From Universal Reason to Universal Market
Our uneasiness with post-modernity and the post-Enlightenment (or “post-truth society”, or a dozen other names it has been baptised with) is understandable once you see that it is an essential revaluation of values in which the principle and ideal of Universal Reason is being explicitly revalued as the Universal Market. This universalisation of the market and its logic is the principle within what we call “neo-liberalism”. In this revaluation, which we also call “economism”, concepts mutate into commodities, and abstractions mutate into brands. Within the universe constituted by Universal Reason, thinking was the essential social activity. But in the cosmos constituted by the Universal Market, consuming becomes the essential social activity. Reason and critical thinking are downgraded and devalued. Unless, of course, it’s possible to commodify them. And in fact books like Commodify Your Dissent and The Rebel Sell, have already made their peace with the Universal Market and have adopted its framework interpretations and perceptions.
When brandmeisters boast that they have already succeeded in getting people to think in terms of brands — brand images, brand icons, brand meanings — they are, to a large extent, probably right. This was the issue with Ries and Trout’s best-selling how-to book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Nothing irritates our contemporary propagandists and brandmeisters (or “managers of meaning”) more than critical thinking, and they have bent their entire efforts over the last few decades subverting it, and, in fact, subverting the entire ideal of “Universal Reason”. And not content even with having won over a majority to this framework worldview of the Universal Market, goes after the stragglers who still resist. That’s the strategy, for example, of Jonathan Bond & Richard Kirschenbaum’s follow up to “positioning” entitled Under The Radar: Talking to Today’s Cynical Consumer. And in the framework universe of the Universal Market (or what I call the “Adverse”) even God can be commodified and sold, as historian R. Laurence Moore describes in his intriguing history of the marketing of religion, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. Only, with Capitalism 3.0 (or “marketing 3.0″/”spiritual marketing”/”holistic branding”) the marketing of religion has become, instead, the religion of marketing. This was already intimated in Thomas Frank’s earlier book One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy.
Within the framework consciousness described by Universal Reason, the process of thinking was expressed in dialectics or dialogics — either question and answer, or as thesis and antithesis, speaking and listening in turns, or what we call “the public conversation” or discourse, formalised in science as “peer review” or in politics as the institutions of parliament or congress. “Free speech” was actually idealised as free dialogue (and not as it has become today, as mere self-interested monologue, “talking heads” with “talking points” or a right to vent). Within the framework universe constituted by the Universal Market, dialogical process has been revalued as supply and demand, or production and consumption. Correspondingly, articulate and coherent speech as the ideal of “the public conversation” has deteriorated. The boast of our “managers of meaning” that they have successfully co-opted “thinking” for the Universal Market means something else than “thinking” as previously understood. “Thinking” within the framework of the Universal Market means, in their terms, more like conditioned reflex or the kind of “thinking” called “hypnopaedia” in Huxely’s Brave New World. Without many people even realising it, “reflective” thinking has morphed into “reflexive” thinking. Whereas reflective thinking sought clarification of experience, reflexive thinking does not. It is purely associative or mechanical thinking, the thinking of the conditioned reflex. It is in these terms that we speak, then, of a “post-truth society”.
If mind and thinking have been co-opted for the Universal Market, the next frontier is the soul, and that is the meaning of “spiritual marketing” or “holistic branding”. There’s a revealing confession in Todd Stein’s essay “Zen Sells: How Advertising Has Co-Opted Spirituality”
“Most marketing books tell you to go for some real estate in people’s heads”, says Doug Gilmour, president of Gilmour Associates, a Larkspur, California advertising firm that specializes in New Age-style campaigns for health food companies. “I want to go after some real estate in their souls.”
And there, I think, is the motivation for “technocratic shamanism” — to capture the soul and subordinate it to the Universal Market. No longer the “rational soul” of the regime of Universal Reason, the soul has become “real estate” — a commodity, a property to be managed from cradle to grave, as Martin Lindstrom envisions it in Brand Sense and as Rolf Jensen envisions in The Dream Society, or as Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson envision it in their “archetypal marketing” in The Hero and the Outlaw. What is truly authentic or spontaneous or creative in the life of the soul is disciplined to the requirements of the Universal Market and Capitalism 3.0. “Authenticity” comes to mean “genuine imitation”, and “spontaneity” comes to mean “impulse” exactly parallel to the disciplining of thinking — from reflective to merely reflexive.
If you are familiar with Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, on the divided brain, you will by now probably have recognised that the “Universal Market” represents what McGilchrist says about “the Emissary” — the ego-consciousness associated with the mode of attention of the left-hemisphere of the brain, ie, that it’s busy shutting down all the exits to its own self-transcendence. It’s the mode of consciousness associated with acquisitive or possessive individualism — with Having moreso than Being. The Universal Market is the regime of McGilchrist’s Emissary, who has usurped the truths and role of “the Master”.
The consequence of this is, I think, clear. Yesterday I was reading an article by Ben Tarnoff in The Guardian. I think the article speaks very well to this notion of “technocratic shamanism”. The article is entitled “Donald Trump, Peter Thiel, and the death of democracy”. I think it reveals very clearly where this “managerialism” is leading — not just in America but wherever the Market becomes the central organising institution (and metaphor) for all individual and social life, and also in terms of self-branding as “the Me Brand” or “the You Brand” which encourages people to think of themselves as commodities within the framework of the Universal Market. Why? Because our “managers of meaning” can more easily manage people if they think of themselves as cool “brands”. This, too, belongs to “technocratic shamanism”.
The Universal Market and Fukuyama’s “end of history” are pretty much identical in meaning. It’s one of the striking things about the books on “marketing 3.0” that I have been reading — not only the presumption that Fukuyama’s “end of history” is reality, but that the Universal Market is already the medium in which we live, move and have our being, and that there is no need to think about it or even to be aware of it. It just IS. And there’s no place it is not, and no place it should not be. Thinking, loving, befriending, marrying, even hating, it seems, becomes all a matter of branding and marketing, or self-branding and self-marketing. The Universal Market is just assumed to be the true reality.
This is, of course, insane. It’s completely insane. And as Heidegger once expressed it in a moment of apparent despair “only a god can save us now”. But Heidegger, apparently in his own lapse of reason and seeming despair, thought that “god” was Hitler — a fatal error of judgement. The “god” we are waiting for is actually Gebser’s “diaphanon” — the integral consciousness.