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.



6 responses to “From Universal Reason to Universal Market”

  1. mikemackd says :

    What holds itself out as the market is not the market at all, if one defines a market as that which results in market value exchanges.

    Market value is defined by the International Valuation Standards Council as “the amount for which an asset or liability would exchange on the valuation date between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arms-lengthg tranaction after proper marketing wherein the parties each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion.

    When parties are unaware of manipulation techniques being used against them, are they sufficiently knowledgeable to meet that definition’s standards?

    The following link supplies some of those means of manipulation:

    • Scott Preston says :

      I drafted something about “identity politics” a few days ago, such as Lakoff describes, but never posted it. I don’t see anything inherently “progressive” in identity politics, which are usually single issue, and as such, symptomatic of the fracture and disintegration. There isn’t anything inherently progressive about being gay, for example. Some people seem to think “gay rights” and “progressivism” go together. But as we’ve seen lately (and before) there are reactionary and conservative gays (the Log Cabin gays in the Republican Party), and reactionary gay conservative trolls like this Milos guy, or techno-fasicst gays like Peter Thiel. In fact, there were a lot of closet homosexuals in the Nazi Party. So, there’s nothing “progressive” in Lakoff’s definition of the term in identity politics.

      I do like Lakoff’s distinction, though, between conservatism as perception of “direct causation” and progressivism as perception of “systemic causation” (which is where identity politics falls short — fails to meet the criteria for “progressive” in those terms).

      Another case is the “Idle No More” movement amongst young aboriginals in Canada. It had great potential, but couldn’t seem to move beyond identity politics to a more holistic, systemic critique. It’s largely fizzled because of that, but it was the precursor, in some ways, to “Black Lives Matter” too. I don’t write much about these issues (or Brexit for that matter) because I don’t see anything truly “progressive” about them in the sense that they represent a challenge to the system. They just end up blunting the real need for a political and social revolution.

      Idle No More, inasmuch as it was a movement of aboriginal youth, has also to deal with an entrenched conservative “Indian Aristocracy” on the reserves, too, which often is self-enriching and not responsive to the needs of the band members, or which is clannish. I’ve seen it, and heard the complaint often enough. I was truly surprised at how many native people voted for the Harper Conservatives in the last election — 20%, or 1 in 5. There may have been reasons for that, but it wasn’t really much different from conservative support in the general population.

      In other respects, I’m not entirely convinced that there is a “method in the madness” as much as Lakoff thinks, although I think he’s right for the most part. But that there is a logical schema and implicit rationale behind the apparent eruptions of irrationality and madness may not be, at root, entirely true. There is, as I noted in an earlier post, the Dionysian-revivalist factor, and it doesn’t follow a logic or a schema, and comes closer to what Walter Benjamin, perhaps following Nietzsche’s insights, described as self-alienated humanity drawing aesthetic delight from its own self-destruction.

      If so, there may be a certain irony in a Trump presidency, particularly if it’s as catastrophic, nihilistic, and disastrous as many anticipate. It may, despite itself, serve to advance authentic progressive values — like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. The irrationalities of the Trump campaign, even as described by Lakoff, are also the form a self-negation and self-contradiction. Trumpism may, ironically, disassemble and deconstruct the very system it wants to preserve or restore, thereby creating an opportunity or opening for the emergence of Gebser’s integral consciousness. I don’t think Gebser saw it emerging in any other way but through a “catastrophe” brought about by the final failure and disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure.

      Which is already what Lakoff is describing there.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I notice that there’s some speculation (probably reasonable speculation) that Trump offered Mike Pence full control over foreign and domestic policy to get him onboard. In other words, it wouldn’t be a “Trump presidency” so much as a Pence presidency. Trump would simply serve as a figurehead, like Britain’s King or Queen, Or, like “The Great Communicator”, while significant policy decisions are left to Pence. Trump will practice his showmanship (PR) while Pence gets to deal with and craft the actual policies.

    Trump, in my estimation, doesn’t want to be president so much as he wants to be and feel like a capital W “Winner”. Political and policy analysis might be focussing on the wrong person. Pence may be the de facto president (and I don’t know anything about him, really).

  3. Dwig says :

    While following your investigation into marketing “magic”, I’ve also been reading Greer’s posts in “Galabes”. In the June and July posts, he gives a pretty fair picture of “operative magic”, both in the posts themselves, and in the conversation with readers who are, or are studying to become, mages.

    It’s clearly a well-developed field, and very different from the marketing “shamanism” you’ve been subjecting yourself to. (You have my sympathy and admiration for keeping yourself sane and able to “master” the material rather than vice versa.)

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