Hmmm. I smell a juicy topic. Courtesy, once again, of the anthropologist of consumption, Grant McCracken.
In his most recent blog post, McCracken asks why our culture tells such horror stories about our economic system, capitalism.
And it’s true. In a way. Although I do think that, in some corners, some households, some rooms of our bastions of higher learning, a different kind of story about capitalism is being told. But mostly to capitalists, or wanna-be capitalists.
Yet, as McCracken points out, capitalism is the unsung hero (because he’s not classically heroic) who owns a handful of dry cleaning shops, that’s employing people’s moms and dads and sponsoring little league teams and, at the same time, keeping us all in freshly-laundered duds.
I wonder if this whole demonizing of an economic system that, from empirical evidence, is at least currently preferred to any other in most parts of the world, isn’t due to a bigger rift in how we see ourselves and our culture.
Because an economic system is just as much a cultural artifact as a building or a symphony or a set of dishes. It’s as much manufactured by humans as any other part of what we call culture. And yet, in a way that strikes me as historically unusual, the economic system is deeply separated from many other parts of our culture, and neither sees itself as beholding to or dependent upon the rest of our swirl of human meaning. And our human lives.
Capitalism is not integrated with the rest of culture in the way it should be. If it were, it wouldn’t be seen as alien in the first place, and it wouldn’t act as if it’s not dependent on both the natural and human eco-system which it occupies.
My guess is that part of this comes from specialization. When a person wants to go into business they study business. They don’t necessarily study philosophy, religion, history, biology, literature, music, dance, theatre, and all the other contexts in which business lives. In other words, business students don’t study the culture and the environment which business is supposed to serve. It’s seen as having its own laws, its own purposes, which are centered on creating profit for shareholders.
Whereas, throughout human history (and pre-history, we may suppose), the economic system is a means, not an end in itself.
Likewise, those who don’t study business feel victimized by this alien system that seems to be serving no one they know and doesn’t have a regard for non-business things.
To me, this is what the whole new values-based branding model is all about. We are finally trying to re-align our economic system with our larger cultural needs, as well as the needs of the planet. And not just our material needs, but our spiritual needs as well.
Which is what makes this moment in branding particularly exciting for me. As it should be for you. For all of us.