Can democracy tame capitalism?

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Capitalism always wanted data about us, about how we behaved. They know more about us than what we know about ourselves. They want to nudge our actions towards consuming their products step by step. We feel we are autonomous and we are choosing our choices. But we are not. We are being nudged step by step. 

First we see an ad on social media where we know about a product. Most of the time it appears relevant to us. Like if we are on LinkedIn, we get ads related to that new course which helps us move forward in career. If we are on Facebook, we get the ad about enrolling to that new page which matches exactly with our interests. And if we are on Instagram, you know what we are shown. We visit a shopping mall, and google asks us for a review. Not just there, it might also show us ads about things we want to purchase, based on which store we visited. If it’s lunch time, our Swiggy is ready to show us foods that tinge our taste buds. Infact they remind us about lunch even before we are hungry.

All good, that’s how companies can stay efficient- by targeted marketing such that they have a positive return on investment. Any need could now be targeted and addressed. That’s how we have been working since markets took over, and as we know, “markets know best”. But the side of it which we must be concerned about is not that our needs are getting satisfied. We might as well say our needs are getting efficiently satisfied as they show up a click away now. But that’s not the full story. 

It is not just about how companies know our interests, and how they purchase it as a third party, or how they might actually affect our privacy. It is about how we ourselves are being made to be interested in particular things. For instance, why should I be interested in taking a course unless there is a larger ideology that makes such a choice meaningful for me. This way of thinking that taking a course would help me gain better skills, and thereby more successful is an idea planted into us by the propaganda machines which have an interest in the system. Oh, let’s not say propaganda, my boy. Let’s just say they believed in it so much that it preserved their privilege, and it made them righteous.

These righteous groups are the ones that excel in the system and which also have an interest in preserving them. They are powerful such that even new ideas need their support to get published. For instance, an article which counters the systems of a particular ideology would not be accepted by a particular journal for publication when it does not match its ideology. Even if they are accepted, such a feature is marketed too in favor of one’s brand such that they are open to new ideas and so their ideas must be preferred, and that they have higher legitimacy. This legitimacy brings more profits. We need to sell it, even when we say, “selling is unethical”- else, it does not reach anyone. To not have an ideology itself might be one’s ideology which sells.

To understand this better, we must ask ourselves, “What does it mean to protest about Facebook on Facebook itself?” It primarily means that we are legitimizing Facebook as a platform that is open to all kinds of views, without considering the fact that Facebook itself and the way it collects our data itself might be an idea we might despise off. This also means to ask, “What does it mean to use the benefits and privileges of a system that we want to fight against?” This just means that system is part of us even when we want to fight it.

Noam Chomsky criticizes the US state and many times called it a terrorist state which takes forward the goals of its capitalist corporations to keep the arab countries in its control, for their energy resources. It uses terror as a weapon to create a situation which requires US support. Can anyone create a situation such that we need them, and justify their worth saying we ourselves needed them? If someone can, should we be fine with it? Such is the scenario where large social media networks are captured by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat such that they are the ones that provide data to third party companies which can make use of user data to advertise their products, and also nudge or manipulate the user towards purchasing something. They create the situation again and again such that we need them to progress in life, and to do cool things, but they themselves have told us what progress meant and what coolness meant.

The trick here is to make users believe that they are individuals and then later make their choices legitimate since they are now individuals and autonomous to make choices in front of them. This is a master trick such that advertisements that are generated by respecting individuality and a spirit of capitalism which runs on self-interest and competition, are also the very those that erase the individuality that gave birth to it. We cannot make sense of this situation unless we think through a lens other than individualism. To frame the question, “What does it mean that a society which guarantees my individuality also takes it away from me?” 

This perhaps means that individuality never existed. It is just such that an invisible ball was given to me and as I kept playing, I was also manipulated to throw it away. Once I threw, I kept believing that I gave away the ball autonomously. The ball never existed but I still played with it. But who gave the ball to me, and why would one give away their precious invisible ball? It was just another person who believed she had a ball too. All this abstraction just makes us in the society believe we are acting to play. But how do we get the real balls to play with?

This takes us to a larger question, “What does it mean to use democracy to fight capitalism?” Isn’t democracy the invisible ball we are playing with? Does capitalism justify itself more and more with democracy and does it not become bigger and bigger in its name. 

God save the world!

Featured Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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