Hail To The Chief (Of Promotion And Sales)

In his introduction to The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006) Richard Sennett reasons out what he imagines will be the subject of his book. “Only a certain kind of human being can prosper in unstable, fragmentary social conditions. This ideal man or woman has to address three challenges.” “The first concerns time: how to manage short term relationships, and oneself, while migrating from task to task, job to job, place to place.” “The second challenge concerns talent: how to develop new skills, how to mine potential abilities, as reality’s demands shift.” “The third challenge follows from this. It concerns surrender; that is, how to let go of the past.” Ostensibly, this will result in “A self oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience is – to put a kindly face on the matter – an unusual sort of human being.” (pgs. 3-5) A little later on, in describing one of his studies that this work is an outcome of, he reiterates “Here I had the chance to see the cultural ideal of the new capitalism at its most robust, the boom suggesting that this new man/woman would get rich by thinking short term, developing his or her potential, and regretting nothing.” (pg. 7) Fair enough outcome of reasoning, as old as Plato, that usually is composed of ideas and eventually categorizes on ideals.

In a short essay entitled “From Someone to Nobody” (1950) Jorge Luis Borges follows a particular character, warp, or drift of thinking and reasoning. “To be one thing is inexorably not to be all the other things. The confused intuition of that truth has induced men to imagine that not being is more than being something and that, somehow, not to be is to be everything. That fallacy is inherent in the words of the legendary king of Hindustan who renounces power and goes out to beg in the streets: “From this day forward I have no realm or my realm is limitless, from this day forward my body does not belong to me or all the earth belongs to me.” Schopenhauer has written that history is an interminable and perplexing dream of human generations; in the dream are recurring forms, perhaps nothing but forms; one of them is the process described in this essay.”

Borges’ insight informs more than refutes Sennett’s imagining (as Sennett’s “factual” research findings are the “empirical” refutation, the stuff of the book). Though written over a half century ago, it also informs the ever recurring and repetitious “marketing” of the contemporary situation; why it is so necessary for current political leadership to promote and “sell” prosperity futures to an individual subject “oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience”. After all, if “not to be is to be everything” what need is there for competing alternatives, difference, compromise, or reason itself?


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