Monday, December 12, 2005

No Logo

Branding, as we have seen, is a balloon economy: it inflates with astonishing rapidity but it is full of hot air. It shouldn't be surprising that this formula has bred armies of pin-wielding critics, eager to pop the corporate balloon and watch the shreds fall to the ground. The more ambitious a company has been in branding the cultural landscape, and the more careless it has been in abandoning works, the more likely it is to have generated a silent battalion of critics waiting to pounce. Moreover, the branding formula leaves corporations wide open to the most obvious tactic in the activist arsenal: bringing a brand's production secrets crashing into its marketing image. It's a tactic that has worked before.

Naomi Klein, "No Logo", pg 345

As I continue to read through Naomi Klein's book, it is amazing how many religious like tendencies she, and perhaps the neo-humanist movement she represents, espouse. For instance, the quote above, as well as most of the book, seem to show that one of the prime focusses of counter-culture styled groups is showing the establishment how wrong they are. Despite appearances, it really does seem that a prime interest is in proving others wrong. Obviously this in couched in more positive terms; minority rights, prevention of abuse, overthrow of hegemony, etc. However, there does seem to be a strong sense that the un-informed masses need to be shown how to distinguish between proper concepts of right and wrong.

In reality this seems like a religious like attempt to establish, or maybe just define good and evil. There is an attempt to create an enforceable morality, ostensibly through multiplicative effects of individual choice, where a gradations of right & wrong are rejected in favor of religious like professions of faith. Situational complexity is ignored for a summative judgment of overall effects. The movement Klein represents seems to want to enforce a relatively arbitrary standard of wrong. In many cases, explanations of complexity are only seen as rationalizations that skirt the righteousness of their attack. In this sense, an environment that forces the uniformed masses to choose sides is being created.

Whether we like to believe it, it seems hard to argue against the idea that morality is based on dogmatic preference. Certainly some things are more beneficial for a society than others, but I wonder if much of this isn't due to congruence of standards with societal needs rather than the existence of universal absolutes. This is not to say that absolute standards don't exist, only that in practice we normally deal with a level of morality that extends well beyond this base standard. And so, in practice there is a very real fight for litmus tests that define what is right and what is wrong. Choices contrary to dogmatic standards become seen as uniformed unless they either acknowledge or reject certain litmus tests. In this sense, it is the focus of opinions as right, wrong or uniformed that is so similar to religious like tendencies.


chris g said...

One might be tempted to argue that the difference between neo-humanist morality and standard religious morality is the degree to which they are based in science instead of supernaturalism. I am not sure how valid this complaint is. Part of this is due to the little trust I have in the scientific validity of sociology based enquiries. Certainly they posses the possibility of elucidating concepts of morality, but, for the most part, I think they are only valid within the context of existing social standards. Thus they do not tell us what is absolutely correct, only what is relatively correct. Change society's needs and morality must change as well. In addition it seems this area of study is hugely biased by an unfettered faith in progressivism, where change is God. But is this really better than arbitrary religious morality?

I am not sure on this point. Taking some influence from Atran and other related opinions, it seems like standard religious attitudes arise naturally as a way of putting together social memes. This establishes a morality grounded in core attitudes and values. As we can see with protestantism today, religious focus and values certainly seem change in response to social concerns. They may be phrased so as not to give this appearance, but in most cases the difference between religious morality and neo-humanism is the difference between a conservative and progressive take on change. Which is more valid doesn't seem to be overly based in science. Instead it seems to be based more on an appearance of validity. Secular society would seem to favor neo-humanism not because of its worth, but because religion is so maligned.

Right now religion seems to have achieved a balance that allows self selection. Obviously there will always be tension with society concerning values various groups would like to see. Neo-humanism still seems rather naive in this regard. Like religion it certainly seems to be setting things up for a slippery slope push of values, although to a much greater degree. What level of accommodation is acceptable? Despite complaints to the contraty, the difference is, for the most part religion has found a balance in the way it works with others (at least in our society). It has done this by making its success tied to individual action. Neo-humanism, despite its appearance, isn't based on individual action. It's success is based on group action. This is the only way it can create enough momentum for the various overthrows it requires. In reality, religions today don't require group action.

Clark Goble said...

It seems to me that where the parallels occur is exactly where they aren't scientific. Scientism is typically applying science in places it doesn't fit and which often end up as pseudo-science. Phrenology is the classic example of a pseudo-science, but I think Marxism is the better one and it is also a great example of scientism. Yeah not all Marxists treat it as a science, but many did - especially in the early 20th century.

It seems to me that this was one of the aspects of Atran in the earliest chapters that was most interesting. He explicitly makes that connection.

chris g said...

Mixing books here, I think it is important to note than the anti-globalization crowd Klein talks about certainly isn't scientific, or even proclaim themselves as such. However it is interesting that, for some reason, people tend to iinterpret their humanist ideals as being more scientific than say traditional religion. To me they are two sides of the same coin. So why is one see as correct and progressive, and the other as wrong and misguided? It seems as if people wrongly apply scientific labels onto things with which they agree. I think this is a major complaint of sociology studies, and the comment I made over at your blog

Clark Goble said...

I think you are right. I think one thing that has occurred is science is viewed as a collection of true facts. (Undoubtedly in part due to the way science is taught - especially in High School) The consequence is that science becomes a label like "true."

Humanists of various stripes apply the label "scientific" the way Evangelicals apply the label "Biblical." And, as is often the case, the people applying these labels typically do so uncritically.

chris g said...

I'll agree with you there. I also find it interesting in the latter part of Klein's quote, as through out the book, se says much of the animosity against corporations is their co-option of feminist and gender identity tools. The animosity about this certainly is strong. It is as if the tools these issues had were sacred. Problems arise with the misapplication of these sancrosanct tools. Only "proper" beliefs should be empowered by sacred concepts like multiculturalism and such. Thus part of the battle seems to be about the preservation of sacred ideas.

For a few weeks I have been trying to see how this new religious like movement would recreate scriptural text. I think this could be one strategy. Before I sound too whacked out, let me say that I don't think neo-humanism needs a sacred text. Many religions don't have one. What most religions seem to create though is some sort of sacred source of power and moral authority. For many the Bible is such an non-equivical source. For neo-humanists, I wonder if the artifacts around minority empowerment don't function in the same way. They are tools that only minorities can use, and are sacredly guarded as such (rather unsucessfully mind you).

The problem is, while corportations can't really use these tools directly, the communal nature of them lets people simulate end objectives. Thus Benneton's old adds didn't arise because they were a minority that was now empowered, rather they arise from the desire people had to see the results of empowerment. They were obviously a superficial recreation of change without substance.

And so one of the possible problems that may upset some culture jammers is that they can't hold onto a sense of sacredness. They want an open religion that enables spontaneous group action, but they don't want their ideals polluted or used incorrectly. This seems to explain the tendency that has crept in for an us vs. them mentality. There needs to be a clear tipping point between the two sides. Usually this is termed "selling out". Yet clearly there is a huge continuum in attitudes. However such a continuum goes against the whole foundations of cultural revolution.

So how do religions escape this dillema? Either they go mainstream and water down their beliefs, or they move towards true cult like tendencies. Either way though, they need to create some unique niche. Culture jamming and such most likley runs into problems as they seem more bent on destructive criticisms than constructive enterprise. Of course this is rationalized by the weight of oppression that needs to be thrown off before change is possible. Seems rather like a zionist type attitude in its infancy.