The Market Religion

It’s quite clear that Capitalism 3.0  (as we should really call this “marketing 3.0″/”holistic branding”/”spiritual marketing” approach) is positioning itself with globalisation as a universal religion. As organised religion around the world has fallen on hard times and has been largely discredited for a number of reasons — Nietzsche’s anticipated “death of God” — Capitalism now sees the demise of religion and the spiritual vacuum it has left in its wake as a “market opportunity”. This was already seen, to a certain extent, by Tom Frank in his book on neo-liberal globalisation called One Market Under God.

Organised or institutionalised religion around the world is in its death throes. Fundamentalism, spiritual materialism, and fanaticism are just symptoms of that corruption and disintegration (ie, loss of integrity, loss of the whole/holy). It is, perhaps, the chiefest symptom of our “two centuries of nihilism” as anticipated by Nietzsche in consequence of the death of God, and it is indeed a terrible thing to behold. (And yet, I can’t help but feel that this nihilism and disintegration of the world’s organised religions is also a preparation for a new revelation, befitting Gebser’s anticipation of the emergence of a new more authentic universalist consciousness structure).

The demise and disintegration of the religions, however, has not lessened the human need for what the religions represented in their more earlier inspirational forms — transcendence; that is to say, the need to reconnect with the sources of our being, the fountainhead of life, or the “vital centre”. Nor could Nietzsche do without it. He simply renamed the Source and well-spring of life as “Dionysus” or the “Dionysian”.

The initial spiritual problem for which the prophets and universal religion arose was as a response to increasing human narcissism, and otherwise known as “idolatry”, with the growing autonomy of the ego consciousness and its estrangement from the well-springs of its being. That is the condition of “samsaric existence” described by Buddhism as “dukkha” (or “malaise”) and the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son — the growing estrangement of the ego-consciousness from the authentic source and vital centre of its being. The whole meaning of religion (which word even means “to reconnect”) is contained in the parable of the Prodigal Son (or the Prodigal Daughter for that matter). Unfortunately, this meaning has effectively been mangled, and the world’s religions have become “deficient” also in the sense that they have become narcissistic constructs themselves. Rather than liberating the human form and consciousness from its narcissistic thralldom, the world’s religions have become themselves the spitting image of the human self-alienation represented as Prodigal Son or Prodigal Daughter.  Alienation of the ego-consciousness from its home or roots in the source of its being is the meaning of the Prodigal Son’s journey into a “faraway land”.

The demise of the religions, though, has not lessened the need humans feel for a regrounding in the fountainhead, the well-springs, the origins and sources of our life and being — the need for roots that has been misinterpreted as “tradition” or “beginnings” but which is what Gebser calls “ever-present origin”; that is to say, “fulfillment” or wholeness of being as the authentic meaning of self-transcendence and self-overcoming. This simply means the ego consciousness returns to its roots, the source and fountain head of its being, and knows itself as identical with that source and fountainhead. This simple truth of the journey and the return has, unfortunately, been buried under mountains of obscurantist dogmas, empty ritualism, and doctrinaire moralism that has nothing to do with enlightenment of the ego consciousness.

The demise of the religions has not changed in any way the still sensed need for self-transcendence or for wholeness and the holy in that sense. The failings of religion and its lack of any authentic spiritual guidance for the ego-consciousness, in this sense, has resulted in a spiritual vacuum — a vacuum of “meaning” (for all “meaning” is a symbolic bridge or means to return to the source or the roots). Following its own implicit market logic of “supply and demand”, Capitalism has sensed in the contemporary distress of meaninglessness as loss of guidance to the transcendent or wholeness a “marketing opportunity”. Capitalism 3.0 will sell meaning and “reason for being” and the promise of “fulfillment” through market “mechanisms” and rituals of consumption. If the market has become an altar, Capitalism 3.0 has become the religion.  In the apparent absence of “God”, Capitalism will become God — the source of all good things, including social values.

And so today, for example, I was reading in The Guardian the lament of an artist, Anthony Gormley, who “laments the unchanging priority of corporate values over social values” (“Humans are building a vast termites’ nest of greed“). This is quite true, especially with the hubris of capitalism expressed as “the end of history”. The “Corporatocracy” is precisely the presumption that corporate capitalism has the right to decide what shall be the social values, and in so doing positions itself as a religion. With Capitalism 3.0, the corporatocracy is recasting itself as a theocracy — the source of all meaning. And so we move from the branding practice of “perception management” to “management of meaning”.

An example of this is given in Rolf Jensen’s explicitly anti-Enlightenment “futurist” book The Dream Society. (Jensen himself plays the role of fortune-teller or oracle). It might be described as a blueprint for the commodification and marketisation of everything. And so the ostensible mundane economic laws of “supply and demand” are sacralised as spiritual acts of giving and receiving. Consequently there is now a “Market for Care”, a “Market for Togetherness”, a “Market for Love”, a “Market for Friendship”, a “Market for Convictions”, and so on. All human interpersonal relations can be marketised by managing their meaning (the manager of meaning who Jensen compares to the High Priest or Priestess, or the Medicine Man explicitly).

The capitalist, or the brand manager, in effect inserts himself between all human exchanges as “middle man”, and charges a toll for the exchange of affections or care or “togetherness” while serving as the arbiter, manager and facilitator of the exchange. By reducing giving and receiving to market laws of supply and demand, the act is mediated as exchange value. In effect, by marketising the acts of giving and receiving as supply and demand, and therefore in terms of commodification and as exchange value, the “manager of meaning” can mediate and regulate the exchange, bringing about “branded behaviours”. In effect, by reducing the act of giving and receiving, which is performed especially in the ceremony of the wedding or marriage, to laws of supply and demand, the new “manager of meaning” performs pretty much the role of the priest or justice of the peace  — the blessor, the mediator, the sanctifier of the exchange. And he can charge a nice fee for it.

This is quite bizarre. If capitalism, as Max Weber pointed out, initially found its roots and justifications in the Protestant Ethic, Capitalism 3.0 has pulled a reverse takeover. It now thinks of itself as a universal religion in competition with other religions.

All this is the madness of Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” (in The Master and His Emissary) so it’s quite important to understand how it came to this and its implications. What on Earth are the motivations for something that seems so entirely and evidently perverse? if not demonic?

Questions I need to answer about “spiritual marketing” and capitalism’s willful co-optation of the spiritual.

 

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