Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable? - Gibran Khalil Gibran
For those who are still employed in this so-called Great Recession, the phrase "Thank God I have a job!" has become their mantra. It is even echoed by those who detest their work. While people complain of the daily grind that is largely devoid of any creativity and personal satisfaction, more than ever they are fearful of losing their source of income. A recent survey reveals that the majority of workers in the United States are dissatisfied with their jobs. Many of us feel so paralyzed, helpless and held in our place by the gravity of overwhelming debt and the cost of owning things that each day we willingly sacrifice the integrity of our lives for the security of a sterile job.
We are in chains on both ends. As workers, we feel trapped by our jobs. As consumers, we are mired in debt. The economic and demographic data is quite startling. Household and national debt has grown dramatically over the past few decades while the savings rate has diminished. The size of the average house has doubled over the last fifty years. Food portions have grown enormously in that time frame and so has the waistline of the average citizen. We are voraciously consuming not only material things but ideas as well, the greatest of which is the American Dream. And we are none the happier for it but quite the contrary. Depression, anxiety, insomnia and a sense of meaninglessness have become common beacons of that dream. Now, as employment channels dry up and consumers turn down their spending spigots, the illusory waters of affluence are receding and revealing some glaring and insightful artifacts buried in the murky bedrock of our current social order. The American Dream has become a mirage, even a nightmare for many, mired by bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment. Still, out of fear and insecurity we give thanks to the work that enslaves us and drains us of our creative energy as we continue to pursue the illusion and mindlessly consume junk that we neither need nor really want. Moreover, our frenzy is turning the planet into a garbage heap as we hope and pray for a quick recovery of the very system responsible for our misery. Perhaps some may think it is harsh to use the word "slavery" in describing the relationship of the majority of Americans to their work and consumer lifestyle. For most, that word conjures up images of Africans who were brought over to the United States several hundred years ago against their will to serve a master or a system in which they had no say; they had no power over their own destiny or even their daily routine. With this in mind, could we draw any connection between "traditional" slavery and the lifestyle of modern workers and consumers? Do they really have the freedom often advertised in all mainstream media or are they unknowingly ensnared by an illusion?
Today, we live in a capitalistic society where wealth or financial freedom is the ultimate boon for the average individual. In short, capitalism is our religion and we breathe it daily as naturally (or unconsciously) as we take in air. It is virtually impossible to operate in this social order without sharing this ideal, enthusiastically or otherwise, in some form or to some degree. Capitalism has arguably changed over the years but the primary focus of the modern capitalist is the accumulation and growth of capital represented by money. We have collectively put our seal of approval on money as the key to all worldly power, including social, political, educational, and even religious among others. While there is usually disagreement on a concise definition of capitalism, most understand that it is fundamentally based on the ownership or possession of private property or the means of production or any other resource considered valuable. And ownership necessarily entails a private owner who is granted certain rights by laws. By design, capitalism is built on a pyramid scheme where the success of an individual or a group is dependent on deriving economic power from another. While capitalism may have fueled tremendous social and technological advancements, these would largely be diminished if it were not for the competitive race to the top of the pyramid. In fact, many would argue that on their way to the top, capitalists leave a smoldering trail of devastation that affects not only people but the environment.
Our upbringing and education today revolve around this economic ideal. While we claim that we want our children to become decent human beings, we push them - sometimes begrudgingly - to compete in an educational system that ultimately measures and values their talent according to their potential contribution to the capitalistic paradigm. We take out loans to send them to the best schools that they may become society's cream of the crop and participate in our consumer culture. This ideology resonates even in our highest aspirations, morals and religious endeavors. The strategy of average American Christians drives them to invest their limited time on earth wisely, spiritually speaking, in order to personally have eternal life with God and to enjoy unlimited banquets and feasts in heaven served by an army of angels under the supervision of archangels. This essentially translates into having access to unlimited, heavenly capital. And just like in the hierarchy of heaven, we accept that in an earthly capitalistic system, not everyone can be on top. In fact only a few can sit at the right hand of the god of affluence. The majority of wealth in the United States is held by only the top five percent. Most people are aware of such statistics and often complain of the inequality in wealth distribution, but fundamentally they are convinced that through self-determination and hard work, they too can personally achieve economic nirvana in this land of opportunity. That is a basic, defining idea of the American identity. However, the fact that capitalism tends to be individualistic makes it naturally competitive and vulnerable to dark, oppressive and unchecked impulses or tendencies. As mentioned, a modern capitalistic entity cannot grow unless it puts itself ahead of others or extracts power from them. It is a hungry animal that constantly competes for increasing amounts of food or fuel. The larger it grows, the more fuel it requires. And what is that fuel? In part, it is the labor of the work force, the life energy of the modern worker. A company hires workers only if it can make a profit at their expense. Every employee is monetized and accounted for as a liability on the corporate balance sheet. The other part that fuels capitalism is consumer spending. A successful capitalist entity can convince workers to hand back their hard-earned money, by buying its products, before it reaches their pockets. Now we are told that workers are employed and can terminate their employment at will or according to a contract to which they agreed. We are also told that consumers have the choice to freely spend their money or withhold it. That is also an ideal part of the capitalistic model that many so readily associate with freedom and democracy. This may be true in theory but when those dark tendencies in capitalism give way to an unquenchable thirst for more capital and infiltrate governments and laws that are supposed to support and empower a people's democracy, the system in practice becomes extremely oppressive, manipulative and predatory.
In fact, it seems evident that the evolutionary tree of capitalism has branched off into the shadows to produce what can best be described as vampire capitalism. In its most naked form, vampire capitalism perhaps manifests itself as "traditional" slavery where one individual or group physically overpowers, exploits, buys and sells another for its labor. This type of slavery dates back to Ancient Sumer, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Perhaps revolutions and the growing disproportionate number of rebellious peasants and slaves to fearful masters and rulers may have had something to do with the public abolition of slavery in most parts of the world. It was done in the name of certain ideologies like freedom and democracy and equality. But slavery really wasn't abolished; rather, it is alive and well and thriving in a more subtle form. It has evolved from physical servitude to economic, mental and even spiritual bondage. It is based on the idea that if basic psychological mechanisms like fear and desire can be manipulated, then people can be programmed to behave in any way. While the enslaved believe that they are the ones making decisions and choices about their lives, they in fact become nothing less than willing and unsuspecting slaves who can be programmed to pledge their undying allegiance to a system, paradigm or ideology. As such, vampire capitalism today encompasses more than economics and reaches much deeper than people's pocketbooks and paychecks. It can exploit other intangible resources such as intelligence, energy, time, thoughts, religious faith, etc, anything that can fuel its fire. Economic manipulation becomes a doorway to extract an array of power - mental, spiritual, political, social, etc - from the individual not in exchange for goods or services but by selling an idea or an image designed by the creator of the products. Essentially, vampire capitalism recreates and repackages the individual's self-image and sells it back to him or her. The individual, or more appropriately the believer, comes to accept this projected self-image as his or her true self.
Having control of the believer's self-image is akin to owning the goose that lays the golden eggs. Such manipulation leads believers, without question, to become entirely dependent on the system, whether it is for employment, food, clothing, shelter, medicine and even existential meaning. They drift away from self-reliance, which is replaced by a (false) sense of familiarity and security. They become comfortably numb, loyal and even addicted to the creator, to its ideology and to all of its potential future products. And while an element of trust is crucial in a healthy, working community, that trust can be easily betrayed in an individualistic society. Today for example, many have relinquished control over the source of their food, its ingredients and the ability to prepare it firsthand. They trust that the food being put on their plates and into their bodies is nutritious or at least not outright harmful to their health, even though we often hear stories in the news about the extremely unhealthy and unsanitary food that is being served at popular chain restaurants. Another example is found in the medical field. People readily hand over control of their own bodies and health to doctors who are increasingly becoming more dependent on answers from profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies eager to push their potentially toxic and sometimes ineffective drugs. The examples are endless. We have given up control of most of the dimensions of our lives and put it into the hands of a paradigm that seeks to capitalize on our trust or inability to do things for ourselves and not necessarily on delivering a quality product or service. We have become divorced from our real selves, where our uniqueness, creative impulse and balanced judgment reside. As such, it is not too difficult to see how vampire capitalism transforms believers into drones or automatons living in a fabricated or virtual world. By reforming the believers' self-image, vampire capitalism acquires the magic key that unlocks their capital or resources. It siphons the very unique life force and characteristics that define them as individuals and refines them into fuel to perpetuate itself. This allows for the marketing to an entire group that has been programmed to think alike and strive for the same self-image through manipulated fear (or insecurity) and desire, the basic psychological triggers in this witch's brew. Believers for example come to think that they are special and esteemed more by their peers if they have the words "Calvin Klein" plastered on their shirts or "Dolce & Gabbana" imprinted on their sunglasses. Religious believers, programmed at an early age to fear the fires of hell and to obey a doctrine allegedly inspired by the controller of the universe, retain a sense of protection or security by wearing religious symbols around their necks. This is the genius of marketing. The consumer often becomes a walking billboard, an enslaved representative and an unsuspecting evangelist and laborer for the coveted brand. By selling the idea of uniqueness, personal expression, freedom, democracy, heaven, etc., vampire capitalists can achieve the opposite, control the behavior of believers and easily corral the entire herd to drink from the same trough.
The real product of vampire capitalism is YOU, the individual. The consumer becomes the consumed. The laborer becomes the fuel. Where for example we used to buy shoes because they were comfortable and made of high quality materials by a local artisan, we now buy a certain corporate brand because it can supposedly unleash the Olympic athlete within us. We buy into a projected image, a virtual self and work diligently to align our behavior with that image. We identify ourselves with a certain musical style, political group or faith or brand or social class, etc. We allow labels to be placed on us and hardly realize that the advertised products or services are secondary and serve to support the sale of that fabricated image to us. Simply put, if people buy into the image being sold, then the creator comes to own YOU. Shoes, clothing, television programs, video games, gadgets, news, politics, religion, social networking web sites, pornography and a host of other things are examples of secondary products designed to distract the individual from the real intent, which is ultimate dependency on the creator and its ideology. The entire system is a competing circus of sorts or a roller coaster ride. The constant distraction of twists and turns and the illusion of an enhanced self-image keep the individual held in place by their gravity. Moreover, the proliferation and overload of information have significantly shortened the attention span of the average individual, especially of children. This facilitates control because people are less likely to mentally sit still, observe carefully and question motives behind the scenes.
In the last half of the 20th Century, television really became integral to the expansion of the power of vampire capitalism. Television provides a passive experience that further promotes shortened attention spans. It is a perfect medium for the introduction of marketing campaigns - carefully designed and tested - into people's living rooms while they are in a passive mental state. On the surface, these marketing campaigns usually play upon human desires to attract potential believers. Underlying the marketing is a negative message that plays upon their insecurities and fears. We are all too familiar with endless examples of an ad for perfume, clothing, or a car. It tells the viewers that they too can be glamorous and sexy; but it also subtly hints to them that they are nothing if they don't own these products or subscribe to a certain ideology. Organized religion is another perfect example that really taps fears and desires to control believers. Whether on television, in magazines, on the subway, at the cinema, in church, on the freeways, at gas stations or on the back of a napkin, today's constant repetition of marketing messages eventually wins over a good number of vulnerable believers. Once these messages reach a critical mass, creators need only to rely on word of mouth and peer pressure for their products to be adopted by new converts. The desire to buy into an image that these products claim to deliver cannot be resisted, even if it means borrowing money to afford them. Built on compounding interest, debt is a more subtle and refined form of slavery. In ancient times, slaves were usually marked by their skin color or some other physical feature; modern slaves are marked by their economic features, specifically by the amount of debt they carry. If ownership of things is an illusion from nature's point of view, then debt is the enslavement to that illusion. Still, borrowing and spending money are consistently reinforced everywhere so that they are perceived to be a natural and normal part of the fabric of society. In fact they are often touted as the road to affluence and success. We borrow money to pay for our cars, our homes, our big screen televisions and even our education, which is ultimately a brilliant system designed to uphold and strengthen the oppressive paradigm. Driven by clever marketing messages, consumers borrow money and assert their corporate-fabricated self-image through the power of spending. Moreover, consumers often spend money needlessly as a way to relieve or channel their unhappiness with their situation at work or at home; they believe that they deserve to "treat" themselves. There is a feeling of empowerment in spending money, a temporary rush that arises like a drug. It quickly dissipates because it is based on an illusion, the illusion of an enhanced self. Believers become hooked and return again and again to drink from the same trough and try to recapture that fleeting feeling of self-assertion or empowerment as they are bounced like a ball between their sterile jobs and justified consumption.
Vampire capitalism is clever enough to intercept any potentially subversive trends and exploit them for its own gain. In the 1960's the anti-establishment cries and lifestyle of the hippies were hijacked by clever corporations and transformed into marketing campaigns to sell "revolutionary" or "rebellious" brands and products. That was perhaps the beginning of the refined practice of marketing and branding. One of today's perfect examples involves the "organic" industry, the movement to eat healthily and seek out natural, non-bioengineered foods devoid of hormones and antibiotics. This industry is becoming increasingly controlled by large corporations that have been traditionally responsible for processed, unhealthy foods. These corporations see this trend of healthy eating as an opportunity to increase their profits. The parasitic cycle can be clearly defined. Populations throughout history were largely able to subsist on animals and crops naturally grown in the fields largely without pesticides and hormones, even with frequent challenges from floods, droughts and pests. Industrial farming came along in the 20th Century to make things more "convenient" and "affordable" for the masses. However, since its introduction the toxic effects on the environment and the rate of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses related to eating habits have skyrocketed. The resulting issues have been fueling other industries, which gather around the table to take their slice of the pie. Health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, attorneys, hospital networks and others have been benefiting greatly from the ill effects of industrial farming and bad eating habits. And now, even as the trend is shifting toward healthy eating, organic foods remain largely untouchable by a substantial percentage of the population. In effect, a tax is being levied on those who wish to avoid the disease-causing, hormone-laden, synthetic-flavored, cheaply-produced processed food.
There are many other ways in which vampire capitalism can draw the lifeblood of the masses. It can take control of all resources or means of production in a particular channel and even create an entire industry - often at a cheap "introductory rate" - to attract people away from other competitors or less-offensive, community-oriented systems. The Monsanto Company, as an example, has been the subject of much controversy in the agricultural world. Over time, vampire capitalism can systematically strip away options making it exceedingly difficult for the individual to avoid participation in an enslaving paradigm. How many of us in the United States for example can simply forgo having a car, and all of the mandatory, associated costs including insurance, gas, maintenance, registration, etc, in order to carry on with daily life? Any person or entity trying to circumvent the channels of vampire capitalism through self-reliance or creativity is either cast out, crushed through economic, political or legal means, or simply bought out of the way. From local farmers to grocery stores to hardware stores to independent bookstores and movie theaters, many have gone out of business or have been bought out by the heavyweight competition in the industry. A drive today through any average American city or suburb will take us past a repeating, nondescript landscape filled with strip malls proudly beaming neon signs of chain restaurants, department stores and supermarkets, all owned by large corporations eager to maximize their profits. And while they may advertise a million products tailored to one's "unique lifestyle" and needs and tastes, it is not too difficult to be overshadowed by a feeling of sameness.
Certainly, the days of the artisan have long passed when craftsmen took pride in their unique handiwork and when apprentices spent countless hours learning from their masters. Whether it was in making shoes, composing music, building ships, or preparing food, the reputation and honor of artisans were always on the line. Moreover, commerce in the community was based on personal, face-to-face relationships. Today's products are sold to us by faceless corporations that invest untold sums of money - usually much more than the cost to actually produce the goods for sale - to present a branded image, a friendly and believable illusion. In contrast, the artisan's product was painstakingly made by hand, not by a machine. It was a reflection of his or her passion and creativity, not of a talent for marketing programs designed in boardrooms to extract the most amount of money for ordinary, often shoddy products. The increasing drive for profit today points to the consistent degradation in quality of all goods produced, to the marginalization of the human worker, to the economic enslavement of the consumer and ultimately to the destruction of our environment and our communities.
Looking for an escape through some other economic system like communism or socialism would only shift the same problems under a different banner. In fact all ideologies, especially communism and socialism, are pretentious and defective because they are administered by individuals, the source of all conflicts. While we can blame vampire capitalism for our misery, it is really an open lens into deep-seated, human dilemmas or misconceptions about ourselves. It is not the cause of our problems but a symptom of the disjointed and unrecognized psychological impulses of the entire human family. And this is the fundamental issue that is quite difficult to completely accept. We have not even begun to understand human nature because we keep laying the blame or turning our focus on something outside of ourselves. We have constantly been trying to superimpose a flat ideal or a moral, civilized image on a very complex, wavy, often uncivilized, multidimensional mystery that we are. That is the only real conspiracy but it is often mistaken for the different, colorful and dramatic costumes that it puts on. With only a few changes in syntax or terms, this article could have been easily written as a religious commentary about demigods - as in Gnostic mythology - who wish to enslave the souls of humans, or an exposé about a covert alien invasion from another dimension aimed at siphoning off all of our resources, or an account of an age-old, secret master plan by cunning leaders for a "New World Order" to lobotomize the human race (through television and other media) and make it more programmable. In the end, powerful politicians, businesspeople, celebrities, aliens, gods and demons all live and thrive because we, "ordinary" individuals, collectively grant them power. They are all symbols that have bubbled up from unvisited depths within our psyche. Vampire capitalism is a coherent pattern or an unfolding myth that employs these symbols as characters in its drama. Its oppressive nature is rooted in our fear of occult elements that are behind the fabricated image. All forms of enslavement are also a beacon of sorts, a repeating knock at the door that beckons us to recognize the pattern and unlock the conspiracy. In other words, the YOU is both the root of the problem and the solution, the cause and the effect, the yoke and the salvation. We find ourselves now at a crossroads, at a point where the various bondage of human life, including intellectual, economic, psychological and spiritual are noticeably converging. The pattern is becoming more conspicuous. Many are waking to the fact that there is only one slavery and its source can be traced back to each one of us. The physical fatigue and malnourishment of "traditional" slaves, the stress and anxiety and depression of the modern worker and consumer, and the weight of sin and sense of spiritual emptiness of the religious seeker are all truly parallel symptoms of the same illness that haunts the human being.
Science has taught us that nature focuses on the preservation of species and not the individual. That fact may be an insight into our future. Certainly, the individualistic model is unsustainable on a planet with finite resources; therefore, it is logical to predict that this latest and most fashionable incarnation of vampire capitalism, as the consumer lifestyle, will eventually collapse if we as a species are to survive well into the future. Our collective awakening to the fundamental conspiracy is in an extremely tight race with the ensuing devastation to the edge of our utter annihilation. In the end, the demise of vampire capitalism may only be brought about not by some kind of force, ideology or revolution of one group against another but by the understanding of who we really are, namely an amalgam of both dark and light dimensions. As mentioned, oppressive figures or vampire capitalists are the result of our own collective projections. The puppet strings with which we believe they manipulate us are connected at both ends. We move together as one. Our deep, unrecognized fears that power our insatiable hunger and illusory self-image resonate up and through every pull of the twine. That hunger oftentimes secretly drives the mightiest among us, even as their stomachs are full, into the slums and sewers of humanity's worst behavior to desperately seek out any uneaten morsels. Beautiful mansions, large bank accounts, utopias, visions of heaven and eternal life will always deprive us of any real, everlasting satisfaction or happiness so long as we continue to look outside of ourselves and hunger for more of the same illusion. That is the quintessential definition of hell. So whenever we feel victimized by the conspiracy of vampire capitalism, we should remind ourselves that our unconditional trust and participation in consumerism and debt fuel our misery. But if we can take responsibility for our lives as they are, make peace within ourselves and integrate the light and dark dimensions of our being, we may be able to decode the myth, peel back the mask that we have worn for so long and confront ourselves as we really are. Perhaps then we will discover something utterly unique and astounding, beyond virtues and vices, which the world has never seen before and cannot duplicate, buy, sell, steal or destroy. The sages have always told us that the solution lies within. It's high time that we found this out firsthand.
© 2010 The Forbidden Heights