Corporatism didn’t evolve naturally. The landscape on which we are living—the operating system on which we are now running our social software—was invented by people, sold to us as a better way of life, supported by myths, and ultimately allowed to develop into a self-sustaining reality. It is a map that has replaced the territory.
Its basic laws were set in motion as far back as the Renaissance; it was accelerated by the Industrial Age; and it was sold to us as a better way of life by a determined generation of corporate leaders who believed they had our best interests at heart and who ultimately succeeded in their dream of controlling the masses from above. We have succumbed to an ideology that has the same intellectual underpinnings and assumptions about human nature as—dare we say it—mid-twentieth-century fascism. Given how the word has been misapplied to everyone from police officers to communists, we might best refrain from resorting to what has become a feature of cheap polemic. But in this case it’s accurate, and that we’re forced to dance around this “F word” today would certainly have pleased Goebbels greatly.
The current situation resembles the managed capitalism of Mussolini’s Italy, in particular. It shares a common intellectual heritage (in disappointed progressives who wanted to order society on a scientific understanding of human nature), the same political alliance (the collaboration of the state and the corporate sector), and some of the same techniques for securing consent (through public relations and propaganda). Above all, it shares with fascism the same deep suspicion of free humans.
And, as with any absolutist narrative, calling attention to the inherent injustice and destructiveness of the system is understood as an attempt to undermine our collective welfare. The whistle-blower is worse than just a spoilsport; he is an enemy of the people.
Unlike Europe’s fascist dictatorships, this state of affairs came about rather bloodlessly—at least on the domestic front. Indeed, the real lesson of the twentieth century is that the battle for total social control would be waged and won not through war and overt repression, but through culture and commerce. Instead of depending on a paternal dictator or nationalist ideology, today’s system of control depends on a society fastidiously cultivated to see the corporation and its logic as central to its welfare, value, and very identity.
That’s why it’s no longer Big Brother who should frighten us—however much corporate lobbies still seek to vilify anything to do with government beyond their own bailouts. Sure, democracy may be the quaint artifact of an earlier era, but what has taken its place? Suspension of habeas corpus, surveillance of citizens, and the occasional repression of voting notwithstanding, this mess is not the fault of a particular administration or political party, but of a culture, economy, and belief system that places market priorities above life itself. It’s not the fault of a government or a corporation, the news media or the entertainment industry, but the merging of all these entities into a single, highly centralized authority with the ability to write laws, issue money, and promote its expansion into our world.
Then, in a last cynical surrender to the logic of corporatism, we assume the posture and behaviors of corporations in the hope of restoring our lost agency and security. But the vehicles to which we gain access in this way are always just retail facsimiles of the real ones. Instead of becoming true landowners we become mortgage holders. Instead of guiding corporate activity we become shareholders. Instead of directing the shape of public discourse we pay to blog. We can’t compete against corporations on a playing field that was created for their benefit alone.1
1. Rushkoff, Douglas (2009-05-27). Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (Kindle Locations 277-306). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.