The Oracle of Copenhagen and Creeping Fascism

Rolf Jensen describes himself as a “futurist”. Jensen is affiliated with some business consultancy named The Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies. Rolf Jensen wrote a book, published in 1999, entitled The Dream Society. (A summary of The Dream Society is posted on the CIFS website). Reputedly, the book was an international bestseller, although I only came across it about a month ago.

As mentioned earlier, if you want to understand what freaks out a critic of technological culture like Richard Stivers, in his book Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational (or Jacques Ellul’s many books on the subject of the technological society), Jensen’s book is it, and it purports to prophesy and promote the shape of things to come. The Dream Society is the world according to what Aglis Mikunas describes as “technocratic shamanism”, or what Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism” in Democracy, Inc.

Jensen’s “Dream Society” is the shape of society and human consciousness as it will be under the sway of what I’ve been calling “Capitalism 3.0”. In those terms, The Dream Society, so-called, represents the effective convergence and ideal of those practices called “marketing 3.0”, or “holistic branding”, or “spiritual marketing” as I have been following them in previous posts. The Dream Society is, in those terms, the technotopian project for the consummate consumerist society, and one that, as far as Jensen is concerned, represents “the next and final phase in human, societal development”.  In those terms, then, The Dream Society is an extension of, and elaboration upon, Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis (although Fukuyama is never mentioned in Jensen’s book at all).

Imagine Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World (which everybody should have read by now) but now recast, not as a dystopia and a nightmare, but as a utopian ideal. This is the shape of Jensen’s “Dream Society”. Jensen himself seems oblivious to the act that his Dream Society is actually a blueprint for Huxley’s dystopia. But this feat in turning what is a dystopian vision into a utopian ideal — of turning a pig’s ear into a silk purse, as it were — is a prime example of magical thinking and technocratic shamanism in itself. To transform what is fundamentally undesirable into something desirable through “perception management” is itself both remarkable and dreadful. The Dream Society is the habitat of Nietzsche’s pathetic “Last Man” (or “Ultimate Man”) who, offered a choice of futures, cries out instead — “Give us this dystopia, O Rolf Jensen!”

For it is. Jensen’s Dream Society is the Painted Lady of the prophets.

The Dream Society is the image of post-Enlightenment society. Jensen is even quite frank about this antipathy to Enlightenment values and virtues. Emotion will rule the Dream Society — emotion and manias, one might add. In the Dream Society, the Universal Market prevails, and in it, as was said earlier of God, we live, move, and have our being, all presided over by the benevolent corporation, the maker and marketer of “stories” as brand images and personalities. All meaning has been branded. Emotions have been commodified and branded as “corporate stories” and are traded in the market — togetherness, love, friendship, marriage, care, peace of mind, spirituality, and individuality have been commodified and branded.  The Universal Market Matrix is all, and outside the Universal Market and the metaphysics of shopping is the abyss of nothingness.

What Gebser foresees as “the concretion of the spiritual” is made, by our technocratic shamans, in the form of brand images and meanings to be consumed, now dubbed “spiritual marketing”. “Seek and ye shall find” becomes in the Dream Society, shopping. Shopping becomes the spiritual quest, the quest for the highest “meanings” in the theme parks and shopping malls of the world. To have transformed the archetypal Quest or Journey as a spiritual adventure into a matter of shopping and consumption is “spiritual materialism”, and is what I have called “the metaphysics of shopping”. But in the Universal Market of the Dream Society, where everything is a “story” and a meaning to be consumed, shopping for meaning — for the “feelies” as Huxley called it — is the “adventure”. The Dream Society is the spitting image of the “genuine imitation”.

In the Dream Society, there’s no need for government or religion. There is only one real “pillar of society” and it is the corporation. Even the family must conform to its model. Everything is taken care of by the Universal Market under the benevolent management of the corporation. Corporations become more familial or “tribal”, while families become more “corporate” — “the Loving Family, Inc”. Work becomes “hard fun”, while all the drudgery and responsibility is relegated to family life (this seems to be Jensen’s own autobiographical factor here). The Dream Society is the Never Neverland habitat of Peter Pans and Tinkerbells, who are the “average Joe and average Jospehine” of the branded universe — the new Adam and new Eve of the “spiritual” cosmos constructed by Capitalism 3.0 and “holistic branding”.

In the Dream Society, the family unit is re-proletarianised. It exists only to fabricate future consumers, and to manufacture “emotions”. And in a rather Orwellian inversion of meanings, “individualism” is a matter of expressing certain predictable “patterns of consumption” or branded behaviours — by purchasing stories and meanings on the market and assembling these into a “you brand” (or “me brand”). Even your personality and individuality can be bought and sold inside the matrix of the Universal Market by turning yourself into a commodity — a “brand”.  The social function of the family, inc is to manufacture future consumers with the appropriate emotions. With that, the family becomes the new proletriat.

The Dream Society is really a form of fascism. The “dreaminess” here is the trade in hallucination, delusion, and mirage. In fact, the Dream Society is the consummation of what William Blake called “Ulro” — the Shadowland of images and which was for him the very meaning of “Hell”.  The Ulro, akin to the parable of Plato’s Cave, is what is called “abomination of desolation”. That is what Capitalism 3.0 is.

In the Dream Society, there is but one pillar of society — the corporation. There is really but one story — the corporate “story”. There is but one meaningful activity — shopping. There is but one “reality”, the dreamy reality of the Universal Market. This is what “Oneness” means in lingo of marketing 3.0. This “Oneness” brings to mind the mystical “oneness” or “togetherness” of fascism: Ein Reich! Ein Volk! Ein FührerAnd in the strangest kind of Newspeak and Double-think of all, Jensen looks forward to the uniformity and homogenisation of the world’s population within the Universal Market as the process of “individualisation”. It only means individual habits of consumption. Everybody gets their own shopping cart.

“But wait! There’s more!” Yes, indeed, there’s always more in the Universal Market where self-realisation and fulfillment (or wholeness) becomes a matter of shopping for meaning and acquiring “one of everything”. The Dream Society is the society of perfected narcissism — the habitat of Nietzsche’s “Last Man”.

The Dream Society? It’s Huxley’s dystopia become “the new normal”. Welcome to the Ulro, the realm of dukkha, where, as Blake put it: “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man.”

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5 responses to “The Oracle of Copenhagen and Creeping Fascism”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Well, cheery thought. I guess it would be the logical apotheosis of the mental-rational consciousness structure, where what Gebser called “measure and mass” become the ideal.

    Fortunately, Jensen apparently doesn’t take seriously the resource constraints and environmental effects (outlined by Peter Pogany, for example) that will interrupt the march toward this dream society, and will hopefully allow (but does not guarantee) the mutation into the integral aperspectival consciousness instead.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I had to dig out my copy of Brave New World and re-read it, just to make sure I wasn’t exaggerating and doing Jensen’s book an injustice. The similarities are even more compelling than I mentioned in the post, though.

      As mentioned, that Gebser’s “concretion of the spiritual” takes this particular form has taken me completely by surprise, and I’m not sure quite yet what to make of it. It’s quite uncanny. I’m trying to assess the implications. Is it part of the transition, therefore ambiguous? Or, not ambiguous at all, just corruption and outright perverted and deranged? That’s what I’m trying to assess here.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I was reflecting on this further this morning… the comparisons between Huxley’s Society and Jensen’s “Dream Society”. In Brave New World, the World Controller, Mustafa Mond (who seems very close to Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor”) explains the rationale for the shape of what we might call “soma society”. It has sacrificed beauty and truth to comfort and happiness — that is to say, it has devalued or debased the arts and sciences in exchange for consumerist values of convenience and pleasure. And this, also, is the chief characteristic of Jensen’s “Dream Society” as explicitly post-modern or post-Enlightenment form of society (with the same conceit — the presumption to be “the final form” of societal and human life. Apparently, this “end of history” meme is still contagious). In Huxley, the “dreaminess” aspect of it is the near perpetual state of “soma-holiday”. Any kind of hardship has been practically eliminated.

    As a consequence, you have a society that no longer aspires to anything beyond itself. Any “final form” of society is decadent because it literally has no future — no destiny to fulfill. It no longer aspires to anything beyond itself — this is the symbolism of Nietzsche’s “Last Man”.

    In order to preserve comfort and happiness, though, nothing new may be allowed to enter the magic circle of the social order (since the motto of Brave New World is “Community. Identity. Stability.”) Social stability, (which is maintained by specified rituals of production and consumption or what Huxley calls “the conscription of consumption”) also means avoidance of anything truly new — “end of history” in other words. The anomalies are shipped out to a life of exile on lonely islands.

    But how did beauty and truth end up as contradictions to comfort and happiness? It’s a kind of strange dualism, and apparently it’s because the meanings of “comfort” and “happiness” have been corrupted, have come to mean “luxury” and “pleasure”, respectively. But their origin means were “to strengthen” or “to fortify” or “to please” respectively. The effect of advertising or “management of meaning” is effectively to spin and debase meanings (just as, presently with “holistic branding”, the effect is to corrupt the meaning of “whole” by equating it with a “totality” of things, as in that Ford Ranger ad discussed previously). And to the extent that “comfort” really meant, originally, to strengthen or fortify, it meant to cultivate resilience.

    In Jensen’s society, truth is avoided because it ostensibly makes uncomfortable and unhappy. That’s the main theme, and that’s why it is “dream”. Confabulation becomes a way of life — living the fairy-tale existence. And Jensen is very similar in his rationales for this confabulation (via branding) to Huxley’s Mustafa Mond. The Dream Society is, in that sense, a society of make-believe.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I think it’s safe to say, based on my investigation of this thing called “marketing 3.0″/”holistic branding”/”spiritual marketing” and its manifest outcome in the form of Jensen’s “Dream Society” that this “third wave” of marketing follows in this succession:

    Capitalism 1.0: the conquest of nature — the physical, the body as “labour”, emphasis on the product.

    Capitalism 2.0: the conquest of human nature — the mental or psychological, the emphasis on the consumer and his/her psychic motivations and the use of “perception management”

    Capitalism 3.0: the conquest (and management) of the spiritual — The conquest of meaning, and thus the deployment of myth and magic. Capitalism reconceived as universal religion. The sacralisation of the “Universal Market” displaces the ideal of “Universal Reason”. Branding becomes “management of meaning”, and it is not products but “meanings” (stories, fable, fairy-tales) that are produced and consumed and bought and sold within the Universal Market. Physical products are just bearers (or avatars) of meanings. This is realised in form of Jensen’s “Dream Society”.

    In the Dream Society, all art and science and religion becomes the servant of propaganda, or “technocratic shamanism”. What rules is “the genuine imitation”. Genuine art, which is intended to reveal, is used, instead, to conceal. That’s the real difference here between “story-telling” and “confabulation”. Confabulation is mimickry, and is misrepresented as art, and as story-telling (ie, branding 3.0).

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