From Capitalist Realism to Anarchist Idealism, Part Nine

Daniel Pinchbeck
10 min readNov 21, 2021

The current system of hyper-capitalism seems, on its surface, to operate without ideology. The structure is so totalizing that people accept it unquestioningly, internalizing it as a kind of second nature, as inescapable as Nature itself, or “first nature1.” But this system is an ideological construct that maintains itself via “hegemony.” The Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci defined hegemony as the “cultural, moral and ideological” leadership of one group over allied as well as over less privileged or “subaltern” groups and classes.

Mass culture, media, and school can be seen as a kind of factory that does not, essentially, produce things. What it produces are subjects, or “subjectivities.” The upper echelon elite who own and operate these systems understand that they are manufacturing “mind,” the worldview and mental content of the masses and multitudes. This is what Edgar Bernays called “engineering consent.”

The mass media, in its totality, syncopates and coordinates both the thoughts and the actions of the multitude. It creates “false needs” and stimulates artificial desires that then must be satiated via disposable consumer goods, to keep the machinery of capitalist production humming along. The political economic system replicates itself by taking over — colonizing — the inner psychic reality of the individual.

Within such a totalizing structure, most people behave like programmed automatons — responding instinctively to the incessant stimuli of sports, social media, video games, and stock tickers — until or unless some external event provokes a crisis, which may or may not break the trance. Even when an external crisis forces an existential or ontological breakdown, most people lack the intellectual tools to understand it, and/or the psychological resources to handle it. At that point, either they will find a way back into the hegemonic order (perhaps by shifting allegiances, such as from progressive “hope and change” liberal to Far Right QANON-quoting Libertarian) or they will go insane. It certainly seems like a growing number of people are on the verge of insanity these days — if they haven’t already gone over the precipice.

As someone who used to work in the mainstream media, writing for The New York Times Magazine, Rolling

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Daniel Pinchbeck

Author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and When Plants Dream. I teach online seminars at www.theliminalinstitute.com