Sunday, April 12, 2009

Market Anthropomorphism

Even as a Wharton grad with the mandatory grounding in economic theory (macro, micro and everything in between) it has never set well with me to hear talk of "behavior" in the stock market, as in its "reactions" to events reported in the news, its tendency to "correct itself," or any meaningful significance ascribed to the direction it seems to be moving in.

While such language may be used in modeling theories to analyze trends and economic effects for instructional purposes, it would be laughable in academia, or something on the level of blasphemy, to suggest that there is some unseen sentient force shaping the economy.

(I suspect the same is true in theology classes taught at Catholic seminaries. Those in training to perpetuate the faith cannot themselves buy into the silly myths that underlie its powerful hold over people)

Obviously, as consumers we are assumed to know no better than to accept the anthropomorphism of abstract market statistics as reported daily by the corporate media without question. Even though no one seemed to see the current economic collapse coming we are now hit with screaming headlines, breaking news flashes and "in depth analysis" by economic "experts" when the Dow drops a few hundred points in one day. Excitedly they tell us how and why we are facing imminent doom according to that great and mighty oracle of capitalism - the Market.

Often, within 24 hours we find that - no, we have not yet crossed that feared line of unthinkable disaster. In fact, the market has rebound in a "self correction" when the gains reported the next day are double in number of points by which it had fallen. Hallelujah! The Gods of capitalism have been appeased!

Someone must have sacrificed a virgin.

The oracle tells us we have been spared and are free to go on investing for another day. Or, for most of us, we can be happy that our capitalist overlords will continue to invest and keep us under their thumbs for another day even as our retirement nest eggs crumble.

What is this mighty oracle - the Market - but an unseen vehicle of communication with the spirits that supposedly drive our economy? It possesses human traits but no human form. Its force is felt but never seen - like the wind. Like those ancient seers we now look down on as primitive and superstitious, the media high priests we call "economic experts" measure and interpret signs found in market trends.

Rush Limbaugh, Spiritual Leader of the Republican Party and self-appointed economic oracle, recently proclaimed that the
Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 166 points today. It's been flirting around that 166 to 180. It's 'cause Obama is coming home. Remember when Obama left, the markets skyrocketed. The markets know Obama is coming back and so the markets are plummeting.
(see Limbaugh Wire transcript from Media Matters, 4/7/09)

Joe Bageant has a slightly different take on things. He is the author of the book Dear Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War.

As a recent blog entry Bageant addresses what he calls "The American Hologram" in the text of a lecture he has given to several college audiences, titled: Escape from the Zombie Food Court, excerpted below...

This financial-ization of our consciousness under American-style capitalism has become all we know. That's why we fear its loss. Hence the bailouts of the thousands of "zombie banks," dead but still walking, thanks to the people's taxpayer offerings to the money god so that banks will not die.

We believe that we dare not let corporations die. Corporations feed us. They entertain us. Corporations occupy one full half of our waking hours of our lives, through employment, either directly or indirectly. They heal us when we are sick. So it's easy to see why the corporations feel like a friendly, benevolent entity in the larger American consciousness.

Corporations are, of course, deathless and faceless machines and have no soul or human emotions. That we look to them for so much makes us a corporate cult and makes corporations a fetish of our culture. Yet to us, they are like the weather -- just there. We suffer under a mass national hallucination.

Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist. Our national reality is staged and held together by media, chiefly movie and television images. We live in a "theater state."

In our theater state, we know the world through media productions, which are edited and shaped to instruct us on how to look and behave and view the outside world.

As in all staged productions and illusions, everyone we see is an actor. There are the television actors portraying what supposedly represents reality. Non-actors in Congress perform in front of the cameras as the American empire's cultural machinery weaves and spins out our cultural mythology.

In any case, the media culture's production of martyrs, good guys and bad guys, fallen heroes and concept outlaws, is not just big corporate business. It is the armature of our cultural behavior.

It tells us who to fear (Middle Eastern terrorists, Mr. Chavez in Venezuela and foreign made pharmaceuticals), who to scorn (again, the same candidates, along with Britney Spears, for her lousy child-rearing skills).

Our daily news is the modern version of Roman coliseum shows. Elections are personality combat, chariot races, not examinations of solutions being offered. None are offered.

[After the initial uproar over Abu Ghraib] Americans, like children got bored with the subject of torture long ago, so we quit seeing the victims. Plenty of new evidence has been coming out for years since Lynndie [Englund]'s famous pics from Abu Ghraib. But the short American attention span, created by our rapid-fire media, says, "Move on to the next hologram please. Whoa! Stop the remote. Nice butt shot of Sarah Palin there!"

The result is that Americans cannot achieve [an effective psychic/emotional attachment to the world]. It is "beyond ideological challenge, because it is called into existence affectively." Americans are conditioned to reject any affective attachment that does not have a happy ending. And in that, we remain mostly a nation of children. We never get to grow up.

So, we tell ourselves the Little Golden Book fairy tales -- that we are a great and compassionate people and that we are personally innocent of any of our government's horrific crimes abroad. Guiltless as individuals. And we do remain innocent, in a sense, as long as we cannot see beyond the media hologram.

But it is a terrible kind of self-inflicted innocence that can come to no good. We are a nation of latchkey kids babysat by an electronic hallucination, the national hologram.

For the entire article go to Joe Bageant's Blog


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