"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Market Totalitarianism’

Humanity in Flux: Would a Species that Recognizes Its Own Worth Be Actively Destroying Itself

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Oldspeak: ” The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise… The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other…. Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist… In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. -Kali Ma

Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” ―Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Behold! The bitter and poisonous fruits of globalized capitalist patriarchy! Competition, aggression, dehumanization, injustice, inequality, violence, avarice, objectification, domination, exploitation, fear, exclusion… The systems around which we’ve organized our civilization are an incalculable failure. Our silence will not help us. We need to dismantle the repetitive crisis generating disimagination machine and find a more humane way to face our demise.” -OSJ

By Kali Ma @ The Hampton Institute:

It is common sense that what we value, we wish to take care of, preserve, and treat with respect. Often times, this care is expressed towards material objects such as cars, jewelry, and luxury items; or more abstractly, towards traditions such as religious holidays or family and cultural customs. But what is the value we assign to the life of a human being?

When we take a look at how we treat each other as people, it is safe to say that we do not seem to value human beings very much. In a system based on materialism and the pursuit of “success,” money and power have come to define a human being’s value. Consequently, nothing has inherent worth – everything is just a means to obtaining a desired end and satisfying our seemingly obsessive need for recognition and power. In the pursuit of these goals, the environment is being destroyed with a fanatical vigor one expects of an adolescent consciousness whose shortsighted impulse for instant gratification leaves it dangerously indifferent to the consequences of its actions; at the same time, countless human lives are sacrificed in wars over resources while financial tyranny waged against the working class in the form of austerity is plunging millions of people into poverty across the globe. Nothing is off limits in corporate capitalism’s suicidal quest for profits. But, when everything has a price, nothing has inherent value.

One of the most important and sacred ­­­processes any human being undergoes is the development of his or her own personhood. It is the highly personal choice of who we wish to be in the world and how we wish to express our own individuality and uniqueness as part of the human community. Central to this development of the Self is education. But instead of serving as a building block for individual and collective development, education today is merely a means for getting a “good job” and “moving up” in the world. It has no intrinsic value: the joy and curiosity that accompany learning and discovery about ourselves and the world have been completely commodified and turned into what Dr. Cornel West often refers to as “cheap schooling.” [1] In this “cheap schooling,” the curricula is defined by what is profitable in the “marketplace,” not what is valuable for individual growth and humanity as a whole. Social studies, the humanities, arts, and anything that presents an alternative to the sterile and lifeless corporate culture that has permeated all corners of our existence is degraded, ridiculed, and deemed unworthy by the “marketplace,” which only seeks to employ mindless, obedient drones who will do as they are told.

Critical thinking and a person’s unique perspective are highly undesirable in a system of hierarchical ownership and top-down management of resources and institutions. The right to cultivate our personhood is sacrificed at the altar of corporate capitalism, which provides us with a cheap substitute for individuality and self-expression through a false sense of belonging, empty personal achievements far below our true potential, and, of course, the formation of a “unique” crowd identity through fashionable consumer products manufactured by wage slaves in foreign countries whose working conditions regularly cause mass deaths and drive others to suicide.[2] As a result, the system effectively robs humanity of citizens whose genuine development of individuality, identity, and a true sense of Self would result in a more conscious society that values life, diversity of expression, and that views each living being as an invaluable part of the whole.

But how can we expect people to appreciate anything for its innate value when most of us do not even recognize the inherent worth of a human being? We discriminate against one another because we deem others unacceptable and, thus, not worthy enough of our respect; we kill and maim other humans on mass scales through wars and conflicts in the name of profit, all the while masked as heroic undertakings for “worthy” causes in “defense” of one’s “superior” tribe; on a more social level, we assign worth and value to human beings based on their socio-economic status and whether they are “productive” members of society. This is why “failure” can be so devastating to a person’s mental well-being and self-image: because our worth, value, and sense of purpose are defined by external achievements which, if removed, decimate our sense of self-worth and make us invisible casualties of corporate capitalism’s disposable culture. What these few examples show us is that just being a human is not enough. One has to do something or be a particular way in order to be considered valuable or worthy. This mentality – the belief in the inherent worthlessness of a human being – lies at the core of the hatred and condemnation we direct towards one another. The message is clear: unless you meet society’s standards of what it means to be “valuable,” you are worthless.

The owners of the system – the corporate oligarchs – have, through mass propaganda and cultural conditioning over time, taught us that worth is about how much money a person has, the type of job they hold, the amount of property they own, and how “successful” they are (i.e. how well they reflect the values of the dominant culture).[3] In this type of society, materialism and the trivial become our Gods to which we pledge allegiance in an economy that constantly profits from our desperation to be accepted and seen as worthy. The meaning of life is reduced to achieving “success” and recognition while the deep-seated desires of one’s soul for truth and connection are willfully sacrificed for superficial achievements whose promises of “happiness” and “worth” never seem to materialize. In the end, life itself becomes meaningless.

When money, recognition, and materialism determine a human’s worth, only the few are seen as valuable. As Chris Hedges explains in“Let’s Get This Class War Started,” [4] the rest of us are deemed worthless, “disposable human beings” in service of corporate oligarchs who view the lower classes as “uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money.”

Our oligarchic rulers have successfully convinced us that their values are ours – most of us seem to believe that humans are inherently worthless and only serve as means to achieving one’s personal objectives. In this kind of culture, everything and everyone – including friends and family – become disposable commodities to be used, exploited, and worn out for self-interest and shortsighted ego-desires. Unsurprisingly, in such a society, friendship is a foreign concept and practiced in superficial settings and contrived “meet ups” that mask an inner sense of isolation and loneliness, a natural by-product of an egocentric culture. We are disconnected from one another because we do not value anything for its essence – the inherent worth of cooperation, friendship, and genuine togetherness is considered a bore and a waste of time. There always seems to be some ulterior interest inherent in our relationships that satisfies our fleeting appetite for company – rarely do people get together out of a genuine desire to connect and honestly share themselves with each other.

Our devaluation of people and life itself is simply a reflection of our own personal, deep-seated sense of worthlessness as human beings. It is what psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to as projection – the act of prescribing one’s unconscious inner quality onto an object that lies outside of oneself – which “change[s] the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”[5] What we are reflecting on the outside is a belief that we are nothing more than worthless biological creatures here to consume, amass, hoard, and “succeed” (read: dominate) over those around us and for much of humanity, a vile creation whose sole purpose is to repent and make up for its existence to a wrathful, authoritarian God-figure. No wonder we have no respect for life and each other.

The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise.

The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other.

Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist.

In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. We can only do so once we recognize our own inherent worth and decide to act on our potential as unique creations of an ever-evolving consciousness whose existence is worth saving. Viewed from this perspective, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Will we heed the call?

Notes

[1] “Cheap schooling” is different from “deep education,” which Dr. West refers to as the “formation of attention” . . . the “shift from the superficial to the substantial, from the frivolous to the serious, from the ‘bling bling, to wrestling with life, death, sorrow, sadness, [and] joy[.]” Dr. Cornel West, Speech at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Transcript, last accessed December 3, 2013,http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx; see also Sonoma State Star, “Activist Cornel West meets students, gives lecture,” April 16, 2013, http://www.sonomastatestar.com/news/activist-cornel-west-meets-students-gives-lecture-1.3028957?pagereq=1 (reference to “cheap schooling”); Smiley and West, The Conversation: Julian Assange (Remastered), published August 2, 2013, https://soundcloud.com/smileyandwestshow/august-2-2013-julian-assange (reference to “cheap schooling”).

[2] Jason Burke, “Bangladeshi factory collapse leaves trail of shattered lives,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/bangladesh-factory-building-collapse-community ; Aditya Chakrabortty, “The woman who nearly died making your iPad,” The Guardian, August 5, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/woman-nearly-died-making-ipad

[3] Being “successful” in society’s eyes most often includes having a family, a “respectable” job or career, owning property, and generally living one’s life in accordance with cultural and social expectations.

[4] Chris Hedges, “Let’s Get This Class War Started,” TruthDig.com, October 20, 2013, https://www.truthdig.com/report/item/lets_get_this_class_war_started_20131020/

[5] C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, Vol.9, Pt. II (Bollingen Series XX/Princeton University Press 1959) pp. 8-9

[6] For starters, ask yourself some basic questions: What does value and worth mean to me? What makes me valuable . . . the simple fact that I am human or is that not enough? Do I believe that human beings are inherently worthy or do I place conditions on the value of human life? Do I view nature as a means to an end, something to be conquered and dominated or do I see humanity as an intricate part of nature whose existence depends on the cooperation with the environment? Our thoughts about ourselves and our relationship to nature reveal a great deal about our current state of awareness. Because much of our existence rests upon unquestioning obedience to authority and cultural dogmas, we rarely ask ourselves these fundamental questions and thus remain largely unconscious of our participation in humanity’s self-destruction.

Society of Addiction: Capitalism, Dopamine & The Consumer Junkie

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Oldspeak: “Today everything around us — clothing, apartments, food and technology — is a commodity. We wear commodities. We live inside commodities. We use and eat commodities. All that we need to live is filtered through the market. And if the store shelves are packed with bright colorful things, we feel safe because we have the freedom to choose…. we experience Capitalism as turning our bodies against us. It is a parasitical system that feeds on us. It takes our tongues and blinds us with taste. It floods our unconscious with logos. It takes our desire and puts a price tag on it. And dizzy with sensation and directed by commercials, we work ourselves numb to become landfills for commodities… we bounce like billiard balls between ads showing actors posing with a titanium watch and rappers with liquor bottles and sand-caked, teen bodies next to perfume vials. All the time, I see people waddling out of stores with bulging shopping bags, faces bright with the joy of a new purchase. Flush faces are the tell-tale sign of a dopamine rush. We get high from buying commodities that enhance our status. In this light, we can look at corporate stores and see them as consumer crack houses. If it’s true that billions of people around the world are being addicted to our evolutionary Achille’s heel of salt, sugar, fat and status, then it’s time to ask the question. Are we capitalism junkies?” –Nicolas Powers

“Short answer? Yes. Hyper-consumption is seen as a virtue, something to aspire to,  symbolic of high status.  We are utterly and completely dependent and perpetually desirous of the constellation of commodities provided to us by our vulture capitalist “corporate citizens”. Our entire environment has been comodified and market-valued.  Trinket Capitalism (an economic system that produces junk that people don’t really need.) dominates our existence. We must kick our habit.  We must resist the tyranny of “The Market”.  The latest rebellions are on in Turkey and Brazil. Oh what a wonderful day it will be when we decide to withdraw support for the market totalitarian system that enslaves and addicts us! As Nicolas outlines the first step we can take toward freeing ourselves from capitalist domination is “critiquing capitalism differently. To the older frame of political economy focused on production, distribution and consumption of commodities we must add a new frame. One possibility is thinking in terms of a physiological economy, in which the body is transformed into a consuming machine and directed to the market where it’s a commodity dumping ground, regardless of the health effects on it. Putting the body at the center creates a goal of respecting human potential.” Imagine that! In much the same way as others have suggested we put the environment at the center of our economy, we could put our bodies, and it’s health, at the center of our economy. Our bodies are after all a part of the environment. What a revolutionary and beautifully holistic change in thinking it could be!-OSJ

By Nicolas Powers @ The Indypendent:

I waited three months to eat a Krispy Kreme. I mean I waited. Every week or so, I take the train to Penn Station, quickly zigzagging through crowds. And every time I have the same internal monologue — Don’t stop at the Krispy Kreme. Don’t give yourself diabetes. Seriously, you might as well inject Elmer’s glue straight into your heart. But then I saw the store, bright and beautiful and smelling good. It’s very hard to walk past Krispy Kreme. It’s like those dreams where my legs move but I don’t go forward.

And then I begin the junkie’s debate — C’mon it’s been three months! Besides, one can’t hurt. And didn’t I help that homeless lady get her shit to the shelter last night. That was an Oprah thing to do. And doesn’t Oprah eat donuts? I was drooling before I even turned. Everyone on line had the same wild look. I feared for the servers. If they didn’t get us the donuts quickly we might have smashed the glass. When I got mine and bit into it, sugar and preservatives and trans-fat flooded my body and I lit up like a Christmas tree. It felt like Jesus descended from Heaven and kissed my brain.

Afterwards I felt dirty, guilty. At home, I googled Krispy Kreme and found a YouTube clip of comedian Chris Rock prowling the stage. “Krispy Kreme donuts are so good,” he said, “if I told you it had crack in it you’d go, ‘I knew something was up … got me knocking on the donut window at two in the morning. C’mon man open up, give me one more donut, I’ll do anything. I’ll suck your dick.’”

Rock chuckled maniacally as the audience roared. I paused the clip and let it sink in. How much of what we eat is not really food but a drug designed to addict us with a rush of sugar, salt or fat? McDonald’s, Checkers and the other fried fast-food places line the streets in Bed-Stuy. Neighbors have that addict’s scratch-the-neck gesture at bodegas where they buy sugary drinks or candy. But it wasn’t just food. How many times do I check my cell phone? I get itchy if I don’t send or get a text. How many people do I see on the street, heads down, typing away, swerving around the traffic as if by radar?

In New York, we bounce like billiard balls between ads showing actors posing with a titanium watch and rappers with liquor bottles and sand-caked, teen bodies next to perfume vials. All the time, I see people waddling out of stores with bulging shopping bags, faces bright with the joy of a new purchase. Flush faces are the tell-tale sign of a dopamine rush. We get high from buying commodities that enhance our status. In this light, we can look at corporate stores and see them as consumer crack houses. If it’s true that billions of people around the world are being addicted to our evolutionary Achille’s heel of salt, sugar, fat and status, then it’s time to ask the question. Are we capitalism junkies?

The Commodity

A commodity in classical political economy is any object that can be bought or sold in the marketplace. The market is any institution or place where we can engage in trade, be it Wall Street or the farmer’s stall at Union Square. From the market’s beginning 12,000 years ago with the Neolithic Revolution, when we first cultivated land, grew crops, and created surplus and trade to the post-industrial digital stock exchange, it has grown to dominate human life.

Today everything around us — clothing, apartments, food and technology — is a commodity. We wear commodities. We live inside commodities. We use and eat commodities. All that we need to live is filtered through the market. And if the store shelves are packed with bright colorful things, we feel safe because we have the freedom to choose.

The commodity has for centuries been the site of critique. In political economy it was an article of trade that satisfies a human need. Later it was reinterpreted by Karl Marx in Das Kapital as a fetish object concealing the exploitative relations of production. More than a century later, post-structuralist Jean Baudrillard redefined it as a sign in a larger social code.

Today, a view emerging from neuroscience understands capitalism as an immersive form of market totalitarianism. We see that advertising and commodities are designed to get us to a “bliss point,” to stoke a chemical blaze in our brains that incrementally robs us of the ability to choose. And this is the paradox; American culture is based on the ideal of freedom — freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to choose — but its economy is increasingly based on targeting the unconscious and addicting our bodies. Corporations use science to ensnare deep evolutionary impulses. We are left with a tragic contradiction; the very act of consumption that we are taught is our freedom is also what most enslaves us.

Behold the iPhone

My cell phone was old. No touch screen. No internet. My friends would whip out smartphones and get precise, Googlemapped directions to the next bar. I took mine out, pretended to type an address and confidently offered random bullshit names like The Thirsty Wolf or Chug.

“Wait why can’t I see those?” one friend asked me. I quickly put my phone away, “Oh damn, battery just ran out. Sorry. So what did you find?” But I was content with my Flintstone-era cell phone until one day it broke. After one hour without a text or the ability to send one, I began to shake and sweat. I sprinted to the Virgin Mobile store, where the staff calmed me down, gave me water, patted my back.

In seconds, I was holding my future phone. But I saw it four different ways. The first was a symbol of the American Dream, a set of ideals that put prosperity and upward mobility at the center of our lives. Smartphone commercials make it into a tool of consumer empowerment. No one and nothing is out of reach.

Through a Marxist lens, I saw the swollen-eyed, arthritic Chinese workers at Foxconn, which if it didn’t make Virgin Mobile smartphones, made them for Apple and made them in the millions. In the Marxist tradition this human labor is eclipsed by the object’s transformation into a commodity through market exchange. We see its price tag or advertisement but not the people who made it or the fact that so many killed themselves by jumping off the roof of Foxconn that the company hung up nets.

Seen through Baurdrillard’s theory, my smartphone was a sign in a larger social code that recreated my identity. It was not simply a way to talk to friends. It was a smartphone. I now had instant access to information and was re-booted as a modern man. No asking directions or standing in line for a ticket at a cinema. Now I could do it all before I got there. Smartphone ads play on the theme of being up to date. One showed a trio of guys at a sports game: the ones with the 4G smartphones knew it was going to rain while the one with the 3G did not; he was doused when thunder broke. Today, commodities come with a story line and are the material anchors for the social roles we play.

Turning my new phone over and over in my hand, I remembered that itchy feeling when my phone ran out of energy or when it was broken. Turning it on, I googled addiction, smartphones and lo and behold, I found a painfully in-your-face article titled “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google.” It spelled out why I slept with my phone at night like a teddy bear. Written by Dr. Susan Weinschenk and based on research by Terrence Robinson and Kent Berridge, the article said our brains squirt dopamine not to make us feel pleasure (a concept still used but debated) but to make us seek it out.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter; it carries signals from neurons through synapses to other neurons or cells. Like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, it “makes me feel good.” It lights up the brain. It gets us moving toward satisfying goals. Weinschenk writes, “Dopamine causes you to want, desire and search … From an evolutionary standpoint this is critical. Dopamine keeps you motivated to move through your world, learn and survive. It’s not just about physical needs such as food or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas.”

In the scholarly article “Addiction,” Berridge and Robinson state that there are two systems in the brain, one that involves dopamine based on wanting and the other based on liking, the opioid system, which gives us pleasure. The former says, “Go!” The latter says, “Stop and enjoy.” But with social media, we now live in a culture where the “Go!” light is always green. In seconds we can text, Facebook, Google or call and get rewarded, which incites us to seek again, which rewards us again, causing us to seek again and be trapped in a dopamine loop.

The saddest image of the article was of dying rats. Scientists destroyed the dopamine neurons in rats and they died of starvation, even when food was right in front of them. They lost “the will to live” or the chemical base of “will power,” aka dopamine. In another test, scientists electrically stimulated the brains of lab animals to produce dopamine. Rats furiously, feverishly pressed the lever to tingle themselves more and more, faster and faster, because the dopamine system doesn’t have an off switch.

After reading this I walked around Union Square and studied the consumers flowing in and out of the stores. “Go on you rats,” I thought, “Get your cheese!” And this is what capitalism has made of us. We’re a herd of slightly evolved primates gobbling salt, sugar, fat and status. We buy objects that light up our brains with dopamine even if we throw those same things away or incur debt. Using my new Chinese-made smartphone, I punched up Jay-Z’s song “Big Pimpin” and bobbed my head, his nasal voice the soundtrack to thousands of New Yorkers shopping. “Big pimpin,” he rapped, “Spending cheese.”

The Cheeto in the Crack Pipe

Going home on the B52 bus, I saw a father feeding his infant daughter bright, yellow, puffy Cheetos. I wanted to smack it out of his hand and yell, “This is crack! Why don’t you just put the Cheetos in a pipe and have her smoke it?” But I closed my mouth and rolled my eyes instead.

The baby grabbed the Cheetos and I imagined the Yellow 6 dye that makes it day-glow food entering her blood. In laboratory tests, it caused kidney tumors and contained carcinogens. Good job, Dad! She licked her lips because the hydrogenated oil makes the Cheetos so tasty. If she grows up eating snacks like these, her heart will eventually become a wheezing accordion.

My stop came and I stepped off the bus, seeing as if for the first time the many fast-food places and bodegas lining Nostrand Avenue. They are the two major institutions in working-class urban neighborhoods. Over 200,000 fast food restaurants open their doors each morning in America. Sometimes it seems all of them are in Bed-Stuy.

Each institution has a goal and the fast food industry is designed not to nourish bodies but to make profits. What was a $6 billion industry in 1970 raked in $160 billion last year. It did this by playing on our evolutionary buttons. Salt, sugar, fat — over the course of millions of years our bodies evolved to crave these tastes because it signaled the presence of much-needed nutrients.

We are physiologically adapted to survive famine. Our primeval ancestors roaming the high grass of the ancient savannah often had to endure hunger. Some hunters did not always have the best aim with the spear. Feast and famine marked us. We inherited a craving for fat, salt or sugar, and when any of them hits our tongues, our brain’s opioid system goes off like fireworks and the dopamine begins to flow. It is our gastronomical weak spot, one that the modern food industry has targeted. Our bodies are garbage cans to dump junk into as long as it makes profit.

This February, the New York Times ran an article with a disturbing scene. Entitled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Food,” it opened with a meeting of the 11 heads of America’s major food corporations. The vice president of Kraft told attendees that the industry had gone too far in producing foods that excite hunger and overwhelm the body’s controls on overeating. He cited statistics showing more than half of Americans were overweight and nearly one-quarter were obese. The head of General Mills, Stephen Sanger, got up and said, “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.” The meeting took place in 1999. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 35.7 percent of Americans are overweight, along with one third of our children.

Walking home, I often see obese women like giant water balloons, out of breath just from walking. Children, faces swollen with fat, throw candy on the counter at the local bodega. Every day, thousands of people in my neighborhood get breakfast, lunch and dinner from fast-food places or bodegas. Eating well takes time and money. And when you have neither, you get what you can. And here food is fast. It’s cheap. It’s addictive. And it’s deadly. Not long ago, I saw an ambulance outside the adjacent building; my neighbor said his friend had died. He shook his head and said, “She was 50, only 50, and caught a heart attack.”

The Nag Factor

Capitalism — the private ownership over the means of production. It is the world of labor behind every smartphone, every Cheeto, every commodity. It is the factory and the workers inside. It is the bosses, regional managers and owners rising above the masses of workers in a vast pyramid of power.

Defenders of the system say that it raises incomes and life-spans and serves the needs of consumers. But in a dialectical reversal, we can point at clear evidence that capitalism does not serve our needs but creates consumers to serve its need of making profit. It’s a global conveyor belt where raw material is transformed into commodities, shipped to markets to be sold. But consumers are not born but made.

While waiting for my laundry to dry, I heard a kid screaming at his mother for Lucky Charms. I mean this kid was hollering like an N.F.L. coach. His veins bulged at his neck. “Ma, get me the Charms,” he shouted, “The Charms! The Lucky Charms!” She looked haggard and took him outside and when they came back he was scooping the cereal into his mouth.

The nagging scene struck a memory. Once home, I looked up a documentary called The Corporation; in it, Lucy Hughes, Vice President of Initiative Media and co-creator of the report “The Nag Factor,” said, “We asked parents to keep a diary and to record every time a child nagged them for a product. Anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of purchases would not have occurred unless the child nagged their parents.”

She had the smug smile of someone paid well enough to not care. Later Professor Susan Linn of Baker’s Children Center said the study was done by corporations to get children to nag for their products. Linn was sad eyed. It was like she stared at the face of a juggernaut of money and power that she could analyze but not stop. She said, “Children are not little adults. Marketers are playing into their development vulnerabilities. The advertising that children are exposed to today is honed by psychologists and enhanced by media technology.”

Later Hughes reappeared, “You can manipulate consumers into wanting and buying your products. It’s a game.” Again that smug smile, she concluded, “They are tomorrow’s adult consumer, so start talking with them now…and you got them as an adult. Someone asked me, ‘Lucy is that ethical? You’re essentially manipulating children.’ Is it ethical, I don’t know but our mission at Initiative is to move product.”

To move product — into the bodies of children even at risk to their health and by targeting their soft minds. How can one talk of freedom of choice when corporations target us before we have the ability to choose at all? The advertising bullseye hovers on us through our lives. As adults, it is our unconscious minds that are hit. Brand names are stitched on clothes, products are placed in movies. Images are slipped under our consciousness and descend into our psychic depths were they grow into decisions that we mistake for our own free will.

Capitalism — this system of private ownership of the means of production rose from the collapse of feudalism, under which armored nobility in castles and cloaked monks in monasteries ruled over ragged peasants. It spread in the artisan towns and city states of the late Middle Ages, it spread with the enclosure of land as serfs, hungry and desperate, moved to factory work in the cities, it spread overseas in the New World conquest, the slave trade and colonization, it spread around the earth in violent racist colonialism. And now it dominates human civilization and has spread into our childhoods, our dreams and seeks to determine the destiny of our species.

The Body versus Capitalism

One of the most famous scenes in recent film history was from The Matrix, when the protagonist Neo is offered a red pill by a terrorist named Morpheus. He takes it and after plunging down a surreal dream wakes up hooked to cables in a gooey pod. He looks around and sees billions of pods with people sleeping inside.

It resonated because we experience Capitalism as turning our bodies against us. It is a parasitical system that feeds on us. It takes our tongues and blinds us with taste. It floods our unconscious with logos. It takes our desire and puts a price tag on it. And dizzy with sensation and directed by commercials, we work ourselves numb to become landfills for commodities.

Is this the destiny of our species? Is this the highest we can imagine, the enslavement of millions to work making products and enslaving millions more to buy them? It seems the tragedy of our civilization is that by being walled in with commodities, we lose sight of how rare and precious we truly are.

Our ability to create, to be conscious, to imagine is a spark of beauty in the void. Humanity is the result of a series of near improbable accidents. It is a sheer accident that we exist at all, that billions of years ago, hot rock formed a planet at this distance from the sun, that ice-loaded meteors hit earth and gave it water, that in the sea microbes ignited into life and plants swept over land.

When visiting the Museum of Natural History, I imagine the T-Rex skeleton chomping up one or two visitors in a swift bite. It’s easy to feel how lucky we got with that comet impact 66 million years ago. And that’s what I mean. It’s an accident we’re here at all.

And yet here we are. The universe may teem with life but most likely it is microbes on rocks or germs in seas. Sentient life that looks up and questions is infinitely rare. Our ability to look far into space and deep into the atom, to follow the trail of elements to the origin of reality and to know its end, is incredibly precious. We, so far as we know, are the only species that is the living memory of the universe.

The human body — lulled into commodity addiction, brainwashed by advertising is itself evidence of the grand-narrative of evolution that surpasses capitalism. Over millions of years, natural selection sculpted us to fit the environment until we began to adapt the environment to fit our needs. Now we are trapped in an economic system that does not serve us but ensnares us to serve it. But the history of revolutions and art and crime show us a truth about ourselves. Our power to imagine is greater than our need to obey.

Neuro-justice

Freedom: 1. The absence of constraint on choice or action. 2. The liberation from slavery or from the power of another.

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Hey, buddy, it’s a free country, right? In cliché sayings, we’re reminded that freedom is our social ideal. In the iconic scenes of U.S. history we learn that our nation’s flag was planted on the moon by an astronaut, our armies can strike anywhere, anytime, and even a black man can become president of a country that once had slavery.

But the daily evidence of that freedom is on the stacked store shelves and in the advertisements that teach us about the capitalist Good Life. But what if on either side of the commodity existed millions of people who were not free at all?

What if we saw that behind the label is a world of misery? There, suicidal men and women grind their lives against a factory clock to make our low-cost clothing and technology. They see no exit but death and leap from the roof to the only freedom left to claim. There, undocumented workers pick tomatoes and staff the blood-soaked killing floors of meat factories to get us our cheap fast food.

And in front of the label is us — people whose unconscious is shaped by subliminal advertising, our need for intimacy and recognition commodified into market experiences of bought and sold emotional labor. Our bodies are given addictive products that make us crave self-destruction. We who live in a market-dominated world are not free, but are chemically enslaved by the very sophisticated science of corporate America.

A step we can take in freeing ourselves is critiquing capitalism differently. To the older frame of political economy focused on production, distribution and consumption of commodities we must add a new frame. One possibility is thinking in terms of a physiological economy, in which the body is transformed into a consuming machine and directed to the market where it’s a commodity dumping ground, regardless of the health effects on it. Putting the body at the center creates a goal of respecting human potential.

And what might help is the idea of neuro-justice as a New Millennial update on natural rights. We have as human beings a right to develop ourselves. We are inheritors of a cosmic accident that created the earth in the seething, plasma-hot, shooting gallery of space. We are inheritors of millions of years of evolution, and each of us belongs to a thing rare and precious in the universe, sentient life.

Behind our eyes, in our brains is a power greater than reality. It’s the power to imagine. A truly human civilization will move beyond capitalism, beyond addicting our consciousness to demanding space for it, play for it, love and recognition for it — it will demand justice for the imagination. In that world, we can walk home and see no corporate ads or stores with addictive foods or feel itchy for the newest technology or desperate for status. We can be free by simply being ourselves.