On a recent trip home from Chicago, I found myself stuck at O’Hare while airplane mechanics tried to figure out if the plane was safe to fly. Looking at a minimum two-hour wait and with the niggling fear that I might be facing a long night at the airport, I decided to preserve the battery on my Kindle and wandered over to the newsstand to check out the magazines.
I was disappointed to see that nearly every cover had Michael Jackson’s face splashed across it in tribute. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against him. I just was experiencing MJ fatigue and couldn’t face another double issue of speculation-laced remembrance.
Just as I was about to take my bottled water and Pop-tarts and go resume the interminable wait in the boarding area, the cover of Mother Jones’s August 2009 issue caught my eye. The cover story was all about the War on Drugs, the politics and policies of which have long been an interest of mine. I thought to myself, “Drugs! That’ll be a great way to kill some time” and quickly added it to my purchases.
Although I will commend the reporters on their cover story, it was a small article in the OutFront section entitled “Let the End Times Roll” that has stuck with me and which I’ve been puzzling over since. Article author Virginia Heffernan recounts her meeting with Thor Muller and Lane Becker, two partners in the San Francisco–based customer- service company, Get Satisfaction. Self-proclaimed “collapsitarians,” both men believe in and advocate for the notion of a total collapse of the economy, universal unemployment and the abandonment of traditional economic systems such as banking, retail, insurance and manufacturing.
General feelings about apocalyptic theories aside, one of the strongest points Heffernan makes in her critique is her skepticism of their motives. Both men believe that their company would survive, thrive and profit in a total collapse (despite the fact Heffernan raises that universal unemployment would likely eliminate the need for many of the customer service initiatives that Get Satisfaction currently markets to corporations.) It all begs the questions—with collapsitarianism, where do the lines blur between theory, marketing and profit? Has our society reached a point in its history where philosophies are derived from marketing and business gurus and not from the traditional roots of academics, religion or politics? What are the implications of this?
It is now over a week later. This article still bothers me and I can’t quite pinpoint why. I certainly don’t believe that we’re on the brink of a total collapse of all of our economic systems. I’m too much of a historian to think that could actually happen. But perhaps it is also the historian in me that chafes at the thought that we have entered an era where marketing is allowed to drive philosophical thought. While no philosophy is ever created without some agenda or bias (they are developed by fallible humans after all), the mixing of idea and profit motives is particularly distasteful.
Carrie Albert, History Factory Senior Curator