This the fifth in a series of essays originally written by Alan Furth as assignments for an introductory course to market anarchism that he took at C4SS’s Stateless University. For the sixth essay, click here. For the fourth, here.
In his epic essay “War is the Health of the State”, Randolph Bourne identifies the gregarious impulse (“the tendency to imitate, to conform, to coalesce together, [which] is most powerful when the herd believes itself threatened with attack”) and parent regression (“There is… in the feeling toward the State a large element of pure filial mysticism… the desire for protection, sends one’s desire back to the father and mother, with whom is associated the earliest feelings of protection”), as two basic instincts that the state exploits to strengthen its grip on people’s minds. And war as the primary tool the state uses to exacerbate those instincts.
The pervasiveness of consumerism in modern societies is often blamed on free markets, due to the brainwashing that corporate monsters affect through advertising campaigns. But consumerism is firmly rooted in the gregarious impulse, one of the two enablers of what Bourne calls “the health of the state.” And the market anarchist would tell us that this is not a coincidence.
First, the market anarchist would point out that the capacity to brainwash a large amount of consumers is a direct function of advertising budget size, which itself depends on firm size. And today’s multi-national corporate behemoths would simply be economically inviable in a genuinely free market — that is, in an economy where the state doesn’t foster monster-size corporate growth through subsidized transport and communications infrastructure, patents, cartelization of costs and incorporation laws. The same could be said about the size and power of our modern media conglomerates, which contribute to turning us into conformist cattle at least as much through their editorial content than through the advertisers they serve.
The state participates in the parade with its own propaganda campaign, selling its image as the great moderator of consumerism (the parent-regression technique in action) through its regulations — written hand in hand with corporate lobbyists, and passed/executed by politicians whose careers depend as much on advertising campaigns as our attachment to useless corporate-produced trifles.
If daily life in modern consumption societies feels like a struggle for survival in a fiercely aggressive environment, where competition among firms, co-workers and status-seeking consumers feels pretty much like war, it is the permeation of state-influence and intervention in all areas of our lives what we have to blame, not the supposedly chaotic influence of “free markets”.
Collectivist systems, by definition, are sustained by gregarious impulse on steroids and therefore engender frenetic, wasteful status-seeking behavior.
In the West, it fuels mindless consumerism and destructive competition for governmental connections and privilege. In the more soviet-like regimes of the world, it bolsters only the latter.
Which doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-il’s obsession with hollywood movies, or the penchant of Chavista ministers for Louis Vuitton ties, makes any of them inconsistent.
Translations for this article:
- Spanish, ¡Robots consumistas del mundo, uníos!.