When did we become products for consumption? When did we sell the Brand that is otherwise known as “me” or (insert name here)? We have somehow started the commercialized selling of some aspect of our person-hood to the public and we may not even realize it. Something on the order of a salesman we perpetuate notions of our abilities in the professional world, equivalent to the nature of a Sophist, we have branded ourselves for our pursuit of social and professional goals.
To be competitive in a shrinking market economy we must sell ourselves, but some may not call this for what it is. It is rather considered self-promotion, or motivational glimmer, as opposed to advertising some function of our lives to others for some goal. We learn that to make a difference we must put our best foot forward and get the attention of those that are in a position to advance us into a desired job where others may compete. Maybe it is for the attention of some love interest, and in the social arena, we have to “step up” and “show our game” to get the attention of another. This often requires self-promotion, the rules of courtship employed to capture the interest of another. The subtleties of communication can be a very slippery slope. Foot-in-the-door, Boiling frog, Ben Franklin effect, If you give a mouse a cookie, various Selling techniques, and Compliance all come to mind when we behave in ways to get others to respond in kind.
Philosophers view compliance in the context of arguments. Arguments are produced when an individual gives a reason for thinking that a claim is true. In doing so, they use premises (claims) to support their conclusion (opinion). Regardless of utilization of fallacy forms (i.e., apple-polishing, ad hominem) to get their point across, individuals engaged in philosophical arguments are overtly and logically expressing their opinion(s). This is an explicit action in which the person on the other side of the argument recognizes that the arguer seeks to gain compliance (acceptance of their conclusion).
In studying compliance, social psychologists aim to examine overt and subtle social influences experienced in various forms by all individuals. Implicit and explicit psychological processes are also studied since they shape interactions. This is because these processes explain how certain individuals can make another comply and why someone else succumbs to compliance. (Think of the Wolf of Wall Street)
Informative social influence (goal of accuracy)
People are motivated to achieve their goals in the most efficient and accurate manner possible. When faced with information, an individual needs to correctly interpret and react—particularly when faced with compliance-gaining attempts since an inaccurate behavior could result in great loss. With that being said, people attempt to gain an accurate construal of their situation so they may respond accordingly.
People are frequently rewarded for acting in accordance with the beliefs, suggestions and commands of authority figures and/or social norms. Among other sources, authority may be gained on the basis of societal power, setting and size. Individuals are likely to comply with an authority figure’s (or group’s) orders or replicate the actions deemed correct by social norms because of an assumption that the individual is unaware of some important information. The need to be accurate—and the belief that others know something they do not—often supersedes the individual’s personal opinion.
Normative social influence (goal of affiliation)
Humans are fundamentally motivated by the need to belong—the need for social approval through the maintenance of meaningful social relationships. This need motivates people to engage in behavior that will induce the approval of their peers. People are more likely to take actions to cultivate relationships with individuals they like and/or wish to gain approval from. By complying with others’ requests and abiding by norms of social exchange (i.e., the norm of reciprocity), individuals adhere to normative social influence and attain the goal of affiliation.An example of both normative and informational social influence is the Solomon Asch line experiments.
The craftsmanship of a past time has now been replaced largely by a society that has a tendency to maximize the profit, minimize the cost, and a built to a planned obsolescence philosophy. These tactics can be observed in circumventing higher labor costs by producing the item using slave labor in a foreign country, using NAFTA to circumvent the UNION longshoremen in the USA, and ship through Slave Labor Countries into the US; (i.e. from China to Mexico into the US via the NAFTA superhighway). We as a nation no longer produce what our former Country used to produce. We are not the American Powerhouse of industry we once have known. Trade deficits of this nation are astounding when in comparison to an earlier time. For the evidence look to the products that have the stamp “Made in China” on them. We have outsourced the jobs of our countrymen to increase the profit of those companies. Why we do not have needed jobs, and why our tax structure is anti-business in that the fewer companies that are multinational seem to have the edge. Many of us can assume this is by design. Just look at the legislation, heck, just look at the differences in the ways our States handle this problem. Companies moving from state to more friendly less tax aggressive states or even move out of the country altogether has been the decision many of these US companies are forced to make to stay competitive in a global economy, (think Caterpillar). Once again, by design! But I digress from my original point: the person, but the analogy seems to be spot on. The pressure to self promote increases when the market economy decreases. The pressure to self promote increases when the love object has more attending interests in the social pool etc.
I would like to return to the idea of the craftsman. The work of the craftsman was the direct result of their hard work, skill, and quality. The ware or service provided would itself be the selling point for customers to keep coming back. Due to many of the changes in our world, we have accepted less from our providers of goods and services, and have conceded to the vises of mass marketing and a business model that’s only goal is global domination. The consumerism of a cultures is the end game of those in the highest most prominent places of business. The evidence is startling when one looks to the “WalMart” model of business. In the market with little or no ethical boundaries, substandard wages, engaging in bribes to the local authorities, city planning board, and local politicians to open super centers around the country even if they wipe out the small towns they enter. There is no craftsmanship found in a Walmart. The majority of substandard goods are produced overseas, with little regulations about their production and concern for the consumers buying them. (See statistics for Recalls on foreign made products in US).
Nothing new here, if one looks at the history of those who have monopolized the markets. Some used shrewd business decisions, some illegal practices. In some instances, states sponsored it, in some, the nature of the market promulgated it. No matter how they rose (and fell), these monopolies gained more than money. They achieved something some governments dare not dream: power, influence and enduring legacy:
Standard Oil -JD Rockefeller
History’s richest man, John D. Rockefeller, presided over an oil monopoly a century before the Middle East sheiks do. Formed in 1870 mainly by John D., who had already made a substantial fortune by commodities trade during the Civil War, Stanford Oil incorporated oil producing, transporting, refining, and marketing into one single behemoth which grew both vertically and horizontally (purchase of producers and distributors). In 1882, all of Standard Oil’s properties were merged into the Standard Oil Trust, and by the end of the decade (1890), it controlled 88% of the refined oil flows in the United States. That same year, the Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act — the source of all American anti-monopoly laws – which was used two years later against Standard Oil. In 1911, the corporate behemoth was divided into smaller companies (which included many currently famous oil companies Amoco, Texco, Exxon, Chevron) but the monopoly wasn’t broken because the old John D. still controlled all those smaller companies. The real competition began only years later when Rockefeller’s heirs sold the inherited shares.
Salt Commission – Tang Dynasty
In Tang China, (618-907 AD), the Salt Commission is one of the most influential agencies. After a peasant revolution, the land tax revenues fell in China and salt commission was created in 758 (based on Guanzi, a book written in 3rd century BC book which proposes various salt taxation methods) to intensify the taxation of salt. Salt was essential for its nutritional and preservational values. Since the government controlled all major salt productions, the Tang dynasty was able to maintain th virtual monopoly on the salt trade, and benefited greatly from allocating licensed producers and licensed merchants. The enfranchising of licensed merchants enabled the imposition of the policy even to the further reaches of the nation. The revenues from salt taxation of salt slowly exceeded half of tax revenues within a few years of its inception, and by 1300 AD, it was creating 80% of all tax revenues in China. Although the salt commission began and ended with the Tang dynasty, the state monopoly on salt in China existed from sometime in 1st century BC to the end of Imperial China in early 20th century, making it the most enduring monopoly of all time.
De Beers – Cecil Rhodes
For a firm that started out by renting water pumps to miners during a diamond rush, De Beers succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founder, Cecil Rhodes. In 1888, De Beers Consolidated Mines was formed with the sole purpose to be the owner of all diamond mining operations in South Africa. Using his colonial influences, Rhodes negotiated a strategic agreement with the London-based Diamond Syndicate in 1889, which fixed diamond prices. Whenever a new mine is discovered, it is absorbed into the De Beers cartel. At its height in the middle of the 20th century, De Beers controlled 80% of the diamond market. Discovery of new mines in Russia, Canada, and Australia ended De Beers monopoly but De Beers is now more profitable today with a 40% market share than when it maintained an 80% market share.
Dutch East India Company
Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), established in 1602, was the world’s first multinational and mega- corporation, which possessed quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies. It is only natural that it also coined the standards for monopolies. To counter English and Portuguese colonial expansions, the Dutch government in 1602 sponsored “United East Indies Company” that was granted a monopoly over the Asian trade. The charter of the new company empowered it to build forts, maintain armies, and conclude treaties with Asian rulers. To establish its monopoly for the spice trade, the entire native populations in Indonesia were deported, decimated or enslaved in the Dutch plantations that replaced them. Although by 1669, the VOC was the richest private company the world had ever seen, a series of mismanagements and colonial encroachments by other great powers bankrupted the VOC in 1800.
Thurn and Taxis Mail
In 1489, Jeannetto de Tassis was appointed Chief Master of Postal Services in Italy. From that moment on to the early years of the 19th century, his descendants, Thurn and Taxis family held its virtual monopoly on mail and postal services through a letters of grant and nobility given by Holy Roman Emperors Frederick III, Maximilian I and Charles V. In 1615, the position, Imperial Postmaster General was made hereditary. In its heydays at the end of the 18th century, it took only forty hours to a letter from Paris to reach Brussels. The family’s horse relay system that connected nearly all of European capitals was the gold standard in communication. However, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars greatly disrupted the family business. In 1867, postal monopoly was nationalized. By then, the family had diversified into a various other enterprises from foodstuffs to banking to to railroads and to this day, the family is one of the richest families in Europe.
Pan Am Airways
Thurn and Taxis monopoly may be broken, but the importance of communication and transportation (and monopoly producing power of it) was not. For the better part of the 20th century, Pan American Airways dominated the airmail and transportation not only of the United States but also of both Americas. Founded in 1927, Pan Am greatly expended under Juan Trippe who bought out many independent carriers in the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and in South America. To counter the competition from foreign companies, the U.S. government itself endorsed the airline as the “chosen instrument” for U.S. air routes. After the World War II, however, despite its enormous lobbying campaign in the Congress, Pan Am gradually lost its status as America’s international airline to various American and foreign carriers. By 1991, “World’s Most Experienced Airline,” was broke.
US Steel: J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Charles M. Schwab
U.S. Steel’s alumni were who’s who of America industrialists. J. P. Morgan and Elbert H. Gary founded it in 1901. The steel operations were owned by Andrew Carnegie. Its first president was Charles M. Schwab. Within five years of its founding, the corporation had become the largest steel producer and largest corporation in the world (as well as the world’s first billion-dollar corporation). During WWII, the U.S. Steel spearheaded American war efforts, employing over 300,000 employees and producing 20-30 million tons of steel every year. However, after the war, the Corporation (as it was famously known) has become a leviathan that had outlived its usefulness. As early as 1911, the federal government tried to break up the corporate goliath (which initially controlled 67% of all the steel produced in America), but it was the American steel industry’s own lack of innovation and efficiency that doomed U.S. Steel. It now produces less than 10 percent of the steel used in America and employs less than 50,000 people.
Caviar lined the Soviet coffers with gold during the Cold War. However, the Bolsheviks and the Communists are not the first in imposing the state monopoly on caviar. Although sturgeon and their eggs have been eaten by the Russians as early as the 8th century BC, it was not until Ivan the Terrible’s time that sturgeon producing Northern Caspian region was annexed from Muslim Tatars. Caviar monopoly was enforced by Tsar Peter the Great, who also tried to introduce the delicacy to the fashionable French court (without much success). However, by the time it was reintroduced to the Western Europe in 1860, caviar had already became the symbol of Russian luxury, and the Tsarist state had slowly relaxed its monopoly laws. However, after the Bolshevik Revolution, the powerful Soviet Ministry of Fisheries reintroduced tight measures to conserve sturgeons and to maintain the high caviar prices. The collapse of the Soviet Union killed the state monopoly, but also opened the Pandora’s box of overfishing, pollution and caviar smuggling.
American Telephone and Telegraph AT&T: Alexander Graham Bell
Originally founded by Alexander Graham Bell and his financiers, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company managed to corner the telecommunications market of the United States even though Bell’s patent on the telephone expired in 1894. Since it was expensive to place copper wires all over the country (for different companies) the U.S. government itself agreed to this natural monopoly of having one telephone company for the nation. In 1907, AT&T president Theodore Vail announced “One Policy, One System, Universal Service.”–a guideline which AT&T used to purchase competitors. In 1918, the federal government’s nationalization of telecommunication industry profited AT&T which won the contract for the laying out of a coast-to-coast telephone system (potential competitors were forbidden from installing new lines to compete, with state governments wishing to avoid “duplication.”) The ‘natural monopoly’ was broken in 1970s with new technologies slowly replacing copper wires approach. Upon the settlement of United States v. AT&T, AT&T was split into seven companies and the monopoly was ended.
Hudson Bay Company
The Hudson’s Bay Company (Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson) is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and is one of the oldest in the world. Once the de facto government of North America and later its largest landowner, the company controlled nearly all of fur trade in the New World from its headquarters at York Factory on Hudson Bay. Although the company’s monopoly on fur trade (chartered by England’s King Charles II) was never complete due to the small competitions from independent fur traders, its trade covered 3 million square miles (where settlements are forbidden by its monopoly rules ) and employed 1,500 traders. Its network of trading posts formed the nucleus for later official authority in many areas of Western Canada and the United States. The decline of the fur trade and a high-profile illegal fur trade trial in 1849 broke the monopoly, but the company evolved into a mercantile business selling vital goods to settlers in the Canadian West. Today the company is best known for its department stores throughout Canada.
So we live in a dog eat dog world. The domination for control is with those that have taken it to obscene levels of misbehavior as I’m sure the stockholders would disagree. When we live in a world where the government can openly (and Secretly) experiment on us, can experiment on military personnel as well as civilians, what does that tell you about their values? But if not them, then who would have taken their place? Looking at the root causes of these motives can lead us to some very interesting conclusions. Is it safe to say that we all want to be contributors? We want our work to matter, be validated, and we want to be valued for ourselves and what we bring to the table. But when is it appropriate that we employ ourselves to become our own Public Relations professional; touting to the world what we represent or we engage in the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization (or i-SELF), and the public interest?
So what is left for us. I suggest INNOVATION, but does this not give us the paradox that brought me to post this in the first place. That of self promotion. How do our market economies correlate with our individual skills and how we fit into the workforce or social settings? I suggest that the ethic you live by is your defining factor! To be selected for a job from a company who’s values are against what you believe would be a nightmare to someone with a conscience. The market is determined with what people want. If the people do not want something they will not buy it, unless it is forced upon them, or if there are fewer and fewer competitive choices. Standing up and thinking of alternatives, innovations, is only the start to change the world dynamic of consumerism whether the item be a Popsicle or a person!