The Faceless Ones

February 19, 2019

A defining feature of contemporary society, something which makes it distinct from all other historical epics is the prevalence of an entity I like to call the Faceless Ones. The Faceless Ones is a metaphor used to describe a tendency for individuals to lose a sense of identity and become an insignificant atom living with other insignificant atoms within a larger body which has become over time a lifeless machine.  The distinctness, the unique qualities which come to define not only individuals but larger social units up to the nation follow the same path, becoming lifeless, operating from inertia rather than imagination, while the societies we live in may become more diverse genetically.  The diversity which is truly important, the diversity of spirit and character disappears as everybody attempts to one-up each other in a non-stop race for riches and fame.  This is not a phenomenon which is self-correcting, societies don’t have built-in mechanisms which compensate in the future for destructive activities engaged in today. The world we will see tomorrow is built brick by brick on how we construct our present.

 

Illustrating a problem is useless without at least the outline of a construction on how to start healing the wounds left by previous mistakes.  To begin this process, it’s necessary to start at the beginning and understand why we’ve arrived at the point we’re at.  The ancient world by no means wasn’t bereft of this problem.  Especially near the end of the Western Roman Empire, we see a population which for the most part no longer had a strong connection to the Empire and no longer valued being identified as Roman.  The reconquering of the Italian Peninsula in the sixth century by the Eastern half of the Empire was viewed more as an inconvenience than anything else, as the population was more concerned with the day to day material concerns than anything transcendent. Throughout the Middle Ages, there was always a balance between the forces of atomism and transcendence.  Living life on the soil worked by their parents, grandparents, and generations of relatives, along with an attachment to the Church was able to counteract the ineffective governing regimes of Western Europe.  However, with the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the growth of Capitalist thought this balance began to break down.

 

The contemporary view, popular in some conservative circles, that societies naturally rebound from the spread of degenerate behaviors and social crises, is based upon historical observations. By using these observations as a basis for comparison they come to the conclusion that yes, morality and values always come back and win in the end.  The difference which is being ignored is that contemporary society now has the means and the technology to spread and propagate anti-social behaviors.  The idea that since conservative/ religiously minded people have more children than their opposite liberal number, then through the process of attrition those values held by their parents will prevail in the end, ignores the obvious. Conservative/religiously minded have always had more children than their liberal counterparts, and yet this has not prevented the drastic declines we’ve seen in Church attendance or the popularity of a culture which values anarchy at the expense of morality.  It’s often taken for granted that Societies take on all the characteristics of living breathing beings with the will to perpetuate themselves and continue their existence.  Societies will outlive us and our ideas, they may not take on the shape or form that we like but they will go on.

 

That which threatens most our own identity is not the identity of other peoples, but the system of globalized capitalism that tends to eradicate all rooted cultures in the hopes of transforming the planet into a vast homogenous marketplace. *

 

Capitalism was the product not of changing social conditions or technology but of an ideology, a way of thinking about life.  The social changes that were seen during the industrial revolution were not the cause of capitalism but its byproduct. European monarchs wishing to change their social structure to enrich not only themselves but also their kingdoms changed irreparably the societies they ruled and brought about the change in productive relations which would eventually lead us into the modern world. One needn’t go any further than the French Revolution. One of the defining causes of the Revolution was the chronic short supply of bread.  Up until that point, the French Kings had regulated the bread market so as to more effectively withstand the occasional famine or weather-related issues which affected bread distribution. With the rise of physiocrat thought in France, the bread market was deregulated in the 1770s, causing significant social upheaval and bread shortages.  While control was reinstalled shortly thereafter, the effectiveness of the previous system was never replicated,  farmers looking upon the economy and their role within it in a much more different light. This is where Marxists get it wrong; productive relations don’t change ideology.  Ideology changes productive relations.  It is the ideological construct of capitalism which has produced the phenomenon of atomism and the faceless ones that are its product

 

Capitalism is much more than an economic system, it's a mode of thinking that replaces social systems built upon community and morals with supply and demand and the pursuit of profit. One of the effects of this outlook is the need for expansion.  Capitalism is built upon a model of growth; it needs to constantly expand to keep going. Social Darwinism is in many ways its defining creed, and deflation and contraction is its death.  This can be seen in the evolution of economies since the beginnings of the industrial revolution.  What was once a landscape of artisans and small shopkeepers slowly evolved to take on the form of a few mega-corporations having virtual monopolies over the distribution of consumer goods.  We see this still playing out today in small towns across America where local shops are being replaced by Wal-Marts.  As an outgrowth of this phenomenon we see a change in the relationship between workers and their work.  When businesses were primarily local, the company owner knew the employees, the community.  S/he had a personal relationship with both.  The idea of uprooting the business and destroying lives in the process was not the easy decision it is today. However, this was the in the early days of capitalism where guilds still had an influence and, when not in actual existence their memory, still influenced communities and productive relations. 

 

Even in this early stage, the ethos of capitalism was able to shape economics and how the perception/importance people gave it to their lives.  Altruism and community-mindedness are not compatible with the profit motive.  Capitalism establishes a societal structure where to get ahead it becomes necessary to sell yourself, and the more effective you are at selling yourself, the more riches come your way.  As it goes for the individual so it goes for the Corporation.  Corporate America, in order to sell more products, needs name and brand recognition, so they engage in intensive marketing which often includes community projects of an apparent charitable disposition.  What was once done out of a spirit of community-mindedness has now morphed into another sphere of supply and demand. It has become progressively more common for acts of charity and kindness to be accompanied with photos of the individual in a smiling pose being posted on Instagram, Facebook, etc, trying to gain maximum attention for a supposed act of kindness.  No longer is it common to see individuals sacrificing for the sake of helping others, but as a means to gain social acceptance and influence.  Without character, which a life of adversity brings, everything has been reduced to the price it brings in the market. Human diversity and individual distinctiveness have been replaced by a giant marketplace full of self-seeking individuals looking for the quickest way to wealth.  “A society full of faceless individuals” describes us.

 

Not only is the nature of Capitalist ideology changing how people think and behave but also how it manifests itself in daily experience, thus transforming the populace.  The natural growth of capitalism being towards greater size and complexity, new methods of organization are needed to manage this complexity.  Have you ever gone through a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant and been asked if you want to go large on your value meal? Or, have you been asked if you would like to add a dessert to your order?  You wouldn’t be alone.  Every other customer is being asked the exact same questions.  If you return to the same restaurant in the future you’ll likely be asked the same question over again.  Many people after multiple times being asked show anger or annoyance.  The employee addressing them will often initiate the interaction in a robotic uninterested tone showing the mechanical lifeless nature of what constitutes work relations in contemporary society.  Since the interaction is displeasing to both customer and employee, why does it continue? Its perseverance is due to the nature of modern capitalism itself.  Let’s stick with the fast food business.  McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s have thousands of restaurants across the country, owned by a variety of different franchisees.  It takes a sizable number of people just to oversee operations.  In the past, the owner had a working relationship with the individuals that he employed.  National corporations no longer have that convenience; what we have now is a system where somebody is in charge of sales, another for marketing, another for food safety, etc.  The web becomes so convoluted that everyone from the line cook at the bottom to all the middle managers become nothing more than a register on the financial sheet.  Wage increases, if they happen at all, are given out based upon profit and loss statements and are uniform for all employees.  Since the human element disappears from work, employees are treated like lifeless commodities, often with discipline more severe than what would be seen at a school. So, when you experience that annoying ritual at a drive-thru, remember it’s being done not because the cashier wants to do it or actually think it’ll increase sales, but because somebody in Corporate who has never worked in a restaurant in their life needs to justify his/her existence to their superiors, and because all any of us are in this economy is a commodity. Worth is valued by how much costs can be cut and profits increased.  Bad ideas like the one just referenced exist because somehow on paper they can be made to work, and even if reality doesn’t reflect this success, mitigating factors can always be used as a justification for the lack thereof. 

 

This is not solely an aspect of the fast food industry but because of the nature of the beast, is spreading to areas such as academia, entertainment, and all aspects of our existence. Skill, character, all those intangible qualities which make for a good worker are losing importance next to the ability of individuals to sell themselves. As a result, we’ve seen the growth of a workforce which in many respects lacks any kind of function or purpose other than justifying their existence through the growth of the balance sheet.  Often, people managing companies have no experience in the industry they’re managing; simply put they are managers, implementing the same plans from one industry to the next, without regard to those with the experience and knowledge to best implement ideas. Since the values of loyalty and skill are not respected at the top, results are predictable. Those on the shop floor or assembly line will also start to devalue loyalty and skill and start to pursue wealth for its own reward.  Don’t get me wrong; these maladies have not yet become universal; life is not an unending hell. There is still time to reverse course, but the spread of this structure has become chronic.  The society we now inhabit is full of living breathing beautiful individuals, but they’re individuals without substance and character, individuals as empty and as faceless as the society in which they inhabit.

 

*Quote by Alain De Benoist

 

 

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