Archives for posts with tag: Capitalism

Competition is supposed to be the whetstone with which society continually betters itself. Society will flourishes when companies go head to head, as the free market will determine, based on what each of them offers against the other, which will succeed and which will flounder. We revel in the competitive, with combative (both figuratively and literally) sporting events being subscribed to with almost religious dogmatism. Competition appears to be the foundation of Western civilization, supporting the capitalist doctrine of invisible-hand economics.

In Ancient Greek philosophy, the competitive ideologues were called Sophists. The Sophists sought not to reach any kind of philosophical epiphany, but rather only to use language and rhetoric to convince their audience of their deliberative victory, regardless of the weakness of their arguments. The Sophists were derided by the classical philosophers whose names everyone knows, and now sophistry is used in common language to mean “the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.” History has already shown its preference.

Certainly the classical philosophers sparred over ideas. Aristotle is quoted as saying, “Piety requires us to honour truth above our friends” in regards to his philosophical criticisms of his tutor and friend, Plato. The difference however is this: the goal of Plato and Aristotle was never to be “right,” their goal was the truth. The Sophists had no goal other than to win, competition being their only motivation.

Competitivism as an ideology prefers to focus on winners, but by its very nature necessarily requires losers. The selfish could theoretically hoard to their heart’s content without impacting anyone else; the competitive need someone else to lose. Consider the outcome of the Sears corporation attempting to promote company profits by splitting everyone up into units and pitting them against each other. Unsurprisingly, they collapsed into chaos. The groups spent more time sabotaging each other than actually contributing anything toward the company’s well-being. Though in theory there could be Pyrrhic winners within the Sears organization, the main takeaway is that regardless of how the individual units did on their own, Sears as a whole failed catastrophically. The only thing stopping the Sears model and its consequences being a symbolic microcosm of society as a whole are the government regulations stopping competing corporations from burning the whole country to the ground. Competition is not a whetstone, but rather the motivation to slice the Achilles tendon of your opponent.

Unfortunately, those likely to win in a libertarian battle-royale, based on their already accumulated wealth and status, seek to drive us toward its unforgiving hellscape: the celebration of competition and the illusion of meritocracy allows them to exude the moral nobility of a cultural hero, no matter how many dead they’ve left in their wake. Who doesn’t love being a hero? From here, competitivism becomes a means of control. The winners have already won a game rigged in their favour, so they have nothing to fear, while the losers fight for scraps. Those who have noticed the problem can do nothing; to stop competing means to starve. We cannot stand with our neighbours because our neighbours are after the same scraps we need to feed our family.

In my own personal experience, I had a practicum at a Senior’s Resource Centre that provided information and other resources to those over the age of 65. All of the Senior’s Activity Centres in town got their funding from the same government grant, which means helping senior citizens is a zero-sum game. Some Activity Centres would come to the Resource Centre for a letter of commendation, little realizing that the Resource Centre too was seeking the same funds. If the goal was the improvement of the lives of seniors, then there would be an emphasis on dialogue and collaboration. Even if there were disagreements over the best methods, the goal would drive the collective forward. But because competitivism forced them against each other, they each now only have the goal to keep their own heads above the water, senior citizens be damned. The heads of the Activity Centres could not be in the same room together. It is my very own Sears Corporation anecdote. However, this is slightly different. Whereas the failure of one company might not have a huge impact on society overall, the collapse of the care for seniors in this city would devastate the local population. And due to the incumbent cutthroat competitivism, there is no possibility of political solidarity to stand against it.

The same applies to the private sector. I’m sure anyone with half a brain and half a heart has asked themselves why corporate executives seem to disregard the future of the human species for the sake of a short-term profit. Surely they must have grandchildren? The same systemic ideology that applies to Senior Activity Centres applies to corporations. A CEO that cannot provide immediate gains will simply be replaced by one who can; the corporation must remain competitive or it will sink. Though I’m sure greed certainly plays a part, it is the rules of competitivism that create the destructive myopia. “Winning” triumphs over common sense.

Competitivism: Where the means justify the end

What’s the point of being better than someone else? An evolutionary psychologist might make an argument for a biological mating drive, comparing us to male birds who advertise their virility with flamboyant plumage in competition with the other males. Hobbes’ state of nature paints humanity as brutal and selfish at our core, and he argues that for civilization to work we must be stringently regulated by a governing body. Though perhaps, just as libertarian goddess Ayn Rand suggests we condition altruism out of our social psyche, we could condition out competitiveness instead, which would reduce the need for oversight.

Alternatively, an anthropologist might argue that our natural state is far more collaborative, and that competitivism is what is conditioned into us rather than its opposite. Things like sporting events would be less like cultural memes indicative of our biological impulses, and more like propaganda for a systemic imbalance alien to our intrinsic nature. The only reason our society functions the way it does would be because the winners have told us this is the way it must be. In either case, be it our natural state or not, competitivism needs to be wrested from our civilization, lest it turn it into ash.

Post-script: I am directly related to athletes, so I’m going to answer the question about whether the elimination of competition would eliminate sport altogether. It is a question of goals. Is testing the human capacity for speed and endurance a reasonable goal? Sure. Why not test our limits. Is putting a ball in a net a reasonable goal? No. That’s entirely arbitrary and pointless. Sports entertainment is sophistry in its original sense. If it is something worthwhile, then it ought to be worked towards collectively and collaboratively. Can you imagine what a collaborative hockey match would look like? It would be a bunch of players standing in front of an empty net trying to see how many pucks they could put in during the span of three 20 minute periods.

Television advertisements are typically understood as brief pieces of video art selling us whatever product happens to feature most prominently within them. This propaganda is generally considered benign because the bias is already understood, and most people accept that capitalism requires the spread of information on products in order for those products to sell. We tend to think that the product is the focus in advertisements because the product is what the seller would like us to buy. Unfortunately, that is entirely false. Advertisements stopped selling products a long time ago. What they sell now is a desirable yet entirely constructed lifestyle, and the product, we are told, is supposed to help us achieve it.

I’m going to go over this Superbowl ad for Jeep 4x4s for two reasons. It exemplifies this thesis with a nauseating abundance of proof, and it plays in my local movie theatre all the time so each time I see a movie, I have to sit through it. Full disclosure, I genuinely enjoy this ad. The song is catchy, it is conceptually well thought out, it has great production value, and it projects its message so well that I am more impressed than I am enraged.

Before going any farther, you should really watch the ad or this blog won’t make a lot of sense.

I’m going to give my own breakdown of this ad, so keep in mind that this analysis will be through my own lens. Others will encounter different ideas, and that is quite probably by design. My goal isn’t necessarily to show you what this ad is about, but to show you what it isn’t about. So, onto the ad:

4×4 by land, 4×4 by sea, 4×4 by air cuz I like to fly free

First off, we are shown a series of different landscapes and roads hinting at the capability of 4x4s to cover any terrain with ease, even though we have yet to be shown an image of this vehicle. Then it covers the sea and air, which cannot possibly be related to a Jeep because Jeeps are not boats, nor are they capable of flight. This means that land, air, and sea are not indicative of the vehicles capabilities to explore, but illustrate freedom without restriction. We can go anywhere and do anything. I mean it even says the word “free” right in the lyric.

This is like the opposite of a Jeep. Advertising one vehicle but showing a different one?

This is like the opposite of a Jeep. Advertising one vehicle but showing a different one?

The hot air balloon is likely used to distance the viewer’s thought process away from the banality of regular air travel toward the more novel, and therefore more exotic and fun, type of flying. Freedom, in this context, must be understood as without restrictions or responsibilities, and wholly predisposed toward hedonism.

4 by 4am that’s when I rise, sneak up on the landscape catch it by surprise

I see this section as promoting the type of person who we all want to be: the person who gets up early to do their chosen passion, in this instance hiking, instead the slovenly jerk who never gets anything productive done.

It's like that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba that he will rule over all that the light touches, but with Jeeps.

It’s like that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba that he will rule over all that the light touches, but with Jeeps.

Already we’ve established a clear link to hedonistic freedom, and now we’ve made a connection to the kind of person that could maintain the lifestyle of continued access to that kind of freedom.

For my country how it all started out, for the brave in every boy scout

I took a lot of screen captures from this section, so I’m going to break it down image by image.

The very first look at an actual Jeep, more than a quarter into the advertisement, and it's right next to a God damn American flag.

The very first look at an actual Jeep, more than a quarter into the advertisement, and it’s right next to a God damn American flag.

Jeep is an American company, but it is a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, an Italian-controlled multinational corporation. I’m sure that is irrelevant to this imagery. Anyway, if we consider the railway as a part of how the country started out, this is again another reference to freedom. The railway connected the continent, and allowed European settlers to manifest the shit out of their destiny. The first image of the Jeep next to an American flag on a train, talking about how the country started out, solidifies my argument that this advertisement is not selling Jeeps, but Americanized “freedom”.

Speaking of

Speaking of “Freedom” in desperately needed quotation marks…

Americans love their troops, and associating what I’m guessing is an allusion to World War 1 to the foundation of the country, 141 years earlier, is a way to gloss over the war that actually founded America: the genocide of the Native Americans. Not wanting to distance themselves from how great war is, Jeep decided to whitewash American history in order to link themselves to patriotism through warfare.

Boys with their toys

Boys with their toys

Jumping from images of soldiers to an image of a young boy firing a weapon shows the more subtle aspects of advertising. Beyond showcasing past and present (and future when you recognize that this is an image of a child) representations of the nobility of warfare, we’re also shown that young boys ought to be groomed toward violence and warfare. I say “ought” because culture is normalizing, and if this normalizing culture produces these images, then it is “normal” to adhere to them. Normalcy breeds conformity.

For the fun of it cuz you know you can, 4×4 more air, more sea, more land

Though we are shown a Jeep driving through snow, this section is essentially identical to the first. Images of extreme, fun activities that are not related to driving a Jeep in the slightest.

Less relevant to a Jeep than even a hot air balloon.

Less relevant to a Jeep than even a hot air balloon.

You know what’s fun and cool? Snowboarding, surfing, and spelunking. Look at all of these cool, fun things! None of them are related to driving a Jeep. At all. But if you consider what people might want to do if they had greater hedonistic freedom, then the imagery becomes much more appropriate.

4×4 doin’ it yourself cuz you want it done right

We can do it!

We can do it!

This is a woman using her Jeep to clear a path. Remember what I said about normalizing? This ad is showing it is normal for women to do things on their own. You might think that it is contradictory to empower women in a scene so soon after they had associated men with virtuous violence. Regardless of the value the people at Jeep associate with feminism or violence in masculinity, by definition an advertisement is doing its absolute best to pander to its target demographic. Feminism is popular, so having a woman performing traditionally masculine activities by herself panders directly to that. This is how advertisers choose what to normalize. This isn’t about feminism, nor is it about patriarchy. It’s about making money.

4×4 top down stars keep you up at night; four stories that were meant to be turned, for the dares and the thrills that you earned

I don’t really need to get into these sections. It’s all more of the same. Open night sky and freedom; extreme hedonistic pleasures, yadda yadda yadda. I’m not even sure if the lyrics are right, but this portion is basically filler.

exotic-and-extreme-travel

If you haven’t noticed the trends by now, you might as well just buy a Jeep.

The earned thrills may be related to the bootstrap mentality that anyone who has access to this kind of freedom, if it exists at all, must have gained it through meritocratic means. America.

4×4 conquest, 4×4 dreams, 4×4 wakin’ up and crossin’ those streams;

Again, mostly filler, but I want to address one part.

Feminism, racial diversity, and patriarchal expectations of masculinity. This ad really has got it all.

Feminism, racial diversity, and patriarchal expectations of masculinity. This ad really has got it all.

We have our very first racial minority, and it’s a black person in tandem with the word “dream”. Now this ad is associating itself with Martin Luther King as part of its Americanism. A more symbolic kind of freedom, along with the normalization of race and gender. And apparently Ghostbusters? Your guess is as good as mine on that one…

4×4 everyone with 75 years

This ad is celebrating the 75 year anniversary of Jeep. I’m not sure of the grammar, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it says.

Happy Anniversary Jeep! Much love, a white woman in a Native American sweater.

Happy Anniversary Jeep! Much love, a white woman in a Native American sweater.

I don’t really want to get into cultural appropriation, but I’m sure if you care about that you have many choice words about it that you can insert here. What I’m going to focus on is the environmental tinge this image is seeped in. This ad is trying very hard to appear progressive in its imagery of women and racial minorities, and it is now trying to jump on the green bandwagon by having someone native-esque literally inside of a tree. It’s not like automobiles are responsible for 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and 63% of greenhouse gas emissions from private households in Canada.

4×4 the waves that’s how we say cheers

The peace sign. So much hippy symbolism in an ad for a pollutant.

The peace sign. So much hippy symbolism in an ad for a pollutant.

In addition to freedom, we now have community tacked on at the end. Sure there have been multiple people in scenes up until now, but it has been predominantly individual-focused. Now we are shown real human interaction once both of them are inside a Jeep. Owning a Jeep isn’t about being able to drive from point A to point B at speeds dictated by State law, it’s about belonging to something bigger than yourself.

That’s how we live, 4x4ever

Perfectly sums it up. It’s not about the Jeep; it’s about how we live. Like I said, they aren’t even trying to be discreet about telling you what kind of lifestyle you ought to be living. But an important thing to keep in mind isn’t even the lifestyle they are showing you, but the lifestyle they aren’t showing. There are no seniors, for example, because age is associated with decrepitude and having socially plateaued which is antithetical to Jeep’s freedom-oriented theme. Rather than try to combat stereotypes, the ad ignores the demographic altogether. The one couple is also a heterosexual couple, which shows that as progressive as Jeep is trying to be, they are sticking to relatively harmless progressive tropes in order to get that across. A black woman aspiring to claim a divine light isn’t pushing any boundaries. It is a safe progressivism that allows Jeep to acquire as large an audience as possible, without alienating anyone.

What does any of this mean, though? Well, it’s an advertisement. I can observe as many social inferences in it as I like, it doesn’t mean anything until it’s applied to the fact that Jeep is still trying to sell a product. Only, they’re not selling Jeeps. When I said that an advertisement is selling whatever features most prominently, I wasn’t lying. It’s just that what features most prominently is an ideology of freedom, hedonism, Americanism, and community. A consumer wouldn’t buy a Jeep because they needed a Jeep, but because they feel their lives are lackluster, empty, and confined. Buying the Jeep is supposed to fulfill what the advertisement is selling, after all, and so someone who feels held back by their job, or who is lonely or stuck in a rut, will see this and think, “All those happy young people, that could be me!” and then buy the Jeep. They “earn” that freedom, youth, and ecstasy by going into debt to buy a car.

A Jeep obviously can’t fulfill any of those desires. A Jeep is a private vehicle. Private vehicles get you from one place to another more quickly than walking and less grossly than public transit. In fact, associating freedom, exuberance, human connection, etc. with a material product means that those who succumb to the cultural normalizing, accepting what the media tells them is normal, will never actually achieve those important aspects of human existence because they will seek them through meaningless crap instead of creating them within their own lives. When people talk about capitalism deadening human development, this is a big part of it. All that normalizing I was talking about is done in the context of selling something, and that something needs to be bought in order for this paradigm to function. Therefore, this propaganda is not actually benign. The bias isn’t toward the superiority of the product but toward the normalcy of the ideology bent toward its use. Ads are designed to cater to the fulfillment of our natural human urges by suggesting we buy something that cannot possibly fulfill them. If we were fulfilled as human beings, we obviously wouldn’t need to buy anything more, now would we?

This type of critical analysis isn’t limited to advertisements. Advertisements are just the most obvious and the most malicious. You can look at news articles, movies, comics, public speeches, etc. and see this kind of subtle normalizing everywhere. What ideologies are they promoting? What aspects of human life are they avoiding? What are they saying is normal? Abnormal? What is the impact of these hidden ideologies on the overarching message of whatever media you are consuming? What are they selling you?

About a week ago, I was waiting at a bus stop on my way home, and I was approached by a pair of Mormons going about their rounds. They stopped to chat, as is their wont, and the one, taller Mormon acknowledged my E Pluribus Anus shirt that I was sporting at the time.

This is the only picture of me where the logo is reasonably visible, and I'm not taking a fucking selfie for my dumb blog.

This is the only picture of me where the logo is reasonably visible, and I’m not taking a fucking selfie for my dumb blog.

This is a reference to the television show Community for those godless heathens among you who don’t know your anus references, as seen in the school’s logo.

It translates to, "From Many Buttholes." Very poetic.

It translates to, “From Many Buttholes.” Very poetic.

Now, to me, this was great because it meant I got to talk about buttholes with Mormons, which has been my dream since childhood. I mean, we talked about other things like where they were from and boring social stuff, but whatever. The point is we shared a pleasant conversation. Meanwhile the bus pulls up, and they ask me if I would want to meet up with them later for a gathering, and I said, “No, I’m not interested, thank you, but it was nice chatting with you!” and got on the bus. As we parted ways, the one Mormon shouted after me, “Pop POP!” It was a magical moment.

As I got on the bus and displayed my pass, the bus driver said to me, “I saved you, huh?” as if I had just barely survived a shark attack, and he had pulled me from the water. Thing is, he hadn’t. The Mormons were kind and polite, and I was perfectly content having an idle conversation with them, and the bus driver did not commit any extra effort to rescue me from the uncomfortable situation he believed me to be in, he was just doing his job. If anyone was legitimately trying to save me, it was the Mormons.

A lot of people loathe door-to-door evangelists, and I get it. That used to be me. I would relish the occasion where one day I would finally get to ask a silly religious person why God would have created a universe wherein He would have to wait billions of years for His creation to come about if He allegedly loves us so much, or if the Earth is only 6000 years old, how does that explain the entirety of science? I mean, I love popcorn but I gotta admit, two minutes is about the extent I’m willing to wait. Compared to billions of years? Nobody loves popcorn that much. Alternatively, if I just came across a bowl of popcorn in the street and assumed that’s where popcorn came from, then I’d be stupid. I call it: The Popcorn Argument.

Eventually I learned that purpose, hope, and community are super important and hey! Turns out religion offers all those things. Now I’m the atheist who writes blogs defending organized religion. Go figure. These days when I’m given the opportunity to demand an explanation for the problem of evil, I prefer just being pleasant with another human being. Honestly, I’m probably better off.

Now, I didn’t write this blog just to tell you about my dabblings with theology. What I wanted to do was help out a reader or two come to grips with evangelist behaviour because it gets a lot of flack, and I don’t really think it deserves it. So come with me on a thought-experiment journey to a magical land where money dictates the turning of the world… which is actually this world. I guess you didn’t have to journey that far.

Imagine you won the lottery. Not like a free scratch or ten bucks, but the real jackpot. Huzzah, right?! And I’m not even talking about double-digit millions of dollars here, I’m talking infinite dollars. Literally an unending supply of dollars. Pay off your bills, take a trip to Hawaii, buy that happiness everyone keeps talking about… you will never have to have a financial worry again in your life! Now we’ll have to stretch our imaginations here a little bit and pretend you’re not a selfish piece of shit. You realize that with infinite dollars, you could pay off the bills of everyone! Pay off their mortgages; fund their kids’ tuition; pay for their health insurance! With an infinite amount of dollars, you could pass on infinite dollars to everyone! It’s one of the perks of infinite! So you go door to door, and you’re like, “Hey friend! I was that person who won that crazy jackpot that defies the laws of economic inflation! Want to have all your financial troubles taken care of forever?” Sane people would say yes. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve stumbled into a weird hippy commune! They reject your currency because they’re content with their bartering system of beads and hemp! They say things like, “Don’t you know that your money is fake? What real value has a piece of paper outside of what society collectively attributes to it? NOTHING! You believe in a lie!” The crazy fools, don’t they see the glory that is monetary-based capitalism? Monetary-based capitalism within which, as infinite-aires, they can live out the rest of their hippy lives in abundance and luxury? Lunacy!

So as a person with access to the infinite who is seeking to share its benefits for the good of everyone, do you feel like you’re worthy of scorn from smelly hippies? No, of course not. You’re only trying to help! The difference lies in each group’s perspective as to what generates worth, be it the agreed upon social value of a piece of paper (or more so nowadays the value of a few pixels on a screen), or, to bring back our titular Mormons, the value of an invisible deity. Each person is going to have a different view, but if we realize that unless we are selfish pieces of shit, we would perform the exact evangelistic deeds if we had access to an infinite portion of something we find so valuable.