Author’s Note: I was inspired to write this article by my work in marketing. It could apply just as easily to politics and culture.
An “ideology” is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways, and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it. (Kenneth Burke, 1897-1993, from Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method)
There are no accidents. The death of empiricism has made it eminently more difficult to construe, let alone to demonstrate, causal connections. Nevertheless, some things are significantly more coincident than coincidental.
Case in point: I came across a book by Dan Lyons — Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble — shortly after I finished re-reading George Orwell’s 1984. You can tell me that’s accidental. But I won’t buy it. Consider the similarities in these two passages:
Exhibit A: “Arriving here feels like landing on some remote island where a bunch of people have been living for years, in isolation, making up their own rules and rituals and religion and language — even, to some extent, inventing their own reality. This happens at all organizations, but for some reason tech startups seem to be especially prone to groupthink.” (Dan Lyons)
Exhibit B: “The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.” (George Orwell)
In both of those citations, uniformity and homogeneity are hidden under the guise — masked by the illusion — of creating rules, rituals, religions, languages, systems of codification, and regimens of indoctrination. But no such creating is taking place. Rather, all those rules, rituals, religions, languages, systems, and regimens were created a priori. All the new arrivals do, all the masses do, is adopt. While conformity becomes the norm, it’s a safe bet two of the verbs in the prescribed language will be innovate and disrupt. It’s an equally safe bet that one of the senses no longer permitted in these invariant environs is irony.
What’s that? This is NOT about prescriptive conformity? Au contraire:
Exhibit C: “The code depicts a kind of corporate utopia where the needs of the individual become secondary to the needs of the group — “team > individual,” one slide says — and where people don’t worry about work-life balance because their work is their life.” (Dan Lyons)
Exhibit D: “Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” (George Orwell)
It’s a little tough to make a case for creativity and individualism in circumstances in which the needs of a group, any group, trump the needs (or creative urges) of any individual; in which team = individual; and in which unconsciousness and blind conformity are valued overthinking. And in addition to groupthink, the very notion of team equating to individual is a stark manifestation of doublethink:
Exhibit E: “What we’re creating is not spam. In fact, the official line is that [we hate] spam and [want] to stamp out spam. We want to protect people from spam. Spam is what the bad guys send, but we are the good guys. Our spam is not spam. In fact, it is the opposite of spam. It’s antispam” (Dan Lyons)
Exhibit F: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” (George Orwell)
The fact that we’ve adopted ideology over ideation is why the world is aflutter over Big Data, without being able to define it, harness it, apply it, cull it, analyze it, or do anything else other than get in line behind it (blindfold optional). It’s why inbound marketing, digital marketing, content marketing, experience marketing, marketing automation, et al. continue to spawn purveyor after purveyor of these technological chimeras, all of whom are only too happy to take the good money we keep throwing after bad in pursuit of The Next Big Bonanza. (“I’m telling you, Dude. This is IT!”)
It’s also why organizations like the Inbound Marketing Association (“A New Breed Of An Asscoiation” [sic]), the Content Marketing Association, the Direct Marketing Association (“The largest organization for innovators, artists, creators, writers, analysts, strategists, and makers of all things related to marketing and powered by data”), the Interactive Marketing Association, the Internet Marketing Association, the Digital Marketing Association, the Digital Analytics Association, and the American Association of Big Data Professionals (“We’re Huge!”) are joining forces to establish the International Global Network Organization Regulating And Mandating Universal Sameness (IGNORAMUS).
To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same ideological boat now, kids. So, to paraphrase Kenneth Burke, jump around.
Welcome to the Brave New World.