Media Note: I have a column up at Taki. This will be a regular thing, but how regular is unknown at this point. We’ll see how it goes. I will be on the Killstream this Wednesday to celebrate the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. The show starts somewhere around nine eastern and runs for a couple of hours.
The old left-wing critique of post-war America was that it was rampant consumerism resulting from the embrace of unfettered capitalism. Everything is commercialized and that which cannot be turned into a reason to buy stuff is discarded. The old right-wing criticism is that America is not free enough. Everywhere the tentacles of the state invade the normal activity of society. Both are correct in that America now operates like a giant corporate entity, rather than a country.
A country in the modern sense is a collection of nations. France is not a unified nation, as its regions are quite distinct with unique histories. Those nations are held together by a shared history and a common interest in being French. The same was always true of the United States, hence the name. The states reflected the nations of the country, held together by a common origin story and common interest. Those regional differences turned up in the language and culture.
The distinguishing characteristic of the America that emerged from the Cold War is that it is losing its regional variety in favor of a bland, corporate sameness. Everywhere you go you see the same corporate brands, which are often owned by the same corporate parent, providing the illusion of choice. Housing developments are all based on the same styles and patterns, because the builders are all the same. A new development in North Carolina looks just like one in Dallas or Cleveland.
America is often described by critics as nothing more than a shopping mall, where the only connection the people have to one another is the choice of product. This is not a right-wing critique, even though the dissident right has embraced it. This is more of an old left-wing critique of America. Capitalism is to blame for transforming America into a giant open-air marketplace. Instead of a culture based on organic institutions and a shared experience, it is based on buying stuff.
There is truth to it, but it misses what is really going on. America is now a corporation, rather than a country. It is why the public space is being transformed into something that looks like a corporate training center. You don’t go there to express an opinion or advance your interests, but to learn the latest policies. The person in charge sees herself as a facilitator, using behavioral techniques she learned in graduate school, in order to help you reach your potential an employee.
Just look at how the big social media platforms censure people. It is not traditional censorship we would see in an ideological state. Instead, the first violation gets you a day off to think about what you have done. The next violation gets you a longer bit of time off, which everyone knows means you’re on the list. The next downsizing means you get let go, regardless of your performance. Finally, like an employee that never fit into the corporate culture, you’re fired from the platform.
Note too that the enforcers at these firms clearly share information with one another about violators. One day the problematic user wakes up and his Twitter has been suspended, his Facebook is deleted and his YouTube channel nuked. This happens for the same reason the HR department ticks the box “Not eligible for rehire” when you’re riffed out of the place. It is not about you. You’re dead to them now. It is a service to their peers, so they can avoid hiring the same mistake.
This is why our radicals now sound like every human resource department and our politicians look like everyone at a corporate retreat. The managerial elite is imposing its corporate sensibilities on the country. The dreary sameness we see all around us is what you see inside every corporation. Everything must serve the point of the enterprise, even the aesthetic. Everything is subject to the quest for efficiency, so everything that makes life interesting is removed.
The regions of the country are no longer unique cultures with unique histories, but subsidiaries that must be normalized into the cooperate culture. Movies and television are repetitive and shallow, because corporate culture eschews creativity as risky and embraces banality because it is predictable and safe. Sports are drenched in identity politics because cross-marketing says the way to promote a new product is to attach it to the most successful product in the catalog.
Corporations travel a well-known arc. They start with a frontier mentality, in which the creative and daring control the enterprise. They are trying to develop a new market or subvert an existing market, so they can’t follow old rules. This attracts people who are goal oriented, not process oriented. This is the culture of every start-up, which is why they can find new ways to attack the market and maneuver the company around larger, better established competitors.
That success eventually outgrows the capacity of the start-up culture. Eventually, the people being hired to do the things the enterprise needs doing need to be managed and that means managers and rules. A new type of employee is brought in, the sort who enjoys the process. They enjoy creating employee manuals. Soon they are joined by another type of employee, who values conformity. Her job is to make sure everyone follows the rules and does so with enthusiasm.
This is the current phase of Corporate America. The thing that matters most to the managers is not ideology. In the corporate state, ideology is about as authentic and meaningful as corporate culture. It is just a veneer to decorate the latest HR effort to boost morale. What matters to them is the quest to assimilate the wide range of assets now under corporate control. If you step back and look at the current crisis, it is not an ideological battle, but a war on variety and exception.
This is, in part, why the elites hate Trump. It’s not his politics, as his politics, stripped of the carny act, are rather conventional. They hate Trump because he is the guy who laughed at the white diversity trainer when she shared her painful experiences of oppression at Princeton. They hate him because he just wants to do his job and have a life and an identity outside the company. For the champions of the corporate state, nothing can exist outside the state.
You see this corporate mentality most strongly in foreign policy. Russia is the arch enemy, not because they are a genuine competitor, but because they refuse to embrace the latest fads from HR. If the issue was the alleged authoritarianism, then America would invade China, but that’s an important vendor relationship, so their tyrannical system is no problem. In the corporate state, values and principles are just pretty lies to justify executive bonus packages.
Modern America is now an incorporated entity, run by a managerial elite, policed by the human resource departments of the corporate nodes within it. As the assimilation of all the corporate assets continues, it is increasingly difficult to see the divisions within the managerial class. The media, corporations, the academy and the state are blending into one amorphous blob that sits over us like a dome. Everything is in the corporate state, nothing is outside it and nothing can be against it.
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