is the same as Martin Lindstrom’s “holistic branding” (in Brand Sense).

It’s this language of managerialism, and of perfecting the technique of managing human behaviours, that is the consistent theme I’ve found from Charles Hopkins’ 1923 book Scientific Advertising right up to the present meaning of “holistic branding” and marketing 3.0. It’s this managerialism, as a method of social and political regulation and control, that is the meaning of technocratic shamanism.

But right here this managerialism faces a dilemma. It was effective as long as people were “other-directed”, as David Riesman described it in the 50s in his book The Lonely Crowd. This “other-directedness” in the midst of the paradoxical individual solitudes of mass society, made people vulnerable to advertising and “mind-benders”. However, the emergence of “the spiritual” is an inner event, a switch from outer-directedness to inner-directedness. And this presents a dilemma for managerialism.

That’s the issue that Todd Stein raises in his article “Zen Sells: How Advertising Has Co-opted Spirituality“. It might be too soon to conclude that this co-optation and conquest is complete, however. And Stein does point out the basic dilemma and contradiction that informs “spiritual marketing” or holistic branding and the attempt to master and manage this essentially inner-directedness and inner event through the manipulation of external images and brands — which is the culture of narcissism, which is self-alienation through identification with externalities. Spirituality teaches mindfulness and non-attachment, and that creates a problem for marketing.

Pretty interesting times we live in. It’s interesting to watch the Adverse try to achieve closure and self-enclosure. But it’s also facing some powerful resistance to closure in the irruption of integral consciousness and “the spiritual”, as well as from the marketing imperative’s own internal self-contradictions.


I might add to this that managerialism and propaganda, or behavioural engineering, become necessary in those very conditions and circumstances that Gebser calls “the loss of the vital centre” — in the extremes of the groupthink of collectivism and the libertinism of a self-indulgent individualism. Both are narcissistic conditions. All that matters in terms of “spiritual” knowledge and awakening is to locate and live out from “the vital centre” — the core of the self called “soul” — and “holistic branding” is a diversion and deflection from this, where the contemplative and meditative (or mindfulness) are more appropriate. In those terms, then, “holistic branding” or “spiritual marketing” and the “consumption of meaning” are diversionary and therefore fraudulent.

One response to “The Adverse”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    I like this journey of language that reflects the flow of energy of our dynamic life. It is always this double movements, of those who want to move with a language code that serves their interest only, even treating others as raw material to be used for their benefit and those who use the language of live and let live without any intention to manipulate or deceive. It is the same story being played with different actors and it is the same end, the end of the perverting cycle and the start of a new healthy cycle. The ill-intentional movement wants always to manipulate the dynamic of any threatening movement that it feels it is taking its crowd,negligent of the dictate of history, This time, as the crying signs around us say, is different I feel its attempt will not be successful due to the end of its cycle and the inception of the new authentic spiritual cycle. This is the fate of all fraudulent movement,nothing escapes the just hand of history. I sometime feel peoples are oblivious of history the only master of everything.

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