Success in a capitalist system requires subscribing to the ultimate value of capital, with the ultimate goal to acquire the capital to put others into debt slavery to try to pay off the privilege of access to your capital.
It is fascinating to explore the development of pictograms, symbols, and writing systems. I was particularly intrigued by the power associated with coding and decoding symbol systems. Literacy was once monopolized by the priestly class. A few decades ago, as trained designers, we were a small subset of the population who had access to the tools for mass communications, assuming the role of the priestly class for corporations and governments.
The democratization of writing, printing, and digital technologies have been the precursors to significant shifts in power that have led to fundamental changes in social systems.
“The alphabet effect is a group of hypotheses in communication theory arguing that phonetic writing, and alphabetic scripts in particular, have served to promote and encourage the cognitive skills of abstraction, analysis, coding, decoding, and classification. Promoters of these hypotheses are associated with the Toronto School of Communication, such as Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter Ong and more recently Robert K. Logan”
“Prior to the written word there was a monopoly of knowledge by priests. This was because literacy was seen to be very time consuming. Therefore, all literacy was left in the hands of priests. With the priests monopolizing the content of religious texts there would be little or no dissension among the public. Thus the introduction of the alphabet substantially limited the power of the priests and religious texts were now open to society for questioning.”
Alphabet effect - Wikipedia
The alphabet effect is a group of hypotheses in communication theory arguing that phonetic writing, and alphabetic…
Pictogram - Wikipedia
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As we train more designers, there are more people who, if they take the time to explore their new abilities, are able to question the very foundations of the systems that we have been tasked with building. At issue is an entire system built on the power of markets to enforce the values and beliefs of a corporate success myth.
What is a human being worth in a capitalist society? Success in a capitalist system requires subscribing to the ultimate value of capital, with the ultimate goal to acquire the capital to put others into debt slavery to try to pay off the privilege of access to your capital.
A Capitalist Symbol System
Money is a globally recognized symbol of value exchange. In itself, it has no value. But humans have been conditioned to ascribe value to an abstract monetary number for individual net worth that can be exchanged for social capital.
For this reason, it is possible, for example, to purchase for oneself the Presidency of the United States of America, even if the value of the capital one has acquired is a fiction based on public perception, otherwise known as the brand equity of a curated celebrity persona.
Corporate Debt Slavery
I was recently listening to a podcast that described the situation something like this:
“For those of us with access to education, we were told a story that you’ve got to get your degrees and go to the best schools that you can get into. If you can get into the next degree, do it.”
“I’ve got $80,000 in student loans that barely gave me enough education to get a job. However, I now understand reality to be a deeply interconnected network of relationships in a complex biological and metaphysical ecosystem. But now I am living in a type of debt slavery in service to a corporation where I will succeed not by challenging the neo-liberal order and the assumptions at the heart of a very individualistic society, but by helping corporations make good employees and citizens of a nation state, and contributors to a capitalist system that distracts people from the community, narratives, and solidarity that could challenge things.”
“And the crazy part is that the more successful you are at becoming an adult and establishing yourself, the more likely you’ve moved 5 or 6 times, going to different places to get degrees, then an internship and move up and find another job. By the time you have agency, you have been alienated from the community that you were born into, your family and friends, and you are an in-debt, isolated, intellectually gifted person, formed to contribute to a system that is pillaging the planet and destroying the poor, and has already sucked the life out of you.”
The previous quote is a paraphrase of comments that Tripp Fuller made in his conversation with Bruce Rogers-Vaughn regarding his book, Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age.
Bruce Rogers-Vaughn: the Neo-Liberal Attack on the Soul
This episode is amazing. It is just super-duper spectacular. Oh, it is also packed with awesome sauce. I can't wait for…
Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age | Bruce Rogers-Vaughn | Palgrave Macmillan
This volume offers a detailed analysis of how the current phase of capitalism is eating away at social, interpersonal…
A Union Meeting
For the past couple of decades, the tech companies of Silicon Valley (and beyond) have run unchecked, causing havoc, destroying civil discourse, democracy, ruining personal relationships, running marketplaces of harassment and abuse, all to line their pockets. The very worst part is that they did it with our labor. This isn’t a talk, this is a union meeting.
Designers craft symbol systems to embody metanarratives of meaning that we attach to brands to create tribes of identity and consumption in a social system designed to extract the greatest possible amount of capital from a human being during their lifetime on earth.
As an unintended consequence, designers are also destroying the earth.
Which is why designers need to organize, because we helped create the propaganda, the products, and the processes that built this system.
“They did it with our labor.”
— Mike Monteiro