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Response To Comments On "Supertemp vs. day laborer, brands & the broken circle of trust"

There definitely is an issue regarding "truth" here. Whose version of reality, is reality? My husband says to me -- you see the world through the lens of brand, but where is the brand relevance here? I buy a pair of jeans, they are cool, what does the worker have to do with it? If you want to talk about Bangladesh then do so, but explain it. (This I am planning to do, over time, more in the next blog on "invisibility" and the brand system.)

So generally I am trying to explain how the worker's personal truth coexists with the consumer's personal truth (remembering that the same person is both worker and consumer). Your truth, my truth, objective truth - a huge and growing gap between the haves and have nothings.

I am as bothered as you about those articles on working conditions in the U.S. I did not know either about these conditions, or maybe I did not want to think about it. Good old Amazon right? And everybody else. I too thought those days were over.

That will be part of the blog referenced above.

Back to the point about people in law enforcement and the truth. And people who get into situations where they mess up. They think about will I get caught, they think about how to dissemble and represent things to minimize trouble, they run from the truth.

There is something called the truth though. What bothers me personally about our culture is that we seem to have lost our grasp on the concept of truth altogether. Instead we are preoccupied with winning.

And this gets back to politics right? If we are honest we can admit that no party or ideology has all the answers. But if we are political we try very hard to fit the facts into the narrative.

Edward Snowden, George Zimmerman, gun control, healthcare reform, immigration reform, unemployment, and other issues become incendiary because they are argued from the perspective of ideology. If we could go back and create some safe space for mutual dialogue and rational, data-driven analysis, we could arrive at solutions that really work.

I am a researcher of brand, but this is really a problem that goes way beyond it. Where has our capacity for reflection gone? Why can we not speak our minds without fear? What has happened to rousing dialogue minus the accusations?

I happen to believe that answers come from people at the grassroots level working independently and in small groups. I inherently distrust big bureaucracies to get stuff done effectively. And this is precisely because once you create a monstrous system, it perpetuates itself and the people inside it stop thinking and stop taking responsibility for its outcomes.

One of which is that we have people sleeping on the street, in front of the White House, where just a few miles away other people are sleeping in multi million dollar homes and driving Porsches. That is a fact and not an interpretation.

If each of us stopped for even five seconds to think about how disgraceful that is, what would we do differently?

* All opinions my own.

** See:

Supertemp vs. day laborer, brands & the broken circle of trust

I took this photo outside a Metro Station near the White House.

In "The Divided Self," Dr. R.D. Laing explored how schizophrenic people are actually made that way by so-called "normal" people.

Schizophrenics experience a shattered sense of self. That is, parts of the personality are experienced as though they are external, distinct, foreign.

When the individual is pulled too far in contradictory directions, illness emerges in which they no longer know what reality is. 

We are living in an economy that exerts contradictory and fragmenting pressures on the individual worker. 

There is no longer a unitary, stable sense of "me and my job" in relation to "my employer and what they do," situated in "my hometown," surrounded by "my family," "church," "school," and so on.

Rather, there is only:

  • Labor, sold to the highest bidder for as long as they are willing to pay
  • Organized capital, in business and delivering only as long as the highest ROI can be extracted
  • Dwellings increasingly rented to stay close to fluctuating places of employment
  • Communities of migrants who leave their native culture desperate for a better life
  • Nuclear families unformed or broken because the physical and economic toll of earning a living is too high
  • Centers of spirituality where we can find them
  • Schools that function like holding pens, with normal kids drugged up to keep them in their seats 
In this culture the worker is motivated primarily by the need for survival in an economy with dwindling payoff. See for example:
Very few will achieve "Supertemp" status of the kind they wrote about in Harvard Business Review. 

Many will be riding in the back of vans to worksites where the pack free samples touted on Facebook.

You have to ask yourself, where is the identity of the worker as worker in this system? A system which offers no loyalty and much exploitation?

And why should anyone trust anyone?

The answer has to come back to some higher meaning.

Most people don't expect to get their life's true meaning at work.

Instead they are working to survive. Hoping that in the future they or their children will somehow have a better life.

So they suffer through indignity, inconvenience and often outright abuse. Knowing that they have to keep up with rent - food - car.

But there is an unspoken social contract in the workplace, too. That contract might be a load of b.s., or it might actually have some reality to it.

It says that you and I working here, together, are creating something more. That it's not only about efficiency, effectiveness, return on investment and maximizing profit. That maybe 5% of the time, we get to experience meaning.

The meaning that people need to experience at work is the brand. Brand is the vision, the mission and the core values all wrapped up in one.

When people go to work and experience no meaning, or even the opposite of meaning -- dystopia -- it sets the stage for the further dismantling and destabilization of society.

Trust between employer and employee is essential to maintaining order. One cannot benefit endlessly at the expense of another. The other cannot take advantage without some eventual righting of the scales.

Always, brands are a substitute for something, and I am consumed with understanding what they do for us now. I believe that in the workplace, the concept of the "brand" is like an organizing principle, a secular religion, that lends meaning to spending 40-80 hours a week earning a buck.

I can't tell you how we right the system. I do know that a pervasive lack of meaning in the workplace is a very socially dangerous thing. Pushing us further down a path of chaos and destruction, putting us in a rabbit hole where we hide because nothing is secure.

* All opinions my own. Thank you to my husband Andy Blumenthal for the encouragement and feedback.

Alienation, The Basis For Emotional "Bonding" With A Brand

It is going to be difficult to capture all the thoughts I want to share about branding now. 

In a sense this is a voyage of self-discovery. It is an attempt to figure out what this intangible thing called a "brand" -- a reality that is not real -- has done to my own mind and life.

I sense that the impact has not been overall positive, even as I rely on brand concepts for a living. One could say that I have become addicted to a toxin, and having been poisoned, must now find the cure.

Branding is fundamentally about alienation. To really understand this, you have to understand a little bit of Karl Marx.

Marx -- who lived in the Age of Industrialization -- offered a theory of how the new world of the factory became acceptable to the masses. For unlike on the farm, they were not at all connected to their work, each other or even to nature. 

To vastly oversimplify, Marx said that a shift occurred in people's minds to help them adapt. To overcome a true lack of connection, of integration, of unity -- people turned instead to things.

This he called "commodity fetishism." Which is a fancy way of saying that the ordinary worker fantasized about owning things. Ordinary goods became invested with magical power.

And thus the brand. 

Marx said a lot of other things too -- like the famous "religion is the opiate of the masses" -- that explained why people did not rebel against their lot.

It was a lot in which a few very rich people took and exploited the labor of the many, and offered almost nothing in return.

The American capitalist dream depends on consumers' emotional attachment to brands. It depends on those brands being essential to their lives and identities. It also depends on their being able to purchase.

What is happening now? A steady disappearance of secure full-time jobs that pay a living wage. The growth of a shadowy "temp" workforce that is real and yet unreal -- oddly, just like a brand.

The fewer people are able to access commodity fetishism (e.g. join in the branding fantasy) the more that fantasy will break down. 

The question is how much of the stability of the social order goes along with it, and what will the transition to a different (hopefully better) kind of future economy be. 

* As always all opinions are my own.

Think Brand First, Moving Forward - Areas Of Focus

Volume I of my collected blog posts (July 2007 - April 2013) is available at the Internet Archive as a free download. It's available under Creative Commons so feel free to peruse and share, with attribution please.

Going forward (Volume II), I want to make clear my intention in writing about branding. Following are the basic areas of interest:
  • How branding works - essentially the principles or dynamics of branding
  • How branding creates economic value - the economic aspects of brand equity
  • How branding affects us psychologically - impact on consciousness as individuals, consumers, workers
  • How branding affects or could affect the work site - opportunities gained or missed, the interplay with organizational dynamics
  • Analysis of decisions that companies and other organizations make about their brands -- good, bad, or indifferent
  • Predictions about where brands are going, connecting with with social trends
  • The impact of communication technologies and trends on branding, particularly social media and transparency
  • The inherent contradictions and paradoxes that crop up with all of the above
  • Looking broadly, the big-picture connections between the topics above.
Should be an interesting journey.