In my town, the corporate throngs travel almost in unison every morning and every night, making their way from the manicured suburbs to the shiny central city and then back again.
They’re not particularly bad people, you understand. In fact, many of them are pleasant and smart. But they’re being slowly digested into the body of a larger host: the 21st Century Mega-Corp Network.
They wake up each morning in their quiet bedrooms, go through the usual preliminaries, and climb into their modern cars. They turn on the backseat video to anesthetize their kids, drive on inoffensive streets to well-guarded schools, drop the kids off, and head to their quaint train stations. At those stations, their semi-elite status is confirmed by all the other mega-corp employees who live precisely the same way.
As scheduled, the train shows up, and they take their seats. Here, a bit of individuality shows up: One will get predigested “safe facts” from his or her newspaper. Another, his or her gossip from People magazine. The more up to date will watch a show on a brand-new smartphone. Perhaps one or two will plug in to a shiny new iGadget, submerge any thoughts in songs provided by the entertainment corps, and recline, semi-comatose, till they arrive at the city center.
Then they emerge from the trains into a brilliant, cavernous station with wall-to-wall advertising: Buy the newer, faster phone! Take a vacation to a pristine beach, with happy, beautiful people frolicking in their swimsuits! Give your spouse a new car for Christmas!
Most importantly, these ads will feature people just like them: Happy, successful corporate employees.
They walk down the streets to their glistening offices past a sea of corporate logos: places to eat and drink, to buy clothes, coffee, and cell phones; and past seemingly eternal government buildings. All is institutional, all is certified, all is polished… all is hollow, all is homogenized.
The same goes for their mega-corp jobs and their mega-corp colleagues.
Their world is a second verse of the 1950s: a little bit louder and a little bit worse.
The institution is back. It ruled in the ‘50s; it was dethroned in the ‘60s and ‘70s; it idled going into the ‘80s, and then began its return. Now it’s back at the top of the heap and rules from cradle to grave.
We all know the script:
Do well in school (an institution).
Rebel with music from the entertainment corps (institutions).
Wear the new shoes/jeans/etc. with the best corporate logos (quasi-institutions).
Get a university degree (from an institution).
Take student loans to do so (from an institution).
Take a job at a big firm with great benefits (interacting institutions).
Get a home loan (from an institution).
Build a 401(k) (more institutions).
Believe in democracy (a multilayered institution).
Be a good citizen and vote (same as above).
Send your children to daycare, then school (institutions).
Buy brand-named goods (from other mega-corp institutions).
Watch the best in entertainment (corporate institutions).
Conduct your relationships on Facebook (a vampire institution).
Trust in Social Security and Medicare (unsustainable institutions).
Residence in the corporate cocoon is not evil per se, but it substitutes for actual living.
Corporate life takes place vicariously: in advertisements, in movies, and in politics. Even its children are prevented from interaction with the real world—rushed from one institution to another, then safely back home: numbered, evaluated, and surveilled the whole time.
The streets, offices, and boardrooms of the mega-corp world are rich and shiny, but they are swept clean of real life. They are places where souls go to whither and die—albeit slowly and with continuous validation.
This article was originally published in 2014 by Casey Research.