8. Engineering the Human Soul: Advertising is Evil
by Culture and Anti Culture
In its original role advertising meant to advert people’s attention to a public notice of some kind – something for sale, a play to be performed on a certain date, and so on.
This has long ceased to be its meaning. Modern advertising deploys the full force of aesthetics and rhetorical power to invade, subvert, swamp and replace the individual human will. Contemporary advertising, in a radical, absolute fashion combines and sunders in the evil fashion we first characterized in “Aesthetics and Evil”.
Promoting debt slavery by advertising credit cards is an easy example. Attractive smiling faces are allied with a rigid piece of soulless plastic embedded with a magnetic strip, whose actual functioning is obscure to virtually everyone. What is promoted is the discounting of future risk, the reveling in current consumption, with the suggestion of entry into an earthly paradise. The brutal realities of ruinous interest rates, endless harassment and coercion by collectors, the whole horror of being the target of the usury industry is not only not present, it is actively concealed and conjured away as if by magic. Smiling faces, especially those of children, blissful beaches, the (non-existent) family hearth and debt peonage do not belong together.
Such advertisements, as a pervasive cultural atmosphere, destroy the feeling for reality in a fundamental, radical (“at the roots”) manner, and rob language of its truth-finding, clarifying power. Without the objective power of misappropriated aesthetic forces at its disposal, this evil would lose its seducing influence.
Advertising works into the very core of the human soul by means of a class of hired technicians; commandeering (for ulterior purposes) aesthetic understanding and technique. Because of its reliance on this seductive hypnotic technique, there is no benign advertising, even for things one likes, approves of, or deems harmless. The Czech writer, Franz Werfel, envisioned a future America so disgusted and despairing in its own materialism, that it made illegal all advertising except for goods and services that didn’t exist. May it be so.
Advertising is rationalized in many hackneyed empty phrases – themselves a form of advertising. People have been taught to rationalize the existence of advertising as both necessary and natural; as a means to inform, amuse and attain recognition. All this is true, but trivially so. The driving force behind the development of mass advertising is an ultimately very distinctive will to control and dominate the consciousness and bodily activity of others. The desire for power, the capacity to induce a change in the state of things, in oneself and the world, has many possible motives. The appetite to aggrandize endlessly, infinitely, does not arise out of some non-existent collective mind, or universal instinct, or general human nature, but out of the soul constitution of a very characteristic and rather uncommon kind of person. And it is this will that is at the heart of the evil of advertising – the will to power through untruthfulness.
Advertising is the systematic, technical-rational manipulation of the human will. The more perfect in achieving this goal, the more evil it is. In Russia during the Stalin terror the cultural workers (writers, graphic artists, sculptors etc) who served the dominant psychopaths were aptly called “Engineers of Human Souls”. They were (and are under “capitalism”) unlimited in their servility and numbers. These experts work the fabric of the human soul as a sculptor imprints an image on wet clay.
Finding a middle ground with such evil is ultimately futile yet, as someone once said, in our times one must learn to be bad with a bad humanity. Living with the evil of advertising is part of the task of moral-aesthetic self-cultivation, of being a real person in the post modern world, to be urbane, alive and creative in a dying world. We will return to this theme in greater detail in future essays, for it lies at the heart of our purpose. As we depict these evils we are mindful that this is a necessary clearing of the rubble for a new foundation of personal sanity. We intend not to burden the afflicted with further despair but to offer concrete help towards sound self-renewal.
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”