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Emotionomics: A Noteworthy “Revelation” of Market Totalitarianism

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Capitalism’s apologists have always painted their allegedly history-ending system as the antithesis of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism, of course, is the sort of modern social order in which a ruling elite tries to control all aspects of life of its subject population, especially via threats and appeals to forms of propaganda-induced unreason.

Capitalism, they say, is the opposite of totalitarianism, as it is inherently not just respectful of, but actively encouraging of, the advancement of independent self-interested calculation and free choice among the masses.

Alas, they lie.

As Noam Chomsky says, in the real world, capitalists hate the kinds of competitive “markets” classically assumed by Adam Smith.   Those “classic” (and purportedly still extant) situations are simply not conducive to maximizing owners’ profits, as they tend to require price- and management-minimization.  Because of these noisome pressures, amid the Great Depression of the 1870s-1890s, the overclass used its clout to launch the corporate age.  Capitalism quickly became corporate capitalism

By the 1920s, the overclass began to realize that diverting some of its bounteous new corporate cash flows into managing workers not just at work but also off the job could, if well and carefully done, become yet another source of ROI.

In the 1950s, accelerating movement in this direction yielded the breakthrough now known in boardrooms and business schools as “the marketing revolution.”  Ever since its consolidation — most especially in the core selling zones created by a combination of early capitalist plunder and employment patterns, mid-20th-century democratic footholds, and the need to bolster the Cold War storyline — corporate capitalists have devoted ever-growing budgets to managing the realm of what we uninformed commoners still quaintly think of as our “free time.”

Needless to say, the science of capitalist behavioral management has become ever more ambitious.  Take a look at Emotionomics, a new book in which corporate consultant Dan Hill reports and muses on the growing practice of corporate “neuromarketing.”

Here’s the overall context:

Described by marketing super-guru Philip Kotler as “a revelation,” the book not only tips the hand of core big business marketing attitudes and methods, but it is indeed a “revelation” — an especially clear, not-for-public ears enunciation of the true voice of corporate capital.

Hill’s core revelation is a naked, un-self-conscious admission of the reality of market totalitarianism at the heart of corporate capitalist normalcy.

Hill, whose “blue-chip clients have included Target, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate, and Kellogg, among many others,” counsels his audience of corporate planners to once-and-for-all stop kidding themselves about the “world’s love affair with rationality”:

Breakthroughs in brain science have revealed that people are primarily emotional decision-makers. . . .  Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behavior.  As a result, companies able to identify, quantify, and thereby act on achieving emotional buy-in or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that: both workers and “consumers” are objects of detailed, ongoing, essentially emotional managerial control campaigns.

As Noam Chomsky also frequently points out, big business corporations are “unaccountable private tyrannies.”  These days, they are also getting increasingly clear amongst themselves about the classical nature of their tyranny: Stripped of the standard self-congratulating, self-excusing managerial jargon, this nature is nothing less than pure totalitarianism.


Michael Dawson is a writer and sociology teacher living in Portland, Oregon, author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (University of Illinois Press, 2005) and Automobiles Ueber Alles: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States (a book forthcoming from Monthly Review Press).  Visit his blog: <www.consumertrap.com>.



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