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January 01, 2008


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Posts like this one get me thinking about form of discourse. Not really satire itself, but pointing to a separate and ongoing satire as shorthand for a longer argument. In a way, the satire is more honest than the think tank strawmen of a typical political contest.

With satire, you aren't being told something that is true, but given a story that is connected by analogy and metaphor to a critique of something in the real world. This requires the reader to apply their own thinking to make any sense of it. This makes it necessarily open to interpretation (and provide plenty of deny-ability for the author).


WB began as fugitive aphorisms and epigrams. I am reverting to that style because once again I am lost. Each aphorism that works is like a star burst shell over the battle field. We glimpse armed figures moving, and the direction. Then darkness.


I was delighted to learn that BBC produced this series. It's an old idea that the public doesn't seem to get or want to get. After all who wants to hear that most of what we want out of life is the machination of some manipulative, self-interested people?

I was surprised and disgusted to learn the pivotal role played by Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew. I had no idea that he had used his uncle's ideas to manipulate the public for his own gain and had almost single-handedly introduced the concept of "propaganda for peace".

According to BBC, as a young man at the time of the US entry into WWI, Bernays was invited by President Wilson to found the "Committee on Public Information" -- the propanda arm of the US military. The group was charged with the initiative to "bring democracy to all Europe". As a skilled propagandist, after the War, Edward Bernay turned his hand to manipulating the public on behalf of industry; he founded a group, replaced "propaganda" with "public relations" and hung up a sign in NYC: "Council of Public Relations".

As a "public re he set out to experiment with the minds of the masses. His first big initiative, at the instigation of a tobacco company, was to convince women to smoke. It was a smashing success. Taking advantage of the suffragette's activism and his knowledge of Freud's theory of the unconscious, he simply pointed out to the public, the Freudian connection between cigarettes, penises and power. He spread the message that keeping women from smoking was like keeping them from voting. Furthermore, he staged a coup -- more aptly named a publicity campaign -- called "torches of freedom", in which young debutants lit up upon command.

The effect was a cultural paradigm shift. Smoking meant liberty; liberated women smoked; liberating men accepted it; media perpetuated the image, including film. And the tobacco industry had a new market which filled its coffers even further.

And that's pretty much where we stand today. Afterall it's our right to smoke, isn't it? And if we ever falter the tobacco industry is sure to rally on our behalf.


The notion that "there is no outside of Wealth Bondage" reminds me of the "Il n'y a pas de hors-texte" (there is no outside-of-the-text) of the literary critics of the 1970s. More generally, arguments of the form "there is not outside of..." are hallmarks of what some have called 'totalizing systems': systems which can subsume any conceivable event to their version of the world (albeit occasionally with the aid of some fairly baroque deferents and epicycles.) Of course, the term 'totalizing system' is itself something of a rhetorical ploy- and some might choose to use the term 'paradigm' instead.

As Thomas Kuhn observed, it is in the nature of a paradigm to be overthrown and replaced. Supposing that we might reconceptualize ourselves out of Wealth Bondage, what would be thrown out with the bathwater? You mention "market-based visions of humanity" as if it might be a candidate for obsolescence. But you seem also to suggest that the 'collateral damage' might also include our contemporary concept of the self.

It is probably just as well, as Gerry observes, that you have left yourself plenty of wiggle-room, since advocating the overthrow of the self by any means whatsoever is likely to result in a quick trip from dumpster to sanatorium!


Stuart Ewen, interviewed in the series, wrote a devastating book on Bernays, PR! I read it several years ago and have kept it by my desk. The book more so than the BBC makes vivid Bernay's contempt for the masses. He paid his chauffeur a pittance, and referred to him as "Dumb Jack." To feed swill to swine is marketing. To keep us as Circe kept Ulysses and his crew enthralled, more pig than human, though today "Self Actualized Swine" are all the rage.

It is considered elitist to educate people upward. To pander down is democracy. Giving people what they want is the way to enslave them. Markets are the muck from which we try to rise, only to fall back into the mire. That view, one of "excellence" is noble, and nobility is opposed to servility. It is very hard to escape this dialectic until one disappears behind the screen, and puts front and center on stage a puppet dressed to embody the audience's dream of itself. Denim jacket, or NASCAR jacket, or hunting jacket.

"Political return on investment," ah, there is another market.


Jeff, my dear friend, what have I ever pretended to be but a madman? As for the sanitorium, it is but another scene room in Wealth Bondage where the Body Politic submits to its shock therapy until it returns to normal. http://tinyurl.com/2kz7jr

Yes, you are right about the Derrida rip off. After 7 years at Yale in his day, I am entitled to rip off one of his blessed phrases. Satire for that matter has always already been a pharmakon, both poison and cure for the distempered mind. So sue me.


Phil - If they snatch you, be sure to grab a bottle of thunderbird and hide it under your straightjacket. We will party together.

I was just calling your Derridian bluff in hopes that you might let slip some clue as to what the post-Wealth-Bondage self might look like. But you are too accomplished a satirist to fall for my clumsy maneuvers...



For entertainment you could search the WB archives for the origin of the riff about Thunderbird and the references to prison hooch (even more disgusting than the 'bird).



Doesn't Derrida have a famous riff on how the new can only appear to us under the aspect of the "monstrous"? So inside Wealth Bondage we can only imagine Freedom as a Three-Headed Market with Three Bottom Lines, three Tails, and Heaven only knows how many cloven hooves. The Mark of the Beast we carry in our wallets with mystic holograms on every card.


Perhaps the new is like "The Picture Dorian Gray" in reverse. A monstrous portrait that comes to resemble us more and more closely every day. We suppose that it is the portrait that is changing, but it may be that it is ourselves. Or the two are gravitating towards each other.


The Convergence of the Twain. (I feel that way with Gifthub and Wealth Bondage, mirror images of one reality, moving towards one another in a dismal fatality.)

JJ Commoner

I sign (my credit card), therefore I am.

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