by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ July 26, 2020
Understanding change in human society is understanding how our languages change. Language is dynamic and evolving as meanings take on new contexts or cease to have any meaning at all. But this is an educational and passive process in the long Western academic tradition. We study history to understand how words and concepts changed to understand ourselves and our evolving societies better.
The relegation of this type of analysis to academic history and the realm of intellectuals and scholars is now a political dictate to prevent unwanted changes that would disrupt the power of the ruling elite. While the politicization of language is a direct product of the Enlightenment (Diderot’s first encyclopedia) stemming from the scientific transformation of the universe in 16th century Europe, it enabled and energized democratic systems of government.
The concurrent integrated rise of advertising and propaganda to manipulate populations in the first half of the 20th century proved, post-WWII, far more powerful and efficient than the traditional brute force of military conquest. A brute military force, as seen in the massive militarization of the US empire, was not abandoned but became secondary to ensuring the ruling elite retained control of language.
The tectonic shift of the internet and mass social communication at the start of the 21st century galvanized the, now, neoliberal ruling oligarchies with fear in the face of actual democratic expansion. Mass democracy had never been possible before without direct one to one, one to many, many to one, communication. The entire representative government model worked through limiting actual discussion and decision making to small representative bodies that could be controlled and owned by the elite. In the US, these representatives were the elite or desperately wanted to become part of that wealthy elite.
The 21st century has been the growing war of the capitalist and authoritarian oligarchies against the enabled population, who are finally able to communicate and take direct action for themselves. By challenging and changing the meaning of words, the people can redefine the language of power and, ultimately, shatter the infrastructure of Capitalist Realism. We see this almost everywhere. In most authoritarian nation-states, the internet must be subjugated for control of the language and people. This battle becomes impersonal as in China, with rapid and continuous language change to defeat censorship.
In the US, the home of advertising and Capitalist Realism, the oligarchy controls a significant part of the mass media and alternates between misinformation and constant repetition of the base theme of Capitalist Realism. That theme is that submission of all assets to the oligarchs and maintenance of debt to fund growing consumption is the only reality. No other world exists. All other truths are lies.
This process has two components, keeping the analysis of language manipulation out of the hands of the people, and denigrating the entire intellectual skills to do this. These components are the brands of Fox News, and their rapid failure triggered by the pandemic as a product of the climate crisis is driving panic response. Trump regime Gestapo tactics in Portland and other cities and China crushing the people of Hong Kong to prevent contamination of the other great cities of China are the increasingly extreme response.
How did this come to be, and where will it end? The transformation of the US culture over the last forty years is the primary example. How this will and must change is a lesson for all as we battle for human wellbeing, planetary survival, and protection of security for all people and life forms.
Scholars and experts are, of course, threats to the ruling elite. These threats are a serious problem when that elite is wringing the last bit of booty from a failing economic and political system. Failing organizations, cultures, governments, or institutions share common characteristics in the rise to dominance of incompetent management. Management becomes the domain of opportunists and exploiters dedicated to finally getting what they have always deserved but unable to understand that they are delivering the coup de gras to their governments in the process.
The shocking American disintegration is a case to be studied to prevent future disasters but also in delivering the coup de gras to the Modern world defined by Capitalist Realism. Over the last forty years, the radicalization of the American system that brought the world out of early 20th-century totalitarian ideologies has succumbed to the worst of those ideologies.
That is a typical pattern of empires historically. What they chose to fight at their inception is what they become in their end by ossification and the loss of vision. That the United States survived almost two hundred years in the modern era is exceptional. Historical examples include the conversion of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, that Empire to feudalism in the West, and the French Revolution to the Napoleonic Empire. While shocking, this is a well-understood process.
Our great difficulty is the rise of the totalitarian propaganda empires of the 20th century. While these, Germany and the Soviet Union, were traditional forces of military conquest, the tools developed were products of the rapidly evolving capitalist world of advertising. The apparatus of ideological conquest began as mechanisms for market manipulation that became a radical ideology of market production.
The American model utilized those tools for advertising (ideological) conquest of its population and then the world. The rise of advertising as the center of communication and determination of meaning became self-refining and ever more efficient. This dominance penetrated all aspects of culture by the 1970s recognized as Capitalist Realism in the arts (Pop Art) and identified as a totalitarian threat at the same time.
With the conquest of the US political system by groups dedicated to oligarchy and white supremacy justified by their family’s success at capitalist domination, the control of language in America became complete. From this domination, we have the rise of US exceptionalism in an increasingly stratified society, with opportunity defined as massive debt, freedom as wage slavery, and racism with xenophobia as the only route to economic security.
At the same time, the late capitalist system became neoliberal building future wealth only for the vastly wealthy with financial manipulations capital returns far surpassing useful productivity in US modeled economies. This result, of course, led to forty years of wage stagnation, growing insecurity and anger. But the control of language and purification of allowed words and meanings made it impossible to speak of anything but the most radical capitalism as the only definition of economic success. The shift of the Republican Party to white supremacy and predatory capitalism as the only route to a voter base was built on the most manageable parts of the population to program.
We are all very familiar with what this cynical and opportunist approach accomplished under cover of endless advertising for newer and bigger making everyone more prosperous. Except prosperity was a lie bought with the destruction of the planet and our population hidden by the capitalist elite. We know that now as climate disasters accelerate, pandemic sweeps the earth, and the predatory oligarchy feeds endlessly.
None of this, however useful as economic theater, is sustainable, and the majority of the population has converted to a new order post Capitalist Realism. That is a paradigmatic cultural shift that negates the old social programming language of continuous production and endless debt. But the rigid programming in Capitalist Realism cannot understand sustainability as anything but a loss. The reversal of words such as freedom and choice to mean slavery and denial of opportunity for others has left a significant part of the population unable to understand what they have lost. Without realizing their loss, because they have no language that can describe that loss, they have no way to understand sustainability as survival and wellbeing.
Our social polarization and pending national collapse is a failure of consistent meaning in language. The reduction of concepts to facilitate radical capitalist marketing is a far bigger disaster than was ever realized. This disaster must be understood and corrected by constant repetition of carefully designed language, replacing the assumed loss of sustainability with the gain of wellbeing and collective security.
In Capitalist Realism, any word not synonymous with more is negative, a loss. The necessity of sustainability by reducing pointless material production and resource use is beyond programmed understanding and unacceptable to those who have bought the illusion of the continuous output as the only route to success. Success now must be communal, and our communities are planetary.
The revolution that will overwhelm the low order opportunists who have usurped the corrupt governments and the oligarchs locked into the disintegrating world of Capitalist Realism is first a battle for survival against the climate crisis and the many modes of deaths that brings. Second, it is a very new battle for control of human language that enables and empowers the human community.
Disintegrating tools of the capitalist order, corrupt and racist police forces, institutionalized racism, and denial of self-determination that is now not only possible but required to face local community challenges within our planetary alliance means the removal of the wreckage. We have little time to build our communal defenses, and those need unity and diversity.
Identifying the problem population is now surprisingly easy. The problem populations still use antiquated language with words that no longer have meaning and cannot understand what is happening. It is the power to change our language that is our greatest hope of survival and wellbeing. That language includes how we talk about ourselves and our communities but also the visual symbols we allow in our public places. All of that is changing.