Capitalism and Freedom: “Control Through Desire”

In Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, author Tim Jordan refers to the phenomenon of cultural codes and how US capitalism and corporate structure are conducive to the pervasive development of such manipulative codes. The US, prides itself on freedom and praises freedom as one of, if not the most important value of the “American culture.” So too is America’s practice of capitalism an extoled and distinguished characteristic and value of the “American culture”. For centuries, politicians and capitalists alike have emphasized the importance of these two specific values/traits of freedom and capitalism in distinguishing America from other nations of the world. For in the perspective of these politicians and capitalists, freedom enables capitalism. Yet, what if capitalism subverts this very freedom? According to Tim Jordan, capitalism, the long exalted economic system of America, may in fact undermine individual and societal freedom in profound ways through its generation of “cultural codes.” According to Tim Jordan, the American does not truly exist as an independent individual freely forming his or her idiosyncratic desires and interests, but is rather subject to cultural manipulation by the corporations of the world. “Unlike the authoritarian state, globalized capitalism does not seek control of desire, but control through desire…”(Jordan, p. 112).

Thus, corporations and the state shape the desires of the individual American and the American society as a whole. Therefore, the active presence of “cultural jammers” who can disrupt this manipulation of the “American culture” of are the immense importance in ascertaining veritable freedom in the American society. Cultural jammers must somehow reveal the manipulative cultural codes created by the corporations of capitalist America. After having read Jordan’s Activism! Chapter 5, the importance Jordan places on Cultural Jammers in society’s ability to transcend and conquer the binding effects of cultural codes and ultimately the role and necessity of cultural jammers is clearly emphasized. However, more complex and difficult is how cultural jammers can successfully realize their roles of “contesting cultural codes”; for these cultural codes are so deeply pervasive and ingrained in the “American Culture.” Moreover, some codes may even be too entrenched and durable to effectively contest or perhaps even discern. According to Jordan, “the cultures that are foisted on us, coming not from communities or individuals or families, but from profit-seeking companies and their hired semioticians, can be turned inside out.”(Jordan, p. 102). However, how can such cultures be turned inside out if some are so profoundly and subconsciously ingrained to the point that we and even “cultural jammers” are unable to even detect them?

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2 thoughts on “Capitalism and Freedom: “Control Through Desire””

  1. Perhaps it is not that a code is so undetectable, but it is simply not the time for that code to be upturned. For example, the Catholic church was a major moral leader for ~2000 years in Western society, whose affluence spread globally. Being heterosexual is a cultural code that was rarely if ever contested historically, and is still subconsciously programmed into children at a young age. However, in recent years, that code has been upturned and being non-heterosexual been somewhat socially acceptable. And with the advent of new technology, that allows for increased networking which as we proceed into the age of information, allows new disparities to come to light, and eventually be overturned and righted.

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  2. The question that I have instead, is should a culture even need to be turned inside out? Perhaps a more beneficial thought is not to completely subvert everything that a culture stands for – certainly capitalism and its freedoms have helped out many Americans over the years – but to analyze in what specific manners or areas we can improve upon our existing system. Is it possible that incremental change, the small actions activists can make, perhaps is the best avenue to a better life for all? Certainly small actions are as important if not more important than the large actions of activism!.

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