The View From the Mountain

After reading Todd Stein’s “Zen Sells: How Advertising has Co-opted Spirituality” in the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar , I looked up the Ford Ranger ad he discussed in the article as an example of the co-optation of the spiritual. It was a fortuitous discovery because I am working through some of the archetypal themes of “the sacred mountain” in my investigations into marketing 3.0 or “spiritual marketing” (or “holistic branding”). Although crude by some standards of “spiritual marketing”, the Ford ad is a near perfect example of the very issues that concern me about this move to “holistic branding” or capitalism 3.0.

Here it is….

The text here reads: “Spence put a new twist on an old philosophy. To be one with everything, he says, you’ve gotta have one of everything. That’s why he also has the new Ford Ranger. So he can seek wisdom on a mountain top. Take off in hot pursuit of enlightenment. And connect with Mother Earth. By looking no further than into the planet’s coolest 4-door compact pickup. He says it gives him easy access to inner peace. Which makes him one happy soul.”

“Twist” is the right word here, as in “twisted”. But it is, in some ways, funny just because it is twisted and bent. It’s humour comes from its audacity. It’s an example of the style of the Trickster in mythology, who is audacious in his trickery and his scheming. And yet, there is a very earnest and serious aspect to this ad which we might call its “subtext” or its “metanarrative”, and it is not very funny at all. This is the matter of “profanation” of which I spoke in earlier posts about “spiritual marketing”.

First of all, what we are presented with in this ad is called “The Top of the Mountain” pitch. Recently I have been reading a “political novel” by former adman John G. Schneider called The Golden Kazoo. The novel, from 1956, is a lampoon of the extension of merchandising and advertising techniques to the marketing of politics and politicians, which was just beginning to influence political campaigns in the 1950s. Schneider, with a bit of self-mockery perhaps, compares advertising to “tootling a kazoo”. The “golden kazoo” of the story is the Big Idea that the central character, adman Blade Reade, dreams up to sell the Republican candidate to the American voter. But first, he has to sell his Big Marketing Idea to the candidate and the potential First Lady. Schneider describes the “Top of the Mountain” pitch Reade uses,

“Many, many times Blade had taken his prospects to the Top of the Mountain. Just for example, there had been that preposterous, sturdy, AAA-1, meat-packing business in Brooklyn, an old family concern with nice distribution through metropolitan New York, Long Island, nearby Connecticut and New Jersey. A sweet little business, a going concern. What does a salesman do with such a prospect?
Why, he takes him on a walk to the Top of the Mountain. Shows him — from there — the wonders and glories of national, no, international distribution. Bedazzles him with visions of color spreads in the Post, network television, branches in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Convinces the little provincial tradesman that he can be as big as Swift or Armour, only in a higher-class way. The salesman, after getting his prospect to the Top of the Mountain, says, in effect, ‘See it? See it from up here, little man? See your small family business growing, growing, growing into a big, big commercial empire? See the money, the power, the glory? Look, little man! Look.’
A mental reflex — alert, swift and almost infallible — told Blade that Zelpha Adams  would be a sucker for his Top of the Mountain pitch, if only he could lead her there without her realizing that she was being led. This was it! He never questioned such hunches. He bet ’em straight across the board. To win. With Blade, there simply wasn’t any place or show money.”

What this Top of the Mountain pitch brings to mind, though, is the third temptation of Christ. Satan transports Jesus to the top of a mountain, and shows him all the wide space of the world and the kingdoms of the world, and promises him kingship over the earth if he will but fall down and worship Satan. This tempting offer, however, Jesus refuses. And yet we find this same temptation repeated later with Petrarch’s ascent of Mount Ventoux in the Late Middle Ages. Jean Gebser deals at length with that as the seminal event of the discovery of space and perspectivism in the Renaissance, yet without commenting on the uncanny connection between Petrarch’s “temptation” and the third temptation of Christ in the New Testament. In The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser writes at some length about Petrarch’s experience of intoxication with the vista of space that lay before him from the summit of Mount Ventoux, and how, in self-defence at the sight, Petrarch guiltily retreats back into his soul. I’ld venture to say that it was probably the knowledge of the third temptation of Christ that was the real reason for Petrarch’s sense of guilt at being intoxicated with the vision of space and being at the “commanding heights”.

It’s the same “Top of the Mountain” pitch and the same temptation of universal dominion that is represented in the Ford Ranger ad. The various gear that surrounds Spence — scuba, golf, kayak, skis, and so on — are but the tokens of the kingdoms of the earth as sea, land, mountains and so on. It’s the same pitch — “all this can be yours”. You’ll attain wholeness and fulfillment — you’ll be one with everything — only when you have one of everything. And of course your Lordship will need a Ford Ranger Supercab to haul his wholeness and oneness around with him. The metanarrative of the ad, therefore, remains the fundamental social philosophy of consumerism as acquisitive individualism — to attain fulfillment, you must buy and accumulate the symbols of wholeness piecemeal — the gear. Fulfillment comes from consuming and accumulation. And the star of the ad is not Spence, but the truck. The “glow of awareness” or enlightenment that surrounds Spence in the ad isn’t his. It’s coming from the Ford Ranger by reflection.

Here is, perhaps, the chief profanation in the ad — for the mountain upon which Spence is seeking his wisdom is the sacred mountain. Every culture has its sacred mountain because the view from the summit of the mountain is the symbolism of wholeness — the “overview effect” is what it is called today. It is very close in meaning to Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things” so the view from the mountain is symbolic of integral consciousness. The sacred mountain is the spiritual mountain, and the ascent is symbolic of the quest or journey for wholeness. The sacred mountain is everywhere. After his “stare into the abyss”, Nietzsche-Zarathustra ascends the mountain for his 10 years sojourn in the wilderness. Camus’ Sisyphus rolls his heavy stone up the mountain. Moses meets with Yahweh atop Mount Sinai. Mount Kilash in Tibet and Sri Pada is the sacred mountain in Buddhism. The mythical Mount Meru is the Axis Mundi, the mythical mountain said to be the spiritual, physical and metaphysical centre of all worlds and universes. It’s in the Beatle’s song “The Fool on the Hill”. It is Mount Meru that is represented in the ad, and yet sitting at the summit in the the ad is a Ford Ranger!

Fundamentally, the message of the ad is “Being is Having”, and this bears on William Blake’s objection: “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man”. This “All” though, is the view from Mount Meru, which is symbolic of the fully integrated consciousness. Mount Meru, by whatever name it is known, is the spiritual mountain, and it is real in those terms. And in this ad, it is co-opted not just to sell stuff, but a “reason for being” itself. It’s divertissement as advertissment, where the prefix “di-” or “dia-” has the meaning of “seduce away” or divert. Most significant is, that this ad promotes narcissism not only as a way of life, but as wisdom and enlightenment itself!

I find this all quite insidious.


19 responses to “The View From the Mountain”

  1. davidm58 says :

    I’m reminded of the 1971 ad for Coca Cola. The ad was titled “Hilltop,” and features a multi-racial cast of young people on a hilltop in Italy, singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke/I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
    It was one of the most popular and memorable ads of its time, and was also the most expensive to make.

    The coca cola ad was one of the early examples of holistic branding, but at least it was aligning with a social good, rather than the subversion/profanation of the message in the Ford ad above, which ultimately tells us not to feel guilty about excessive consumerism.

    Also, your reference to The Golden Kazoo reminds me of the novel by Paul Theroux, “Millroy the Magician,” described thusly at Wikipedia:
    “The novel has been identified as one of the best of the 1990s. It is a satire of American consumer culture and love of fast food and contains elements of parable and magic realism.” Quite relevant to the theme of technocratic shamanism.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Millroy the Magician sounds like it picks up from Thomas Mann’s “Mario the Magician”. Might be an interesting book to read. Thanks.

      • davidm58 says :

        I don’t know about the T. Mann comparison, not familiar with that one. I read about a third to a half of Millroy back in the ’90s, and was really loving it…but other things came along to distract me, and I never got back to finishing it. It would be interesting to read again now will all of these added insights about magic and mental consciousness structures.

  2. mikemackd says :

    Once again, many thanks. I read this yesterday by sheer coincidence (I have written a thesis called “Landscapes and the Machine”, and was following up on it). Naturally, I immediately linked it to what you are saying, albeit its author is approaching from a different perspective:

    “Thus, strange as it might appear to traditional ways of thinking in the West, “subjectivity” finds itself simultaneously on the side of the subject and on the side of the object. Capitalism derives its great power from these two devices, which operate as two sides of the same coin. But it is machinic enslavement which endows capitalism with a sort of omnipotence, since it permeates the roles, functions and meanings by which individuals both recognize each other and are alienated from each other. It is through machinic enslavement that capital succeeds in activating the perceptual functions, the affects, the unconscious behaviours, the pre-verbal, pre-individual dynamic and its intensive, atemporal, aspatial, asignificant components. It is through these mechanisms that capital assumes control of the charge of desire carried by humanity. This aspect of the reality of capitalist “production” remains invisible for the most part. Even the definition of transindividuals doesn’t quite capture it; we ought really to talk about transmachinics, about relations operating simultaneously on this side of the social and individual dimension and also beyond it. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they refer to machinic time, to a machinic added value, to machinic production. In any event, it is on this basis that there is accumulation, production of value and exploitation. This “invisible” side of capitalist production is the most important aspect and is, paradoxically, the aspect which is never taken into consideration when accounting value, the one which eludes measure.”

    Source: Maurizio Lazzarato, “The Machine” at

    • Scott Preston says :

      There’s a lot to digest in Lazzarato’s article, although I don’t see quite any difference between Jacques Ellul’s use of the word “technique” and the meaning of “machinics” (or Lewis Mumford’s “technics”), except perhaps the implied meaning that “machinics” has to do with making, and in this particular context, as transforming the subject — ie “subjectivation”. So, even here “machinics” has that meaning of “technocratic shamanism” as identified by Algis Mikunas and Gebser, too — and so, the upsurge, we might say, of the magical structure of consciousness in terms of will to power.

      The “enslavement” to machinics was previously noted by McLuhan — who quipped that human beings had become “the sexual organs” of the technology, and in that sense, servo-mechanisms of the technical milieu. The apparent switch in capitalism as a “mode of production” to being “a machine of subjectivation” certainly seems to describe what I’m calling “capitalism 3.0”. and the co-optation of the human spiritual. I doubt that it can completely succeed in this, however. I don’t doubt, though, that it’s going to give it “the old college try”, as they say. The Ford Ranger ad is just a rather blatant, and in some ways clumsy, example of the strategy of co-optation.

      Lazzarato’s article is interesting, even though it has to be translated. Much of what it says has already been said, by others in more familiar terms — as mentioned Mumford, McLuhan, Ellul, perhaps Norbert Wiener in his “God and Golem, Inc” and in “the Human Use of Human Beings”, and so on. And I’m trying to rework and re-interpret these issues through Gebser’s “magical structure” and Mickunas’s “technocratic shamanism”. In fact, just received a book yesterday by Richard Stivers entitled Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational. It will be interesting to draw Lazzarato’s article into relation with Stivers book.

      • mikemackd says :

        I will follow up on that Stivers book, and hope that you find it worth commenting upon in future posts. Yes Lazzaroto puts his own spin on a more general insight, but I see it as a symptom of momentum continuing to build, as well as Lazzaroto’s perspective having its own stand-alone value.

        By the way, I was completely blown away by McGilchrist’s book; definitely one of my favourites ever. I can’t quite say the same for Wilczek, as I haven’rt even finished reading it yet because somehow it doesn’t feel quite right to me.Still, I’d like to be a fly on the wall if those two ever sat down to chat. As with Lazzaroto and the others with their elephant, I see McGilchrist and Wilczek looking at their same elephant.

        Another looking at it is Roderick Tweedy, with his “The God of the Left Hemisphere”, which I have finished.. He and Wilczek would also be able to muster an interesting chat, perhaps Tweedy seeing Wilczek’s observation on p. 114; “the Real is more compelling for being Ideal, and the Ideal is more compelling for being Real” as being compelling due to transhemispheric functioning..

        • Scott Preston says :

          I wrote Stivers after reading a ways into his Technology as Magic, suggesting he have a look at Mickunas’s essay on technocratic shamanism and at Gebser. Judging from his replay, he apparently hadn’t heard of them, which surprised me. So far Stivers’ book is an excellent elaboration on the theme of technocratic shamanism itself.

          Here’s a couple of excerpts from the early pages,

          “…our expectations for technology have become magical and our use of it is increasingly irrational. Magic in turn has acquired a rational façade and is used like technology for the purposes of efficiency. In short, technology and magic, while separate and distinct categories in some abstract sense, are now related to one another in such a way that each has acquired important characteristics of the other.” (p. 1)

          “Magic begins historically in the attempt to influence nature, which was experienced as sacred. How can we harness the power of nature, to make it work for us? In prehistoric times humans participated with the rest of nature in the re-creation or renewal of nature. Magic represented an attempt to persuade nature to act in the best interest of human beings. Today, however, technology is perceived to be a force greater than that of nature, for it is successfully used to exploit the resources of nature and to re-create nature. If the sacred was ultimately that which is experienced as absolutely powerful, then it was inevitable that technology would replace nature as the object of tacit veneration. There is a world of difference between nature and technology, however, for the latter is our own creation. To harness the sacred power of technology means to extend its reach over all of life; nothing can be excluded. But not all of human existence is so readily subject to technology.” (p. 2)

          “My principle argument is that today our expectations for technology are magical to the point that we have generated a multitude of imitation technologies that function as magical practices. This is an elaboration of Jacques Ellul’s seminal idea that in a ‘technological civilization everything becomes an imitation of technology or a compensation for the impact of technology’ Psychological and administrative (managerial) magic’s paramount purpose is to adjust human beings to a technological civilization, to bring them in line with technological progress. The myth that organizes technology and its imitations into a coherent system of belief is technological utopianism. Advertising and television programs contain the basic themes and elaborated stories of technological utopianism.” (p. 8)

          Charles Leiden recommended another book of Stivers’ called Shades of Loneliness dealing with much the same topic, which I may dive into after digesting Technology as Magic. So far, it’s impressive (although a bit weak on understanding the magical structure).

          • mikemackd says :

            Excellent! Thanks, Scott.

          • mikemackd says :

            Stiver wrote a third book in 2008 called “The Illusion of Freedom and Equality”. I have just downloaded to eBook.

          • Scott Preston says :

            This is interesting: I’m just working through part of Stivers text where, following Jacques Ellul’s framework, he writes about the “thee milieus” — the milieu of nature, the milieu of society and the milieu of technology, and he analyses the character of each in some detail.

            As you may notice, these “milieus” are Gebser’s consciousness structures — the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. So there is a resonance there. In other words, a milieu is simultaneously a consciousness structure. There is no fundamental separation between the milieu and the consciousness structure. It is, for that reason, unfortunate that Stivers wasn’t aware of Gebser’s work on this, but he does follow the same pattern.

            He also makes note the strange cultural polarities that exist in each milieu — life and death in the mllieu of nature; good and evil in the milieu of society; efficiency and inefficiency in the milieu of technology — the basic reflection of the life-pole and death-pole of the psyche that Gebser discusses at length, refracted, as it were, through the lens of each different milieu.

            There are all these intriguing echoes and reflections in Stivers’ book of Gebser’s consciousness structures. I certainly hope he takes my suggestion and finds the time to look into Gebser, because the correspondences are there.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thinking about Lazzarato’s essay further, I would say this: “time is money” is not just incidental to capitalism. It is the essence of capitalism. The various denominations of currency, for example — pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars — correspond to the divisions of time in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, and so on. There seems to be a close connection between the denominations of currency and the fixing of time.

      In saying that capitalism grows and progresses through perpetual substitutions, this is no more fundamentally evident than in what it does to time. It’s the time of the clock, rather than “natural time”. And since also “time is of the soul”, as both Augustine and Gebser insist, it also does something to the soul. It hinges on what it does with, and to, time and the experience of time — it disciplines and regiments time, and by implication this extends to the subject — ie, Lazzarato’s “subjectivation”.

      Sometimes, when I tell people that time is not money, they look at me as if I were daft. It’s simply the “common sense” that it is so. They can point to it as an objective “fact of life” little realising that it’s an objective fact of life because we’ve made it so. “Time is money” is, I think, the great bubble that we live in, and the primary example of how capitalism progresses by substitutions. Isn’t the clock the first and foremost example of the “genuine imitation”?

      • Scott Preston says :

        That said, you might then appreciate the socio-political implications of Gebser’s “time-freedom” — and the meaning that might have for the sustainability of capitalism.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    In that excerpt from Schneider’s The Golden Kazoo it’s emphasised that the mark or “target” or “prospect” can’t become aware that they are being led. That’s the “hidden persuader” aspect of the pitch that Packard dealt with. And this ad sort of fails in that respect because it attracted so much attention for that reason. It wasn’t very subtle in its approach to “spiritual marketing”. It’s one of the principles of public relations more generally that you don’t become the story rather than the story itself. This ad sort of failed in that respect just because it was so blatant and became the story itself. Nevertheless, it’s very blatancy is a boon, because it become somewhat obvious what the intent of “marketing 3.0” is. It showed its hand in that ad, and a good magician and illusionist doesn’t show his hand.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    It makes me climb the wall whenever I hear the old commonplace that “capitalism creates jobs” — “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” was the mantra for promoting free trade. Capitalism does no such thing. It progresses by a series of substitutions, and the most critical of those substitutions is to replace human labour with machine labour. This fundamental truth can hardly be avoided now with AI poised to eliminate whole industries (some estimate arounc 40% of all jobs will be affected). How the system is going to manage this is an interesting question, even though some jurisdictions are beginning to introduce guaranteed annual incomes as a sort of safety valve, I suppose. Canada is also contemplating introducing a guaranteed annual income. There are going to be a lot of repercussions from AI. Tofler seemed to think of AI and “the Third Wave” as the noose that would hang capitalism itself — and there would be a return to cottage industry and craft. Maybe, maybe not. There are many possible outcomes.

    • Charles Leiden says :

      It is insidious. Good analysis. Erich Fromm wrote an insightful book years ago To Have or to Be. He writes how ‘being’ and ‘having’ are two different modes of existence. Obviously consumerism is all about having. Fromm and many others write about the origins of economic man and the hope of materialism to make humans happy and solve problems.

      I would say Mumford and Ellul write about similar ideas but from a different perspective.

      I thought I did mention the book by Lee Worth Bailey – The Enchantments of Technology. Covers much territory related to these concerns. His writing about ‘utopian triumphalism’ – the assumption that modern technology has conquered most barriers and is an unstoppable, victorious, utopian historical force. Marty Glass writes that “clock do not measure time they produce it”

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    I didn’t notice the connection between as you wrote,
    the “three milieus” — the milieu of nature, the milieu of society and the milieu of technology, and Gebser.

    As you may notice, these “milieus” are Gebser’s consciousness structures — the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational.


    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, it is. As the Bard put it “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”, and this is quite true. The physicist Sir Arthur Eddington seconded that later: “the stuff of the world is mind stuff” (actually “soul stuff” would have been more like it. “Mind stuff” is the ordering of the cosmos according to the mental-rational consciousness, for mind is also part of the dreaming, even as “the dream of reason”). It is, in fact, a fundamental premise of the Hermetic philosophy that there is no separation of soul stuff and world stuff, or as we might say no separation of psyche and physis, as the pre-Socratics understood this, for the magical consciousness was still somewhat strong with them — earth, air, fire and water — the primary elements of physis — were also soul stuff. They did not know of any separation of subject and object, or, as we might put it, no separation between physics and physiology — the life and the world and the life of the body — it was a continuum. In a sense, you could say that the psyche was “smeared” across the cosmos. This is the state that Gebser refers to as “magic unity”, even though it was largely an unconscious unity. They simply did not know of any other way of apprehending it. It was ,in that sense, their “milieu”.

      For that reason, it can be a strange experience to read the pre-Socratics, but it was to them that Nietzsche deferred for much of his own philosophy, and it also persisted in the Hermetic tradition — the transmutation of lead into gold is the “Great Work” of self-realisation precisely because in Hermeticism the stuff of the world is also soul stuff, you see?

      This is returning in the form of Jungian synchronicity and the phenomenon of quantum non-locality (or transluminal effect). Same principle is involved.

      We could also speak to something that has puzzled philosophers and scientists for some time, too — why the ancient Greeks thought that the eye illuminated the object it perceived, and not vice versa as is the “common sense” today — that the eye is a passive recipient of the impressions made upon it by outside objects. But for the ancient Greeks, this notion that the eye illuminated the object of perception is a very good description of intentionality — that perception is purposeful — that perception is not passive but active and creative. This is a basic understanding of all magic, and this too is returning with the notion of the intentionality of consciousness and the working of “intent”.

      It is indeed true that “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” and that the stuff ot the world is soul stuff. That is also my experience.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I might add to the above that our “common sense” is that archaic man lived in an unreality or unreal world, and we have corrected his errors and live in the real and true world. But it is part of the conclusion of both Gebser and Iain McGilchrist (in his book on the divided brain) that the truth is exactly the opposite — the world as constructed by the mental-rational consciousness (the “Emissary”) is the unreal world, and this is also Blake’s view, especially as expressed in his quote that accompanies the Chrysalis masthead.

      It’s also my reason for rejecting outright Fukuyama’s accursed “end of history” argument as an absurd delusion and hallucination.

  6. Charles Leiden says :

    “As above so below” goes the saying. Thanks for your articulation. I agree that there is no separation of soul stuff and world stuff. — that perception is purposeful — that perception is not passive but active and creative.

    You wrote,

    I might add to the above that our “common sense” is that archaic man lived in an unreality or unreal world, and we have corrected his errors and live in the real and true world. . But it is part of the conclusion of both Gebser and Iain McGilchrist (in his book on the divided brain) that the truth is exactly the opposite

    I agree. My attitude based on many years of study and reflection is that humans don’t know as much as think they know. It seems that every system of thought becomes ossified eventually and loses touch with reality. One can ask, what is reality? Cultural historians and visionaries like Gebser (Thompson) can help us with perspective. The integral person integrates all the good ideas from previous stages. The “magic unity” can become conscious in a integral person.

    Any incomplete vision is unreal in many ways. Materialism and commercialism can’t be the organizing values for a sustainable future.

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