So like when the United Fruit Company was working in Central America in the early part of the last century, so a century ago, they had a problem. There were black workers coming in from Haiti, and Cuba and so on, coming to say eastern Costa Rica to the banana plantations, but there was a lot of land around. What was gonna stop these workers from going off into the hills, finding a nice plot of land and living quite happily? Not overconsuming, just consuming what they needed and doing things that were worth doing…what was gonna prevent them from doing that? Well they hit on the same ideas the public relations industry here later—if we can trap them into thinking that they have to have—I’m literally quoting them: “stetson hats and silk stockings” —y’know exactly what you need in the tropics, if we can trap them into thinking that you just have to have these things or you’re not a proper person, we’ll have them under control, ‘cause they’ll go into debt to the company store to buy these things, and then they won’t be able to pay their debt, and they’ll need some further things because we’ve changed their mentalities in such a way that consuming these things is important and we’ll have them locked into the plantation. Yeah that’s what happened.
In fact that kind of thing has happened over and over again, and in the United States, it has happened massively. I mean the marketing alone—basically mind control—it’s probably a sixth of the economy, y’know over a trillion dollars a year. It’s just domination and control—it starts with infants. I mean when I watch television with my grandchildren, from infancy they’re being inundated with propaganda about how you have to get your parents to buy you this two hundred dollar something-or-other or else you’re just not a person.
And it’s very conscious. It is done as a technique of regimentation and control and marginalization. It’s a kind of replacement for the use of violence. Can’t control people by violence, gonna have to control them some other way, as societies get more free you turn to this. Let me say again it’s extremely conscious as a technique of control, and people are resistant. The celebration of consumerism is a celebration of our enslavement. There’s nothing wrong with having things you want. Like, you want a nice car, okay, fine. But having things just for the sake of having them, that’s enslavement. Having a decent, constructive life in which you do important things in solidarity with others and you enrich your life—that’s much more significant. In most of the societies of the world, that’s natural. You have to drive this into their heads. It doesn’t come naturally, any more than market systems come naturally.
The other world that’s possible is a world in which you’re not enslaved. You don’t have to follow other people’s orders. You’re not trapped by the billions of dollars they pour into trying to distort your mind. And you have control over your own life. You run your own institutions. If you’re working at a firm, you own the firm and you run it. You decide what’s going to happen to you. Same with international society. Yeah, the other world is very possible. Part of the reason for the frenzy behind the efforts to indoctrinate is the realization that the existing system is very fragile. Protest didn’t begin in seattle. They’ve been going on in the third world for decades. Huge movements. That’s why “the other world is possible” meetings take place in Brazil, not in the United States, because that’s where the powerful movements are.
Seattle is regarded as the beginning of a movement because when it hits the north, you can’t ignore it. Y’know as long as it’s just half a million Indian peasants or something like that, you can say okay, who cares about them, they’re just things, not people. But when it starts getting close to home, y’know it’s your own children, or it’s downtown, well you gotta admit that it exists. So the movement is called Seattle. But the north is a periphery. The rich countries have finally joined in which is a great thing, but they’ve joined in in a subsidiary position, which is what they oughta be, and in a form of international solidarity which is very striking and impressive. But the origin has been among the poor in the south. It’s not unusual. Same is true of most of the freedoms we have. They’re not won by rich people. They’re won by poor people who are struggling for their rights, and maybe we end up enjoying them.
I don’t think people are naturally conformists. Conformism has to be beaten into them. Children have to be compelled to be become conformist. Adults have to be controlled. It takes force of one sort of another to drive people into systems in which they are subordinate and conformed, whether it’s slavery or industrialization or patriarchal families or whatever it may be. The natural instinct of people is to be free. They wanna be free from control. They wanna control their own lives. They may recognize that they can’t do it, and that the costs of freedom are greater than the costs of subjugation, and that may even get internalized, which is the worst kind of slavery. I mean that’s why every liberation movement starts with consciousness raising.
Take, say women’s rights. I mean the first thing that has to be done is for women to come to realize they do not have to be slaves. And that’s hard. If you’re slave, and your mother was a slave, and your grandmother was a slave, and all your aunts are slaves, then that’s just the way the world is. It’s hard to recognize it doesn’t have to be like that. And when people do recognize look it doesn’t have to be like that, then their natural instincts come into play. It’s the same with slavery. Slave systems last for a long time without much protest, and largely it’s because people internalize the belief that “I’m naturally a slave.” That one is naturally a rider, and I’m naturally the horse. It’s only when their minds are opened up to the fact that that doesn’t have to be the case—and it doesn’t take much to do this because it’s always right below the surface, since after all we’re all human, we’re all the same creatures, we’re the same species, then you’re free.