Using the tools of corporations to reprogram global society and distribute a new cultural operating system
Now that the Evolver network and brand have established themselves to a certain extent, I want to look ahead to developments I hope to see in the near future, with this organization and other initiatives. For the next phase of development, I propose the term "business shamanism." "Corporate alchemy" would be a viable alternative.
First, some context: As I write this, the ruling regime in our rotten republic of Obama-stan is seeking to ignore the pain of the sheeple and extend lavish tax breaks for the wealthy.The financial elite engineered a massive transfer of assets over the last decades, and they are now completing the procedure of creating a two-tier society resembling a serfdom. Champagne glasses are no doubt clinking in fancy hotel rooms and private clubs to celebrate the selling out of the people, as the unemployed and dispossessed roam the streets. We witness, as spectacle,the slow-motion dismantling of the American republic — though nobody can say how the story will play out this time.
We tend to forget that Roosevelt's New Deal was not a good-hearted gift to the working classes but a compromise to stave off mass uprising. The current oligarchy has determined that it will make no such deal this time around. I suspect they assume that the pulverizing of the populace with mind-numbing media, psychotropic drugs, police state tactics, and poison food had the desired effect. And they may be right.
From the viewpoint of those seeking a deeper level of transformation, however, the political gridlock, social polarization, and extremism of the right wing are all positive signs. The increasing rigidity of the system suggests it is soon going to crack. Perhaps the spirit of insurrection and liberty will reawaken in the people as it does so. But perhaps not.
We don't know when or if we will reach the critical threshold where a current of rebellion becomes a wave and then a mass movement. As Albert Camus discusses in The Rebel, when a person can compromise no further, they resist, and when they resist, their rebellion brings about inner transformation, leading them beyond themselves. "When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical," Camus writes. At the unknown point where people can no longer bear to be controlled or enslaved and begin to resist, they discover something supra-personal within themselves, a source beyond the personal ego. They discover their willingness to sacrifice — even if it costs them their lives — for a principle, for justice, for freedom.
Resistance leads to rebellion — to a complete identification with values that go beyond the individual, that define human nature in its essence. "What was at first the man's obstinate resistance now becomes the whole man, who is identified and summed up in this resistance,"Camus writes. The ruling elite employ teams of experts in social psychology and neuro-linguistic programming, trained in places like the Tavistock Institute, in order to keep the multitudes from recognizing their own interests in a movement of unified defiance. Despite these intensive efforts, it could happen anyway.
When we step back, it seems clear that the situation, as it has developed, was unavoidable. We can trace the origins of the American project, its bleak underside, back to the genocide committed against native people, considered nonhuman, and the importing of African slaves, given subhuman status, to fuel the European addictions to sugar and nicotine. Mass murder, mass theft, and mass slavery have powered the shiny engine of American progress — the projection and fulfillment of Europe's great dreams of global Empire — from the beginning. The contradictions of a society professing the ideals of freedom and equality while dependent on slavery and domination of man and nature are now reaching a final limit, an exciting impasse.
History shows that, when reform is impossible, revolution becomes inevitable. Unfortunately, the first phase of the approaching revolution in the US is very likely to be the rise of a naked and unveiled authoritarianism, a fascist Fundamentalism, unless the alternative becomes quickly and visibly manifest. As Chris Hedges comments, "The collapse of the constitutional state, presaged by the death of the liberal class, has created a power vacuum that a new class of speculators, war profiteers, gangsters and killers, historically led by charismatic demagogues, will enthusiastically fill. It opens the door to overtly authoritarian and fascist movements." Considering that the US is awash in guns and idiocy, the period of social convulsion we face could get ugly.
To bring about a peaceful and humane alternative would require courage, cunning, organization, and discipline. It would take more than group meditations, mass yoga exercises, or "prayers for peace," however well intentioned. It would depend on a deeper degree of commitment than progressive movements like MoveOn, CodePink, 350.com, and so on can mobilize. The same level of analytical objectivity that the current ruling elite uses to maintain their power and privilege would have to be brought to bear on defining, developing, and mass-distributing the alternative. This requires not just good intentions, but conscious use of the techniques devised by corporations to increase market share and establish brand identification.
There is no point in putting a precise time frame on when breakdown may reach some kind of tipping point, when frustration gives way to fury. We can see many indicators sliding in this direction. As climate change intensifies while resources such as oil and fresh water become ever-more scarce, our world will continue to change with increasing rapidity over the next few years. Things are already changing incredibly quickly, and the acceleration and intensification of events — of chaos, novelty, danger, opportunity — will only speed up from here on out.
When we survey world history over the last centuries, we see that various forms of rebellion, insurrection, and revolution have been tried, sometimes with success, but usually ending with a return to domination and hierarchy. Given another opportunity to get it right, how could the architects of a near-future rebellion avoid such a trap? The short answer, according to political philosophers like Hannah Arendt and Antonio Negri, is not to impose a single-minded ideology but to create a support structure for a grassroots movement, empowering people to awaken as political agents, helping local communities become what Thomas Jefferson called "elementary republics," within a truly planetary framework. The participatory"open source" model of social production can displace top-down or hierarchical forms of organization. An alternative orchestration of people and power that is not overtly antagonistic could be given shape and direction through the social technologies of the Internet.
In this interim or transition period, those who oppose the current system of oligarchic oppression could make skillful use of the media system and business structure of late-stage Capitalism to design and launch a transformational movement. The goal is to build a platform for radical revision, for a fundamental shift in perception and behavior, so that the alternative — what author Charles Eisenstein calls "the more beautiful world we know in our hearts is possible" — manifests in our time. Rather than a violent or polarizing revolution, this could unfold as an alchemical transmutation or gentle supersession of the present form of human society and the current stasis of consciousness. Since ideas and images, as well as social technologies for organizing people, can now flit instantly across our interlinked planet, this shift could happen quite suddenly, when the time is right.
The new system — of participatory democracy, anarchism, "angel economics" – could, potentially, unfold out of the old. Even if it doesn't happen, it is still worth a shot. The current path leads to increasing despotism, oppression, and deployment of invasive surveillance and military technologies to control increasing civil unrest. The current path is one of ceaseless war on an increasingly ravaged planet, while people retreat ever deeper into virtual amusements, hiding behind their tiny screens.
Many people in the communities that I frequent have sought to avoid rather than engage with the power structure, the financial world, on its own terms. They have not entered the playing field where amorality provides leverage to whomever is skilled enough to make use of it: the arena of wealth-creation. Because of an inveterate contempt for dirty money, disdain for the ethical compromises required to make gobs of the stuff, the alienated outsiders of the spiritual and artistic counterculture have tended to forfeit this area to the business class, to their own and society's detriment.
I totally understand and sympathize with the dislike of commerce as I used to feel the same way. My father was an abstract painter who couldn't sell his work because of his unconcealed contempt for any well-off person who might show up wanting to buy it. Following the psychoanalyst Norman O Brown and revelations during my first mushroom trips in college, I equated money with "shit," which could be hoarded or expelled. It was only many years later during another mushroom trip that the mushrooms gave me a new perspective: "Don't think of money as shit," they whispered to me."Think of it as fertilizer."
I tend to see the fixation on making money that I encounter in almost all business people, even sympathetic ones, to be something like an alien parasite that has attached itself to their brain, so that they cannot help but constantly calculate situations to their own myopically conceived advantage. In a way, I feel sad for them. Personally, I don't believe that calculated self-interest is an inevitable part of "human nature" — human nature is many things. I believe that, as the quickening pace of planetary transformation continues, this self-interested outlook will become outmoded, a kind of handicap. Of necessity, the economic system that we know is going to give way, and a new form of economy — a new type of virtual life form, symbiotic rather than parasitic — will soon be born.
Along with normal business people who have some decency but are part parasitic, there is a highly functional subset of sociopathic dominators who currently call the shots. They are the "masters of the universe" because our financial system is designed to reward the most amoral and sociopathic behavior. In a system that reduces natural resources to profit engines, the less compunction you feel about wrecking ecosystems or annihilating local cultures or mind-controlling the multitude, the more you and your company will succeed.
A certain subset of the human population is born sociopathic. In a traditional society like Ancient Egypt or the Classic Maya, such sociopaths would be recognized as both gifted and cursed, and an initiatory path would be defined for them based on their psychology, under the tutelage of dark gods such as Set or Tezcatlipoca. They would be given a defined role and function in society, but not permitted to govern it. For a new planetary culture to emerge and thrive, we will need to establish this kind of balance again.
In this interim phase, the radical, spiritual and artistic counterculture have a great opportunity to work transformation from within the "belly of the beast" of the media and the economic system. Consider this engagement as a kind of initiatory act and a magical practice, involving mimicry, rhetoric, spell-casting, the Tantric transmutation of dark matter into light force. There are a number of reasons I think this is necessary. One reason is that money functions as social leverage– those with resources are able to do things and make things happen, while those without are stuck on the sidelines.
If your work is important to society, then that society should value it in whatever ways that it chooses to ascribe value. Perhaps you would like to influence and awaken people, to change their way of thought and patterns of behavior? You should realize that most people will find you far more convincing if you are radiating health and abundance, rather than scraping for pennies. They will want to know how you pulled it off, and be more open to what you tell them.
Of course, basic health and abundance can be created outside of the money system — you can retreat from society, live in a rural community, grow food and practice yoga. Personally, considering the dire nature of the planetary emergency, I recommend engagement over retreat. Money is a basic language that our society speaks, a tool and an instrument that can be utilized and mastered, whether or not the goal is to eventually discard or transcend it. Like a novel or political manifesto, a business plan or spreadsheet of future projections is also a kind of spell, devised to focus power and catalyze human activity. Corporate icons can be considered sigils, occult symbols, that help to bind energy as well as shape consciousness into a particular form.
As an aside, I don't think that artists or magicians can get away with forfeiting the "real world" and retreating into realms of the imagination or the "astral plane" anymore. As the graphic novelist Grant Morrison once described it to me, we are in a time when the material and astral world, Malkuth and Yesod, are overlapping and merging. This situation makes it harder for materialists, as the physical world is increasingly psychically malleable, but it also presents challenges for magicians, as the astral is becoming more tangible and definite. In such a time, magicians need to prove their powers in the world as it is, the world of being and becoming. Finding balance and financial success in this time of accelerating turbulence and Illuminati manipulation is a great opportunity for magical work. To pursue a transformative path without compromise, to master it to the point that the mainstream society abundantly promotes and supports it: that is a powerful act of wizardry, a high-wire art form.
Most importantly, the tools of the corporate world can't be discarded. They need to be learned and repurposed.Corporations are extremely efficient machines for transforming matter and energy. We are going to need corporate managers, along with all of the skills that corporate managers have mastered, if planetary transformation is going to happen with the necessary speed and efficiency, when we consider the intensity of the ecological crisis, above all.
We find ourselves in an extraordinary moment when our media and culture are up for grabs. The myths of modernity and postmodernity have melted away, but there is nothing ready yet to replace them.Therefore most people are lost, confused, and have no idea what to do. They need direction from somewhere. Our society needs a new kind of leadership. Those who have embarked upon the difficult work of recognizing their psychic nature and integrating their own shadow material need to step forward into leadership roles, to shed their fear of becoming visible, of being powerful.
As we enter an intensifying phase of planetary chaos, could the spiritual and artistic counterculture turn the tables on the ruling sociopaths by creating new paths to success through the economic system that has been rigged against the masses? By doing this, could they help to provide a new inspiration, impetus, and direction for planetary culture as a whole? Such a movement would go beyond the absurdist rebellion of the past avant-garde — begging to differ with the poet Alfred Jarry, who noted, "When I'll have collected all the ready cash in the world, I'll kill everybody and go away" — to recreate society itself as an art project, according to values that are innate and universal.
The traditional corporate media structure is undergoing convulsive mutation and collapse. We see this happening across the industries of music, publishing, television, newspapers, film, et cetera. The Internet has radically shifted the taste and interest of global society and has inspired human curiosity and creativity. The will of the multitude has forcibly broken through copyright law to create a new commons, a pirate republic in cyberspace. Meanwhile, the traditional education system is also falling apart — in universities and graduate schools, people are being trained for jobs that won't exist by the time they exit those institutions. The fact that mainstream society still requires the guarantee of a piece of paper –"culture capital" is the term of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu — to attain a decent income in most fields has led to increasingly strident student riots, seen recently in California and across Europe, as tuitions skyrocket.
The education and media system act as the indoctrination and programming mechanism for global society. Due to its omnipresence, the corporate media has functioned as the immune response of the collective human organism — but the Internet is quickly eroding its hegemony, as Wikileaks reveals. Terence McKenna noted, "Culture is your operating system." We have reached a threshold where an inspired movement of people can change that operating system, if they so choose. For this to happen, the movement first needs to establish unity behind a certain set of goals and ideals.
I think it is fair to say that nobody really knows where the whole thing is going right now. In fact, our culture is not inevitably going anywhere — it is up to human beings like you and I to choose the direction and actualize the best possible option through our efforts. In such a situation, those who develop a lucid vision and intention, strategic understanding and tactical plan, will find themselves far ahead of the pack, able to make use of opportunities that arise to fulfill their deeper mission.This is what the neoconservatives have been doing over the last half century, with highly effective but increasingly catastrophic results.
Swamped by free media, overwhelmed by information, people are less and less interested in or willing to pay for pre-packaged culture. This trend will become even more pronounced in the future, no matter what the telecoms and media corporations try to do about it. What people still care about — what they will care about more and more, and be willing to pay for — is direct, unmediated experiences that are participatory and authentic, opportunities to gain knowledge that has real value to them (without needing a degree attached to it), and tools that improve their quality of life. They will also look for trusted resources to help them sift and sort through the avalanche of truth, fact, infotainment, and disinformation.
Because they are locked in bureaucratic and hierarchical structures, established corporations will not be able to change their practices tor fulfill the new needs and opportunities now emerging. Older corporations will find it harder to succeed because, in an increasingly tangible sense, trust is going to become the most important new form of"currency," the most valuable commodity, available to us. In a time of rampant corruption, trust is most scarce, and therefore most precious. For the most part, corporations are not in any position to build trust. Also the type of exchanges that build a regenerative culture will be different — in a sense, the polar opposite — from those that support the throw-away culture of maximum waste and "designed for the dump."
As civil society recognizes its self-interest in creating a peaceful and regenerative culture, the movement will include direct challenges to corporate practices that create unnecessary waste and toxic trash. A company like Apple, for instance, should be pressured to design its products in a modular way so components can be replaced instead of discarded, just as sneakers should be designed so the soles do not give out after a month or two of daily use. Environmental sensitivity and social awareness have risen considerably in recent years, and will continue to increase. The sum total of all purchasing decisions made by society is not apolitical or tangential — it is a biopolitical reality that needs to be fundamentally addressed.
While old-fashioned corporations will find it difficult, if not impossible, to address the needs for authentic experience, products, and trust-based exchanges that support the emergent culture, open-source networks of inspired individuals could rise to the occasion and do so. We hope Evolver can be a part of this process. Our goal from the beginning has been to make use of the tools of corporate branding, marketing, and mass communications to co-create and self-identity a new movement in civil society — using traditional trappings of "youth culture" or hipsterism where necessary — that can supersede the destructive programming of the culture and help to introduce a new operating system, substituting it for the one that is leading to planetary ruin.
I consider Evolver a "social sculpture,"a conceptual art piece and alchemical working. One of the first precepts of alchemy is to transmute poisons into medicines. The more deadly the poison, the more powerful the medicine it may contain. Corporations, legal entities given fictive "personhood," are the most potent engines for planetary transformation that the human mind has devised. In this final phase of post-industrial capitalism, when immaterial production has become the main driver of economic life, the corporate form can be transmuted from poison to medicine, repurposed to transform society, from the culture of ruin to one of regeneration.
What if Walmart suddenly went completely organic, started growing vegetables on its rooftops, invested in its workers with alternative health benefits, decent salaries, and education programs? Instead of importing goods from factories overseas, what if Walmart got behind the new model of distributed open-source manufacturing and trained local welders and artisans to make original products for particular locations, using recycled materials where possible? What if they turned parts of their store into permaculture training centers while exponentially reducing the disparity between executive and worker pay? At what point would anybody have to admit that Walmart was no longer a destructive force, but had become a friend to the earth? Obviously, Walmart is not going to do this — they are publicly traded, locked into their business model. But theoretically Evolver — as well as other new start-ups — could undertake these initiatives, and much more.
Although it is necessary to fight against malevolent corporate practices, we want to transmute the corporate form. People will always need beautiful and useful things, and they will always seek out services and learning experiences that benefit their life and their soul. Fulfilling these real needs in a good way is not antithetical to some kind of revolutionary movement. In fact, it needs to be a part of any meaningful movement that arises.
The efficiency of the corporate form allows for the mass distribution of tangible goods, accessing of services, and also the spreading of new memes and social models that can be directly beneficial. I am intrigued by business techniques such as "lead generation" and "multilevel marketing" that have proven extremely effective as well as lucrative. These tools are often used in an exploitative way, but they could be repurposed for social benefit. Some version of these techniques — not the gross hard sell aspect, but, yes, commodifying the personal enthusiasm for goods and services that people believe in and care about and want to share with others — could be implemented through a network such as ours, to create abundance for the community.
At the moment, we are also working with lawyers to turn the Evolver Social Movement — one aspect of what Evolver does –into an affiliated non-profit entity. Not only will this mean that membership in ES+M becomes tax-deductible, it will also mean that we can apply for grants from foundations and donations from wealthy individuals. I think it will also be clarifying for the community, who will be able to separate those parts of what we do that are fully part of the public good, from those that have a profit-making component. I personally believe that this separation is an illusion — everything we have done and will continue to do is integrally connected and has a social benefit — but it seems to be a sticking point for many people. This move should resolve it, and make our philanthropic mission more overt and transparent.
What I call "business shamanism" is the repurposing of the tools and instruments of the corporate culture and the mainstream economy to bring about social change, archaic revival, planetary regeneration, deeper initiation. Evolver is intended to work as a tactical device, a strategic interpellation, to open up a wedge in the social landscape for these necessary developments to take place.
This essay is a thought experiment, and I am curious to hear responses to it. I also welcome proposals from the community as to how they might want to extend the brand into different areas, penetrate new markets, cross over into different communities. We already have a vast backlog of projects that can be quickly implemented, once resources become available for them. Our new Evolver Intensives program is one such offering, and could be the first of many. Ironically and paradoxically, it not only takes money to make money — it also takes money to make the money system disappear.
I propose business shamanism as a new avant-garde art form. The tradition of "transgressive" culture, from Marcel Duchamp to Damien Hirst, Arthur Rimbaud to Marilyn Manson, has become tedious and formulaic. Avant-garde art, in all of its modes, seems increasingly pathetic and pointless, incapable of rattling the bars of the cage in which the mass of humanity is trapped. Cultural rebellion has been thoroughly co-opted and rendered useless, with Che Guevera trinkets or "FCUK" shirts continuing to sell like hot cakes.
This emptying out of the cultural container is a great development, because it clarifies the reality of our situation. As the history of the last century reveals, what "art" is, the vital essence of modern culture, constantly changes. In traditional civilizations, art was inseparable from a way of life and of being, from expressions of the sacred. It is only modern culture that made art into a separate domain, that secularized it and created an abstruse critical vocabulary around it in order to turn works of art into fetishized commodities. We are reaching the end of this paradigm — returning to a time when art will be reintegrated into society, not as window dressing, but as its expressive essence. As Jose Arguelles puts it, the construct that "time is money" is a misconception, an error of the industrial age. Modern humans became fixated on a collective hallucination of linear time, ignoring the fractal spirals of the surrounding universe. In the next phase of our evolutionary unfolding, we will discover that time is not money: Time is art. Out of freedom, we have the opportunity to re-invent planetary civilization so that it meshes with human potential and matches the ecstatic flights of the human imagination, co-creating society as a fantastic, collective art form. The current potential for rapid and global transformation to a sustainable or thriving world, for "conscious evolution," is available because of capitalism and corporate efficiency.
The events of the last decades show that being stridently "against" anything is less effective than collaborating to bring about the alternative. Street protest is still possible and sometimes useful, but direct protest tends to feed power to the police, who develop ever-more sophisticated techniques of crowd control. Before protest can be incorporated into a strategy that leads to a true victory, there needs to be a tangible social alternative available, at least as a blueprint, and a method for implementing it that is understood by a critical subset of the populace. Otherwise, as the post-Communist history of the former Soviet republics shows, liberation can quickly give way to new patterns of domination and gangsta rule.
During the Vietnam War, protests at Kent State and elsewhere revealed a stark limit to US tolerance of freedom of conscience: Student dissenters posing no threat to society received the death squad treatment. The assassinations of political leaders and Black Panther members, as well as the eerily murky deaths of a number of musicians, also marked the end of that era. These actions sent a direct message to would-be radicals and activists that meaningful dissent would not be tolerated. The retreat into mindless Studio 54 hedonism, blank-generation hipsterism, and vapid self-serving New Ageism were products of the despair felt by the 60s generation, who saw their ideals and hopes betrayed, their heroes crucified by the secret government. Considering the potential for cold-blooded retaliation, any new oppositional movement that arises would need to be truly leaderless and distributed, like a code or a set of instructions that any person or resistance group can assemble on their own. The other possibility is for a movement to emerge that is so seamlessly meshed into the prevailing system that it can't be identified as oppositional.
Over the last decades, an increasingly tepid liberal class lost the will to challenge the status quo, abdicating responsibility for the fate of this society. As Chris Hedges writes, "The liberal class has cut itself off from the roots of creative and bold thought, from those forces and thinkers who could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. Liberals exude a tepid idealism utterly divorced from daily life. And this is why every television clip of Barack Obama is so palpably pathetic." It is not a question of feeling anger or resentment against those who have abdicated moral authority and failed us. The only thing that matters now is reaching a clear understanding of the underlying forces that led to this point, and then finding the path of transformation beyond the current impasse.
Through practice, like a mental martial art, you can flip most of the negative factors of the current system to reveal a positive polarity, a hidden upside. That most people have been so successfully indoctrinated and entrained, turned into cogs in the overwhelming machine of our current civilization, suggests they could be easily re-imprinted and reconditioned with a new code of behavior and value system. Because the current mindset of monotonous self-interest and consumerism is not a natural state for human beings, but an artificial imprint, a kind of mind parasite, it needs to be repetitively reinstated, constantly droned, on every available channel. A new cultural operating system can provide a new set of ideals, patterns of thought, and behavioral norms. The prevailing mindset could be reversed, the media tools used to disseminate a new ethos of responsibility for the earth, meshed with adaptive, regenerative, and self-reliant practices. Mass media could project the rewritten code into the mass mind, including a different set of myths, memes, messages, and lifestyle options. Because this alternative would correspond to those innate and indigenous human values our society has suppressed and denied — principles of self-sufficiency, empathy, equality, the equitable sharing of goods and resources across the earth, a renewed sense of the sacred — it would not require a continuous barrage to become normative.
Over the last century, the varied forms of cultural and social rebellion were neutralized by being co-opted — yet in this process society also changed and adapted. Mass society integrated the human liberation movements of the last centuries into the fabric of daily life, on many levels. To stay relevant, the corporate marketers and cultural programmers were forced to mimic the form and rhythm of these rebellions, to make them part of their inducements — Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" used to sell cars, et cetera. The romantic rebellions of the past persist as the background Muzak and subliminal wallpaper of the present; radical breakthroughs in defining new rhythms of perception and thought remain as underlying, invisible pattern. The next surprising yet logical phase in this dance is for the opposition to define the desired alternative, co-opt the propaganda tools and financial instruments of the dominant culture, and redirect or reverse the momentum of the system as a whole.
Image by fdcomite, courtesy of Creative Commons license.