From Kings and Religion to Corporate Elites and Positive Psychology
Considering that modern western democracies are undoubtedly moving backwards in many areas, including women’s rights, the rights of minorities, social justice and welfare, and a host of other issues, due to the overwhelmingly powerful discourse of neoliberalism, and the actions that flow from this discourse, I would like to propose an interesting analogy which may not be too far from the truth in the near future.
Firstly, let us look at the ruling classes and their main social control mechanism in the feudal era. In what we now know as western societies, the feudal era was ruled by royal families, large landowners, and the church. In this period, the population was largely dependent on the rulers who provided ‘employment’ and possibly a small piece of land to create produce, in return for taxes. These taxes were very onerous, taking the bulk of the people’s earnings and leaving just enough to survive on.
We ask the question today of why ‘the poor’ are so acquiescent to the powers that be — but this has always been the case, mostly because of the power of the social control mechanisms that are utilized. In the feudal era, it was the power of religion that controlled the people (in addition to the fear of execution by the royals or the large landowners for doing something wrong).
As outlined earlier in this document, the work of Max Weber shows how the Protestant Church “teaches” people to regulate themselves, so religious teachings do have major social consequences. Of course, the Protestant Church was established in the post-feudal era; however, let us look at the social consequences of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Firstly, there is the idea of the all-powerful and vengeful god that people lived in fear of. They (the general public) believed that if they did something wrong that god would punish them through some terrible form of revenge. This was the stick for widespread social control through religion. But … there was also a carrot — if one was to behave oneself and do good deeds, then they may just be saved by god. So, these three forms of social control, the fear instilled by the kings and the large landowners, the revenge reeked by god, and the belief that one may be saved by god, was a very basic and direct mechanism of social control.
The mechanisms of social control are vastly more subtle and complex in the present age. Let us begin by making an analogy that the new ‘kings and large landowners’ of the present day are the members of the corporate elites whose needs are very well served by “democratic” governments across the western world. The other side of the equation is that the religion of the present-day is positive psychology and the ‘new-age’ spiritualism that has become so prevalent.
The analogy is continued in looking at the corporate elites. The overwhelming majority of the population is dependent in some way or other on the corporate sector, particularly in terms of employment, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the cars we drive, and so on. Except for the VERY few people who live off the land, build their own homes out of scrap, and who make their own clothes from raw materials, almost 100% of us are completely dependent on the corporate sector for everything — this is the way modern society has been organized. The level of dependency is possibly greater than it even was in the feudal era.
The most interesting aspect of the present era is the question of why ‘the poor’ aren’t more disillusioned and angry at the current set-up. After all, it is they who suffer the most, as anyone in current-day Greece (and may other countries) can tell us. There is a highly insidious and very controlling set of methods that are in place in modern western societies that have a large measure of control over the population. But … this control is not as direct and obvious as in the feudal era. There is more a sense of evolution, and then, opportunism by the elites in the development of these forms of social control.
The timeline really starts in the mid-1970s with the rise of the neoliberal ideology. Out of the remnants of the hippy era of the late 1960s, came the new-age era of self-help and positive psychology. It is no accident that these ‘technologies’ under individualizing tools that say to the individual “if I think positively, I can achieve anything” or “if I follow [guru’s] ideas, I’ll be successful”, through to the present-day ‘business’ seminars that tell us that with a ‘wealth mindset’, we can achieve great wealth. Right through the self-help literature, there is very little on the power of community; the focus is almost exclusively on the empowerment of the individual. The solutions are also couched as if there is always something wrong with the individual and that if they could only do ‘x’, then they will achieve their goals. This coincides very closely to the individualizing power of the neoliberal ideology who brands anyone who cannot achieve as a ‘loser’ or a ‘leaner’.
These self-help and positive psychology technologies only hold out false hope as very few people can make it on their own in such a complex and inter-dependent society such as todays. But … you hear these utterances everywhere, and they just serve to make people passive and accepting and unaware of the true barriers to their success — the corporate elites.
The analogy holds up well. Just as religion made the population passive, accepting and unaware of their true oppressors, so does positive psychology and the new-age individualising beliefs that the corporate elites, our new rulers, have used to their own advantage to enhance THEIR Levels of success and control over the direction of society. The class struggle is alive and well. It has been initiated by the corporate elites and is backed up all the way by present-day, apparently democratic governments, while the people are largely unaware what has actually changed.