Helen Andrews on the corporatisation of morality

A while back I featured Helen Andrews’ superb “Shame Storm” which drew on her own experience of online mobbing to look at the wider phenomenon. She has a new piece at First Things on the frivolity of the current online popularity of socialism:

The front of the Spring 2019 issue [of Jacobin magazine], about the housing crisis, looks like a page of futuristic real estate listings with descriptions like “[rose emoji] comrade citizens [rose emoji] register for summer beach house cozy & sunny” and “public pool ~~~gym [arm emoji] newly_­expropriated.”

Sunkara preserves this whimsicality in his book’s first and most ambitious chapter, “A Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen,” a vision of our cooperative future through the eyes of a worker at a pasta sauce plant owned by Jon Bon Jovi’s family. He describes two alternatives to capitalism. The first is a Nordic-style social democracy in which you, our factory worker, enjoy a cradle-to-grave welfare state, and “even though having children isn’t for you”—Sunkara knows his audience—you “look forward to your frequent vacations.” The second alternative is democratic socialism, which differs from social democracy in featuring worker control of firms and government control of investment. The rest of the book is a breezy tour of the history of socialism from Engels to the present day, in which Sunkara dials down the playfulness, though perhaps not enough in his chapter on “Iron ­Felix” Dzerzhinsky.

Andrews’ essay is less compelling than “Shame Storm”, dealing as it does with the less visceral subject of U.S. politics (which, I am old-fashioned enough to believe, are primarily a matter of interest to Americans) but still pretty good. I was particularly struck by her thoughts on how corporations have become arbiters of morality:

If Sunkara’s brand of socialism has a central weakness, it is this: its failure to realize that corporations embrace the modern progressive agenda precisely because so much of it makes workers weaker. Subsidized abortion and contraception, which Sunkara endorses as female empowerment, are loved by corporations because they like it when women put off childbearing until forty. Employees without children are more tractable, willing to work longer hours for lower pay. The borderless, high-immigration world supported by the progressive left serves to keep wages low more than it serves its ostensible purpose of anti-racism. Wall Street was given a scare by Occupy, but it doubled down on wokeness and its reward has been left-wing acclaim, as exemplified by the Vox headline claiming that “Corporations Are Replacing Churches as America’s Conscience.”

I have been struck by how, for instance, the hegemony of television, and corporate-produced culture, is now taken for granted and indeed praised. Not so long ago, the progressive-minded (or those who wished to seem progressive-minded) would have tended to disdain television. In this, as in many other respects, New Media has tended to reinforce the power and prestige of Old Media, both becoming mutually reinforcing systems dependent on threat and sensation.

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