Geoffrey Miller thinks marketing is the greatest invention of the last 2,000 years


What he writes make me feel uncomfortable in a way I can’t really put my finger on. This means that either

a) he is right, and I’m a damn liberal who can’t face up to the truth

b) he is wrong, but in ever so subtle a way

He says Almost everything we can buy is the result of some marketing people in some company thinking very hard about how to make us happy.

Surely, it’s more accurate to say that almost everything we can buy is the result of some marketing people in some company thinking very hard about how to make us buy their stuff. This is an important difference.

If, like he notes, the marketing orientation has become common in companies that make things for individual customers, like clothes, cars, televisions, and movies. It remains rare in heavy industry that produces steel, coal, oil, and paper, where the immediate consumers are other businesses

isn’t this because businesses are subject to a different set of irrationalities than individual consumers?

One important difference might be that businesses consumers aren’t divided and vastly outsized by their producers in the same way as individual consumers.

Marketing makes us technology?s masters. This renders most of Marx irrelevant. What can alienation and exploitation mean when business listens so hard to our desires?

I guess alienation can only make sense if people can become alienated from their own desires. Which is kind of a psychological-level version of Marxist false-consciousness anyway, and remains a pretty dirty theoretical trick.

Doesn’t mean it isn’t true though.

Like fish unaware of water, we do not realize that we live in the Age of Marketing…Democracy is simply the marketing concept applied to government.

And there are different types of democracy, and democratic failures, just like there can be different types of markets and market failures. I have to be suspicious of anyone who tries to sell me One Market, or one notion of Democracy.

Is the marketing revolution a good thing? On the upside, it promises a golden age when social institutions and markets are systematically organized to maximize human happiness.

There’s that mistake again – maximising fallible human choices isn’t the same as maximising human happiness. But then, it’s hard to know what other indexes to use.

On the downside, marketing is Buddha?s worst nightmare. It is the Veil of Maya made scientific and backed by billion-dollar campaigns. It perpetuates the grand illusion that desire leads to fulfillment..It is the enemy of human consciousness, because consciousness is content with its own company, and needs nothing from the world. The trouble is not that marketing promotes materialism. Quite the opposite. It promotes a narcissistic pseudo-spiritualism based on subjective pleasure, social status, romance, and life-style.

A moment of clarity mixed with a moment of nonsense.

Marketing brings more immediate problems. Like democracy, it forces intellectual elites to confront our patronizing attitudes towards the masses. Elites do not always like companies and states that provide what the people want….Marketing, like democracy, is anti-arrogance, anti-power, and anti-idealism….For the elite, marketing?s populism can be an alarming prospect….Cultural elites usually take a dim view of uncultured human nature to justify denying the power of choice to ordinary people. Fear of an economy based on market research, like Plato?s fear of democracy based on universal suffrage, is based on contempt for our species. Elites hate to recognize the marketing revolution because they hate to admit that contempt. Marketing is the most important invention of the last two millenia because it is the only revolution that has ever succeeded in bringing real power to the people.

I look around at the six billion, as we break in waves of hunger a desire upon the eroded shore of history, and I wonder how we feel about our new, real, power. Power given to us – yes given! – by the wonderful power of marketing, marketers and the corporations that employ them.

It is not just the power to redistribute wealth, to split the social cake into different pieces. Rather, it is the power to make our means of production transform the natural world into a playground for human passions. Marketing is not just the icing on the material world. It has become the recipe, the kitchen, and the cook.

But marketing isn’t just a tool for working out what human desires are. Human desires are not some inviolate essence. They are created by social influences- created, evoked, and manipulated. Consciousness is not content with its own company, and needs nothing from the world. Consciousness is inherently social. We gauge our own status by social comparison, we want what others want, we believe what others in our tribe believe.

Marketing is not an innocent observer in this scenario, no more than markets are spontaneous entities existing aside from politics and culture. All markets are designed by a set of socially sanctioned forces, and all marketing serves interests other than those of the consumers.