Sunday, November 11, 2018
Working, Purchasing, and Soul Murdering
During the 1960s, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse proposed a worrisome cultural trend just as relevant now as then:
We Americans are exposed to as much media manipulation as the average Russian, North Korean, or Venezuelan citizen.
Unlike those people subject to these overtly authoritarian regimes, we Americans are hijacked by propaganda not deliberately sent by a mafia-like president, a dictator, or an autocrat.
Instead, the propaganda is introduced to us through major international corporations, including the television, cinematic, and cable entertainment industries. They exert powerful influences on us to either work or purchase.
Again, no specific conspiracy exists.
It’s not like some group of ten, rich white men sit around a table to create these demands. These cultural influences seem to have grown out of the Protestant ethic first shaping this country and subsequently milked (mostly unconsciously) by multi-national corporations.
Here are the two major cultural trends pushed on us:
- Work or, in neo-Marxist terms, produce. Just watch any random TV, print, or internet advertisement. Also, pay attention to the plots of most shows. Sure, some advertisements hawk medications or walk-in shower stalls; some movie plots show realms of fantasy or complete make-believe. But most portray people working arduously in order to earn money to purchase cars, jewelry, insurance policies, and other goods/services. (For some reason, just recently, I’ve noticed nearly every character in contemporary television shows drinking immense amounts of alcohol.)
- Purchase, known in political philosophy as that horrid word, consume. Incredibly powerful advertisements, as well as most major movies and television show plots, encourage us to work until depleted. Then, so goes the typical American advertisement or dramatic show, we buy things, usually unnecessary ones, to obtain the illusion of satisfaction.
Pathetically, this cycle of production and consumption literally drains us. It provides little actual satisfaction. Only a few lucky people work in jobs they truly find gratifying; then, feeling completely exhausted, they purchase goods or services that really don’t address their hunger. Often they go into debt to do so.
Such debt, in turn, only increases the need to work or produce. So begins an endless cycle, usually ending in death when, even then, casket, urn, cemeteries, and manufacturers of similar goods and services seek our survivors’ hard-earned dollars.
As I write this post, the average American has a reserve of $400 to help them through an emergency. In other words, most of us are already in debt or one illness or injury away from getting into debt.
For the record, I’m all for market forces. I believe in a blending of capitalism and socialism. Ideally, capitalism propels those motivated and ambitious to create the best goods and services; socialism provides for basic healthcare for all, a universal basic income, Social Security, and other services for those less competent or motivated.
Sadly, only tiny if any markets exist to encourage us to work on our friendships, enjoy our solitude, look inward, or seek peace based more on being than doing.
My line of work—psychoanalyst or psychoanalytic psychotherapist—offers these more introspective services. Unfortunately, patients typically only seek help after they’ve already been inculcated into a life of production and consumption.
As I have noted in past posts, knowledge is power.
All psychological change begins with increasing consciousness, with greater awareness.
Simply observing the themes of ads, the plot lines observable in cable television or cinema, or hearing your friends talk to one another (did you see Johnny’s new car? did you hear Jane got a new necklace?) will demonstrate the ubiquity of the hawking of production and consumption.
Once you see it, you can begin to escape it.
“Hey, wanna go with me to the local park and, whoa, just sit and have a quiet talk?”
Be careful here;
that is a radical, even revolutionary invitation.
Marcuse, H. (1964). One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP