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The Reillusionment

The hierarchal personality, bound to the land or a trade or a person, able to read the few symbols needed for the job, lived somewhere in the  more or less stable pyramid of social power.  You had someone telling you what to do and probably had someone to order around as well. 

Owned by kings, barons owned their peasants as fathers owned their wives and children.  While broadcasting benevolence and virtue, every institution was just another landowning center of power, allied or at war with other centers, which kept everyone working and paying their taxes and supplying men and materials for commerce and war.  The human biomass increased and invaded all continents. 

Knowledge was kept in books written in dead languages guarded by authorities. 

The Enlightenment freed some of humanity from the burden of authoritarian knowledge by making some privileges available to a larger group.  More people could see the books and write their own.  The discoveries in science and math were particularly portable, since so many of the experiences could be replicated and developed by anyone with a place to work.  

Universities co-evolved with learning, multiplying the channels of knowledge propagation, expanding the freedom and wealth of the victors of the expansion.  It looked like progress to some of the survivors.  Human culture accelerated its evolution. 

The individual co-evolved with the opening up of knowledge to operate and maintain the machinery of human culture, to produce, consume and trade its artifacts.  Even the aristocracy was recreated.  We became aware of the diversity of the human species and of nature too. 

Many people got about as much education as they could handle.  Then they got jobs and married and had children to lead through the labyrinth of the market, to point out the various objects of desire and then to take home and to consume, to empty the container so that more must be had so that they can grow up and go to school and so on.  Thus the cultural ideology reproduces itself, bootstrapping into post-modernity where everything changes, and even change can stop.  Everything is opening up, including the possibility of destroying ourselves. 

There is a great homogenization happening among humans.  More and more we are acting and dressing and talking and choosing and buying and learning and producing alike and the intimate corporate network is learning to produce and market not only their goods and services, not only their best-practices, but also their best practitioners.  We are manufacturing types of people.  We are manufacturing ourselves as educated producers and consumers of news, sport, spectacle, food, shelter, clothing, pets, health care, cosmetics, entertainment, pet supplies, gadgets, public assistance, heavy machinery and the objects of class and adornment. 

While maintaining the vocabulary of the individual, we are becoming more and more alike.  While insisting on the entire spectrum of choice from birth to death, while fiercely defending our opinions, while participating in every opportunity of democracy, we imitate our closest acquaintances, and the imitations propagate through every medium to every global corporate citizen.  The simple act of walking down the street says volumes about who you think you are.  Art writhes in cultural self-awareness, which is not necessarily beautiful but it tries to be something. 

While continuing to use the vocabulary of the individual, we are becoming increasingly identical agents of the global technical empire.  We manage protest with a best-practice.  All art is preempted and sold back to the consumers by institutions already performing that service.  If it catches your attention, it can be bought.  Our worst enemies are employed to generate news and movies so we can repeatedly identify and demonize them so to build armies and machines to hunt and kill them. 

In tandem with change, the new personality of the agile corporate citizen boldly steps forth.  Highly mobile, able to perform an intersection of job descriptions, unencumbered by felonies or significant resume-gaps, somewhat new in town, university-educated but classically illiterate, able to hit the ground running, always looking for a job, good communication skills, detail-oriented, a good match, brilliant, in short, an enthusiastic agent for hire. 

Universities are centers of power, reservoirs of teachings, and producers of the corporate citizen.  The school system is designed not to open up the tenderly curious child to the universe of experience, not to create the individual with critical thinking skills, but to train him to sit and listen, to understand and execute directions, to work alone or in small groups, to assemble and observe the spectacle, to sing together, in short, to practice the skills needed by the global technical empire. 

We are all invested in the status quo.  The current process produces (but does not necessarily distribute) food, shelter, clothing, and entertainment to 7 billion humans, a biomass rivaled by no other species on the planet. 

The empire is not a conspiracy because it’s many conspiracies.  There is no shortage of closed-door meetings, groups with privileged knowledge, proprietary documentation, patents and copyrights.  Many cancel out others.  The net motion is a vector sum of all its influences. 

The empire’s objectives are easy to read but we don’t.  Instead we publish insufferably generic mission statements and practice damage control when violating our mission.  The best practices of public relations are found to be far cheaper than doing something substantive about a problem inconveniently brought to the public attention. 

And by being technical it is not only because it uses technology but that the empire masters the best practices with and across the domains of human resources, mining, manufacturing, marketing, customer relations, enterprise resource planning, demand planning, government, education and all the dimensions of imperial opportunity.  Our governing technology is the set of evolving techniques with which we manage our enterprises. 

While the corporation has brilliant humans diligently working for it, as a whole, it is stupid.  The larger the community, the less mobile it is.  It has to reach a consensus as to what is good to eat, what’s going to eat it, what’s already been eaten to act on the world stage.  Components sometimes fail to exercise good judgment.  The merger is its equivalent to sex, which is yet another act of eating.  Mergers acquire customers. 

We are not going back to the pre-enlightenment hierarchal society with its petty autocratic personalities but moving forward into an illusion that constructs our personalities consistent with the global technical empire.  The new personalities speak the vocabulary of the individual but the meaning has aligned not with the individual but with the corporate citizen.  One is still encouraged to be an individual but to do so within the vast power structure of the universities, corporations and governments, all of which act like corporations.  One exercises choice as a producer and consumer of products and in that exercise is constructed as the corporate personality. 

One does not create oneself: those days are rapidly drawing to a close.  Nor do the universities, corporations or governments construct you.  You become constructed dynamically in the relationship.  In this way, you can move from corporation to university to government, believing in a disparate set of paradigms, being a different person in different environments while bearing the illusion of personal integrity.  Integrity is becoming ever more convenient, as it is the reward for participation and its language is common to the disparate industries. 

The product of universities is not disembodied knowledge but particular kinds of people.  The product of news shows is not the news but the legions of television watchers.  The product of corporations is only partially their products: it is also the workers.  The product of governments is not just the administration of its domain but its creatively obedient subjects.  Thus we are created. 

Thus the agile personality finds its place, once again, within its social network.  The person is now a set of masks and costumes hiding the embarrassment of emptiness within.  The emptiness is critical to the global empire because of its vacuity, which must be filled with the newest objects of desire, which must be purchased with money that is earned, which is produced by the job for which you are trained, which depends on the global market for goods and services. 

Art, science, history, mathematics, public policy and individual freedom must all bow to the increasingly globalized and homogenized livelihoods of their human constituents.  The larger components of the global technological corporations (the universities, corporations and governments) have discovered that identical techniques should be used in the administration of the disparate components.  These techniques of administration include human resources, general accounting, marketing, supply chain, treasury management, customer relations management, public relations and infrastructure improvement. 

On the lower level, it’s a better employee-fit if the candidate has experience in the technique and the industry, but on the higher levels of senior management the industry is less important.  The mastering of the techniques is of prime importance.  Business school teaches the set of techniques independent of the particular industry.  Agile employees hop from corporation to university to government, climbing up a step in terms of salary and responsibility with each move. 

The post-modern power structures do not open in the same way that the component corporations, universities and governments opened during the Enlightenment, which opened a window on the universe of knowledge that was expanding in size and detail and that increasingly welcomed your participation. 

Today, the universe of knowledge continues to expand but for the employee the opening is always within the corporate techniques and in their perfection, adaptation, and implementation. 

The employee has the illusion of participating in an open field by contributing original solutions to the component in compliance with component policy.  Awards, recognitions, and promotions are generously distributed.  We are encouraged to think outside the box but always in service to the particular component that employs us. 

Genuine original thinking is labeled quirky if only slightly distracting and grounds for disastrous dismissal when questioning fundamentals.  Many contracts with employees specify that the employee can be dismissed if found to be acting against the company’s interests, even outside of working hours and off site.  Whistle-blowers are always punished.  Think courageously outside of one box but meekly within another. 

Dissent among citizens is handled informally in several cunning ways. 

Many people refuse to debate politics because of the controversy it engenders. 

Secondly, the debates never recognize that opinions are deeply held.  In fact, opinions are at the very core of the constructed person and are not changed by information.  To change someone’s mind is to change who they are.  Opinion is not a matter of fact but a matter of existence.  And not only would you have to change your interlocutor, you would also have to get him to change all of his interlocutors, as like people tend to band together and radicals are clearly labeled and driven out. 

Thirdly, debates tend to homogenize as someone holding radical opinions can be ostracized and boycotted.  Even if tolerated, the toleration becomes a way for the group to label and marginalize the radical. 

Fourthly, participation in larger groups, such as universities, corporations, and government agencies is subject to a filtering process that tends to eliminate people who express strange ideas.  If you have your own opinion at variance with an expected norm, keep quiet about it.  Cheer the mission of the organization sincerely. 

The pattern of continuous improvement of technique governs post-modern civilization and necessarily leads to the great global homogenization.  Everything is mass-produced, including goods and services and their consumers and producers.  And it feeds and clothes the world, providing not only the objects of desire but the objects of need and the means by which we can obtain them. 

The empire is remarkably stable, wars and recessions notwithstanding.  Corporations are designed to insulate themselves from disaster, mainly through adaptive means.  When they experience a downturn they lay off employees.  They change their public relations easily and are always looking for new markets.  Their officers are insulated from liability.  They employ teams of lawyers to protect themselves.  Stock markets tend to minimize difference between price and value.  Corporations employ governments to help them penetrate domestic and foreign markets.  They insure each other against disaster.  Governments bail out corporations.  Laws are passed that favor one corporation over another or one industry over another or one government over another.  Not only do the components of empire share techniques and personnel but corporations, through lobbying groups, write legislation.  With the continued globalization of corporations, the effort at stability is becoming increasingly international.  Governments, corporations and universities cooperate on many levels to ensure their stability. 

When our species finally settles on a maximum population, hopefully non-catastrophically, the size of markets will slowly stop changing.  They will only open to small changes in demographics.  There will be already a best-practice in place that can be improved only incrementally.  And the improvements are quickly noticed and acquired by the competition. 

The questions are not: Is this the best way?  The right way?  What other directions can we take?  But Can we change our direction at all?  The consumer economy and its constituent personalities are really the ordering of personal self-interest, bluntly, the orchestration of greed.  Other than the way it is currently changing, because of the alignment of personality and corporation, fundamental change is improbable.  Humanity is achieving the practical union of person and community on a global scale and reinventing the human personality as part of the process.  

 

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One response to “The Reillusionment

  1. Doug Marshall ⋅

    Very well written and intriguing. I await the entire book with great interest.

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