2 thoughts on “Capitalism without organs

  1. “Always we can question the function of the thing. What is it for? What can we make it do?”

    I think this is always an excellent place to start. Moreover, as regards the phenomenon of the “virtually virtual”, I think there is a straightforward answer: the brand is to the tangible product as ritualism is to the social goods that it is presumed, explicitly or implicitly, to develop or enforce.

    As a first incremental step in the argument for this view, one can consider the occasional fashions of “moral capitalism”, in which investors choose to buy stocks only in companies that (presumably) adhere to some rigorous ethical code, and consumers purchase only goods produced in an “ecologically friendly” manner, or in accordance with “fair trade” practices. This is point that seems to be latent in your incisive aside about attempting to escape into the real of a “fantasy cottage in the countryside, where we buy organic cider” — organic is itself a kind of brand, an idea about what we are buying, rather than a tangible attribute. That is all to say, moral behavior itself can be subsumed into a brand.

    Can a brand be subsumed into moral behavior? This seems like a tricky question. While certain kinds of ritualistic precepts are meant to function purely as signalling mechanisms to indicate fidelity to social norms, many religious traditions very expressly condemn the kind of morality that disingenuously flaunts itself — being good so as to be seen being good. There always remains a pervasive distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law. The problem is that virtuality (and with it, branding) seems to encourage exactly these kinds of disingenuous sigalling. Nonetheless, the phenomenon would appear to be visible in both religious and commercial settings.

    This is something of a careless development, I admit, but I don’t want to get too carried away in it yet. In answer to your question, though, about how these kinds of ontological phantasmagoria can be leveraged into something useful, I think the solution boils down to this: sometimes a “tactful expedient” is required. There is an argument (albeit odd and unsettling) that, just as corporations must leverage their symbolic capital to make us realize needs we didn’t even know we have, the forces of justice or of virtue may have to cleverly persuade people of a good that they didn’t even know was good for them. This proposal is rife with astonishing consequences, and perhaps is better left alone in this small space.

  2. Well, if we consider brand in terms of it having cachet, an aura, then that appears to tally with what you are saying about moral behaviour. Considering that both are essentially ideological, I think you’re right to ask whether and if so, how branding and moral behaviour can be combined in some way (I am not sure about subsuming, because I would question whether that asserts the priority of one over the other… that may just be my conceptual squeamishness though). I think we can find something in common to both vectors of a market can take (as a/non-moral, and moral), but in doing so, and by not assuming one is better because it was there first, we can use both to be mutually defining. So, just as the forces of justice will mimic or follow some of the forms of expression that we would normally associate with the corporation, they do not necessarily need to be posturing. Indeed, exciting possibility exists that this type of morality of the market could by its market success cause the behaviour of other, non-moral market forces to change themselves so as to keep up with the successes of the moral. A sloppy response (and perhaps I’m talking at cross purposes to you), but you pointed out a few more things that do indeed lead to astonishing consequences.

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