On Capitalism As A Culture Industry

In the 1940’s, the German-American philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno introduced the term “culture industry” as a description for Capitalist societies. The basic premise being that such cultures function as industries, and that various aspects therein condition people to function as active consumers and alienated workers in order to sustain the process of mass production. Mass marketing conditions addictive spending habits, standardizes styles, and defines fads and fashions in order to create and coordinate cyclical yet predictable markets in order to justify endless mass production.

In his 1957 book “The Art Of Loving”, Erich Fromm identified three elements which are necessary in a Capitalist society. Those elements being people who will work together to perform assigned tasks, people who will buy things, and people who will obey orders. The ability of people to work together in order to produce in bulk is a quality which is exploited by those who condition those workers to do as they are instructed. Consumerism then serves as a necessary active agent in order to preserve the system itself. That said, Fromm, Horkheimer, and Adorno all observed that such elements are conditioned as a mass deception rather than presented as evident dictates. Thus the need to incorporate a variety of aspects of society in order to subtly yet effectively sustain the culture industry.

In their book “Dialectic Of Enlightenment”, Horkheimer and Adorno dismissed the notion that mass production is the response to consumer demand. Rather they noted that mass production is the design of corporate board members and wealthy profiteers. Consumerism in turn is a conditioned response to manipulative marketing. Since people in general will not be exploited voluntarily, then the means to condition the masses to servitude and complicit participation in the process are so encompassing that such entails the shaping of the entire culture into a responsive and productive industry.

Horkheimer and Adorno identified several aspects of society which are utilized as means to such ends. Namely film, radio, magazines, television, religion, formal education and politics were mentioned as avenues which the culture industry exploits in an effort to entice habitual consumerism and maintain a wage slave system of mass production. Film and television portray a picture of the ideal family as owning a nice home with several of the latest model vehicles. Radio and magazine ads aggressively market specific commodities for purchase. Religion and formal education promote obedience to authority, routine ritualism, and patriotism. Politics offers a sense of identity and the illusion of choice and influence in the economic and social system itself. The end goal of the culture industry then is to manipulate buying habits through seductive marketing, while at the same time manage and produce a demographic of willing wage slaves who are suitable servants in the process of mass production.

As I read Horkheimer and Adorno, it occurs to me how perceptive these two German-American philosophers were as to their observations regarding the culture industry. Their astute observations and warnings of social manipulation were documented decades before the era of daily conservative propaganda talk radio, 24 hour news cycles and Shopping Channels, and electronic marketing sites. Despite the transformation of America from an industrial economy to a retail market base, it would seem that the culture industry continues in 21st Century America in much the same manner as described by Horkheimer and Adorno.

In essence, the culture industry is the subtle social engineering and the mobilization of the masses for active and compliant service in a social system which is based upon wage slavery and a manipulated economy. Such service entails willing labor for long hours with minimal time for rest and recovery, addictive consumerism, and passionate support for militarism and imperialism as a matter of patriotic pride. Basically speaking, the masses must be manipulated to embrace and accept their own exploitation in order to sustain an effective culture industry.

Collective gullibility to social conditioning and systemic propaganda thus serves as the lifeline which sustains the ongoing culture industry. The ease with which collective thinking may be conditioned renders the masses vulnerable to the very circumstances which maintain the culture industry. Routine schedules of the over worked and underpaid reinforce and somewhat ritualize the very process of the oppression of the working class. Alienated and exploited working class people adapt by assimilation into the culture industry as a means of survival.

Capitalism as a culture industry will then predictably continue to thrive in a society of people who are willing prey to propaganda, who continue to function as complicit participants in the process of collective coercion, and whose very existence depends upon their service as wage slaves.

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On A Limited Libertarian Socialism

It is my personal opinion that a society which operates in accord with limited Libertarian Socialist values could potentially be the most humane and the most practical of all prospective systems which I myself have considered. This is not to say that there may not actually be social systems better suited for human cohabitation than those which I have researched to date; however among those systems which I have researched, I prefer limited Libertarian Socialism to the alternatives.

I qualify my Libertarian views as limited, in that I do believe that a minimum of social structure is necessary in order to ensure mutual benefit and the common good of each and every person, the latter expressing the sought end of any society of my personal preference. As I am clearly a Socialist, my thoughts as to limited government may seem contradictory, but frankly, my observations of government in general are that such seems to inevitably evolve into layers of illegitimate power and assumed authority which are unnecessary and at times outright oppressive.

It is likewise my observation that most people tend to do the right thing quite naturally, seemingly as a matter of personal principle, as opposed to as a response to an external coercive power such as a law or rule of social engagement. Frankly, most people don’t need a law in order to live peaceably within the realm of their social relations. Sensitivity for the feelings of others as a natural governor of social conduct is the norm, hence autonomy is for the most part a reliable guide for such. The exceptions to those who choose to live peaceably with others, and the existence of those who exploit others in unfettered circumstances; however would necessitate a limited, democratically directed structure for the purpose of protecting principled people from those with malevolent intent in any given social setting.

As to Socialism itself, I maintain that the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” is a practical guide for any society, and one which maintains an ethical high ground in terms of seeking the best for everyone. I certainly regard such as preferable to any form of Capitalism. The social experiment known as neo-liberal Capitalism, which has been the prevailing process here in the US since the late 70’s, has proven to be a pitiful failure as a medium to provide for the general welfare (a Congressional responsibility according to Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution), yet such has been a smashing success as a get rich and stay even more wealthy scheme for the upper 1% among our society. The last few decades have seen a decline in the leverage of the working class to the extent that collective bargaining is becoming a practice of the past, an alarmingly inequitable distribution of financial resources between the wealthy and the working poor to an extent unrealized in this country for almost a century, which has resulted in a working class whose existence is a dependency upon wages that have seen no noticeable increase for almost 40 years. Our society is in dire straits, and we have neo-liberal capitalism to thank for our miserable state of affairs.

Inasmuch then as the cause of Socialism is just, it subsequently seems to me that we should be able to transform a given culture by intelligent persuasion and passionate appeal to the principles upon which Socialism is founded. In fact, it is my personal opinion that most people are Socialists, they just don’t realize such to be the case. Most people believe in the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. Most people feel it is wrong to allow someone to suffer. Most people feel it is wrong for some to hoard resources while others suffer. Most people seem to hold Socialists views, for Socialism is based upon basic principles which are so universal that in everyday life they are almost assumed.

That said, I maintain that the means to secure a Socialist society is by way of passionate but intelligent persuasion, and perhaps there is no time more opportune for such than the 21st CE.

We live in the age of the information highway, the social media, Youtube, and Instagram. Now, I personally am a techno fossil. I actually use my cell phone primarily to place calls, which seems to put me in the minority. But even an old throwback like me can navigate FB, email, or blog. And I can also present my case on behalf of Socialist principles in everyday conversation, which I try to do as reasonable opportunity allows.

The case against Capitalism as an evil system is a case which should be maintained persistently, but one of the fundamental evils ever present to such is that Capitalism must be secured and maintained by brute power. There is no righteous basis for Capitalism, and certainly no one would voluntarily choose such as a viable social system, save for those who are greedy and insensitive enough to exploit the misery and services of others for their own gain and gratification. Certainly no one would volunteer to be exploited at the commencement of a start up society; hence no one would willingly choose Capitalism as a social system of choice. Thus, Capitalism is a system which has to be secured and maintained by way of brute power, and the history of Western Civilization reveals such to have been the case.

Ours is a just cause, theirs is an evil and sinister system. Most people don’t realize this, and consequently vote and propagandize against their own self interests.

I am for peaceful, persistent, private and public appeal to the intellect of my human peers in pursuit of a society based upon mutual benefit and shared responsibility, established and maintained not by brute force, but by way of voluntary cooperation.

Such as they are, these are some of my general thoughts as to a society based upon limited Libertarian Socialists values.