THERE were times when seals and insignias were used by the Indus valley and Babylonian people to demonstrate the pomp and prosperity of their civilisations. This scenario has now changed, as object-making and commodity-making have moved beyond civilisations and cultures.
The commodified global culture and the lifestyle embraced by it is no more sacred and revered by consumerist human beings.
There are three historical forces that have transformed the notion of commodity beyond all bounds of imagination today. These are free market economy, electronic capital and information junk.
Take the case of free market economy first. There were times when charity was part of almost all known human societies in the world. It was an act of magnanimity and generosity and performed for its intrinsic human value. Today the case is reversed.
Charity is now marketed by huge organisations engaged by the social corporate sector. The acts of charity add value to the balance sheets of the social corporate regime.
Awards, scholarships, loans and all sorts of monetary contributions are marketed by marketing agents of the mighty social corporate conglomerates. They also perpetuate a global commodified worldview and a power régime, which is unjust and morally corrupt to the core. No local economies and/or worldviews can withstand the barrage of this global domination of the social corporate sector. Thanks to the inherent nature of the free market economy there are mechanisms to commodify every act, whether tangible or intangible, including charity and philanthropy.
Electronic capital is another glaring force of the commodified global culture today. There were times when gold coins standardised economic and religious exchanges. People were unaware of words like inflation, price-hike and stagflation, GDP, GNP and ERM. Electronic capital has changed all this. Now capital moves impersonally in huge cycles of electronic exchanges between agents who even do not know each other’s identities and origins. The capital continuously moves to high ebbs of profit and accumulation of monetary benefits.
It has facilitated the marketing of almost everything under the sky; from human bodies to human souls, from sex to music, from religious beliefs and convictions to political agendas. Those on the lower side of the ebb who cannot do much about it must continue to suffer. If one cannot make intelligent decisions and cannot market one’s neurons-capital effectively, one is subjected to utter frustration and suffering.
There is no way and there is no modern human society that can escape the commodified electronic capital and the reign of commodified global economic domination of neurons-capital. If you can play effectively with the global cycles of electronic capital, by whatever means, you are successful. The age of neuro-capitalist society has become dominant and those who still muse over some kind of socialist or moral revival are mistaken and need to take a refresher course in social history.
The third significant aspect of commodified global culture is the Troy of information junk. We witness on the Internet and on social networking websites a mammoth display of information junk. There were times information was considered a sacred trust to be shared amongst human and humane societies. People would die guarding this sacred trust of information. Now we face a different case.
If for one month one monitors the Internet information junk sites on the World Wide Web, one can discern a social pattern in the usage of Internet and social networking websites. The pattern includes hate-preaching of all sorts, ethnic, religious, political, sexually gratifying stuff, followed equally by religious and political hate consumption materials. Knowledge and its dissemination no more constitute a sacred trust.
A globally commodified storm of information rages of use and abuse. An overwhelming number of people no longer connect with each other personally and spiritually. We are now linked by social information networks of use and abuse. In the process, human beings have lost their most precious asset; their identity based on quest of knowledge. Humanity may thus become an object of ridicule as we exist in a perpetual flux of information-grounded hate literature of all sorts. There were grand stories and storytellers during the classical age. They believed in honour, self-respect and alms-giving out of sheer responsibility towards the fellow needy. Today the contemporary commodified global information junkyard has made one just an information consumer and generator. We do not thrive on the pleasure of great storytelling of moral values anymore. Instead we thrive as insects of a market of information junk.
We consume beliefs, we consume justice, we consume freedom, we consume democracy, we consume terror, we consume sex and finally we consume violence. There is no escaping this harsh reality of commodified global culture. Either we are part of it or else we must perish in pain and solitude. The information junkyard has taken away from us a decent sense of being human.
We connect with each other as information consuming beings driven by either self-interest or a profit-loss logic. We are irreversibly tattooed with symbols of this information junk.
The global anti-Christ of commodified pleasure, profit making and consumption has led to the alienation of man from the centre of his being. He has become oblivious of his destiny on earth. He no more likes to engage in a discourse of knowledge, wisdom and mortality. Like Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, everyone is after ‘a piece of flesh from Antonio’s heart’. For this precise reason, one may even have to sell one’s commodified soul in order to satiate the body’s hunger and thirst.
The writer is a social scientist who teaches at the School of Business and Economics, University of Management and Technology, Lahore.