Kapitalism on the Couch is the subtitle of the HPR series on the psychoanalysis of corporate capitalism (see www.hpr1.com). The recent U.S. Presidential Election, a crown jewel for corporate capitalism, presents an interesting experience, that when unpacked has the campaign on a couch. What we quickly realized is that both presidential campaigns know they are comfortably reclined on Sigmund Freud’s couch – after all they have read his books. In other words, both campaign’s concept of man are Freudian, a view that is closed, reductive, and manipulative in its pursuit to predict and control human behavior. The objective of this essay is to argue that the presidential election campaigns’ “concept of Self” is outdated and dangerous to the Republic.
After the election I heard one political pundit comment that IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and then Facebook took turns attracting the brightest engineers and scientists our top universities produced but now the top place to work is on Obama’s re-election campaign team. There are many reasons given for Obama’s victory and the one at the top of the list are the “quants the data crunchers who helped Obama win.” Time reporter Micheal Scherer, Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win (Time, 2012.11.07), was given recent access to the quants but could not publish his story until after the election. We also witnessed the importance Obama attaches to this team by his tearful thank-you message to them. The word quant is important to understand because it is a thesis that Obama’s “re-election concept of man” is a closed manipulative system, it is a 20th Century Concept of Self, which is Freudian and obscene in an authentic democratic society.
Say George Clooney and who gets excited? It is 40 to 49 year-old West Coast females the quants discovered would willingly pay to dine out with Georgie Boy. After creating such an event, the team asked who on the East Coast could produce this same level of excitement and shell out dough to dine out. They came up with Sarah Jessica Parker’s name and created the Dinner with Barack Contest to eat at Parker’s West Village brownstone. The Obama quants with a huge new integrated database and state-of-the-art mining-algorithms had discovered among some voters a link between “affection for contests, small dinners, and celebrity.” The public did not know any of this but Jim Messina Obama’s re-election team leader certainly did since his goal was to craft a “metric-driven campaign” to measure “every single thing in this campaign.” Messina is the newest big brother watching us and he is Freudian.
Messina’s first decision to quantify and selectively target a winning re-election campaign was to increase from 2008 team-analytics size by a factor of 5. In charge of the Chicago headquarters, Messina then hired Rayid Ghani, not yet listed in Wikipedia but expect to see him there soon, who had worked crunching numbers in huge data bases, and get this, with an objective of maximizing “the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.” I half expected an Obama’s photo to be on the back of a box of “Wheaties – Breakfast of Champions”. The supermarket mindset that Ghani brought into top level briefings with Obama and his aides in the White House’s Roosevelt Room is the same mind set Adam Curtis analyzes in his 4-part BBC documentary, The Century of the Self, which I call the “20th Century of the Self”, that corporations and their political parties have used to shape and control customer/voter behavior these past 112 years. Watching this documentary is enlightening and sad – we are 12 years into the new millennium without embarrassing a 21st Century of the Self paradigm.
The inner workings of Obama team were “nuclear code protected”. Mysterious code names such as “Narwhal” and “Deamcatcher” were assigned to data-mining experiments (dme). We do not have to speculate on the meaning behind the Narwhal code name. Narwhal is “a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic.” Wikipedia also has an entry for Project Narwhal, which is the name of the Obama team’s top secret computer program. Mitt Romney’s quants had their Project Orca, the Orca whale is a predator of the Narwhal whale. So, the image we have of both candidates’ respective computer programs are that they are predators with teeth that bit and tear into its prey– you and me, the electorate. It turns out that Obama’s Narwhal swam circles around Romney’s Orca, won the day, swam off, doing something right now, I suspect, to predict and control our acceptance of Obama governing policies.
Messina’s massive dme efforts to raise $1 Billion was successfully refocused to mine voters and “remade the process of targeting TV and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailing and social media” (Time). The examples presented are impressive with the first-ever use of Facebook which replicated knocking on doors surely to be a future income stream for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – the top of the 1%ers. Facebook users who had downloaded a special app were sent messages of their friends in swing states and told to click on it to encourage them to vote. Some 20% of people contacted this way acted on the advice coming from a friend and it was all done like a predator pilot sitting a 1000 of miles away. The Obama team’s metric-driven effort to open wallets had successfully been repositioned to turn out voters and is now repositioning itself to govern us more efficiently in a brave new world!
Project Narwhal is not so mysterious but believe that its deepest secrets, “insights” on us, have been well protected from the next Orca like attack. The Time article concludes that the role of campaign pros, in smoked fill Washington rooms, relying on intuitive hunches is on the way out replaced by the “era of big data” and cybernetic geeks like Ghani. However, the image of these whales diving into deep waters needs inspection. It appears that both political quant teams are using the 20th Century of the Self paradigm built on Sigmund Freud’s closed and controlling, psychoanalytical view, which is deeply flawed. We should not be treated as data points and accept being governed by the paradigm underlying Project Narwhal – it is secretive and manipulative.
There is no Wikipedia entry for Project Dreamcatcher, however, there are several dreamcatcher entries we can think about. The first entry describes dreamcatcher as an interesting idea originating from the 1912 Native American movement promoting unity among American Indians. Other entries describe the Sioux tribe dreamcatcher as a web “spun by a spider” to catch good dream. The Ojibwa’s dreamcatcher is a snowshoe like web constructed around a willow that is hung above one’s bed to ward off nightmares. The Lakota dreamcatcher lets nightmares pass through the holes and out of the window, while trapping good dreams to slide down the feathers into the sleeping person.
If Project Dreamcatcher has something to do with capturing the dream of unity among Americans by examining our dreams, it is approaching a 21st Century of the Self paradigm. However, I doubt Messina’s quants are up to the task – their concept of Self is flawed. Messina’s team has taken the idea from Freud, that part of the human brain is like an electrical machine and so, are busy working on the theory of technological singularity – building all Projects into a “greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means.” Another enlightening Adam Curtis documentary, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, is a series about how “humans are being colonized” like Skynet in the sci-fi movie The Terminator. I wonder if there is a Project Skynet?
Psychologists Bannister and Fransella their book “Inquiring Man” conclude that if we can “forget the dreams that came with our first chemistry set, that we would ultimately be absolutely precise, … then we might stop trying to mimic what we conceive to be the standard experiments of physics and begin to consider what a truly psychological experiment might be like. Even if we retained our focus on classic experiments in the natural sciences, we could pay less attention to their mathematical precision and more to their quality as acts of imagination…. Suppose we were to begin experimenting ‘with’ individuals instead of ‘on’ individuals.” What would be the skill sets in this team? Catching dreams as they ignite one’s imagination is at the top of the list and I do not think state-of-the-art mining-algorithms are up to this task – but let us keep an open mind.
We need a 21st Century of the Self paradigm with which to analyze capitalism, its dominant institution – the corporation, and its CEOs – the illness to be addressed, psychopathology (Raymond, New Psychopaths, www.hpr1.com).
Scherling, S.A. (2012, December 14). Kapitalism’s Concept of Self. High Plains Reader http://www.hpr1.com.