Deep Capture and The Situationist

The Situationist has a nine-part series on “Deep Capture”, the hypothesis that “there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition.”   

Jon Hanson and David Yosifon lay out their theory most explicitly in Part VI.  (For those of you interested in the most recent post, which contains links to the earlier posts, here it is.)  They write, “[T]oday we have an extremely powerful institutional force with an immense stake in maintaining, and an ability to maintain, a false, though intuitive, worldview. Our basic hypothesis (and prediction) is that large commercial interests act (and will continue to act) to capture the situation–[both] interior and exterior–in order to further entrench dispositionism. Moreover, they have done so largely undetected, and without much in the way of conscious awareness or collaboration. Hence, large corporate interests have, through disproportionate ability to control and manipulate our exterior and interior situations, deeply captured our world.” 

For example, most public situations are defined through a “pro-commercial disposition,” favoring pro-business views as an “obvious truth.”  Or, to take a comment in another post on The Situationist website, The Disposition Is Weaker Than The Situation, in the US we favor an individual-oriented disposition through “attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. ‘Tough on crime,’ for instance, means ‘tough on criminals,’ not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. ‘Personal responsibility’ means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. ‘Common sense’ means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played.” 

Much of their proposal is about getting both everyday people and academics to stop being so naïve, to stop believing that most of the players in any given situation have a commitment to some larger “truth.”  They don’t.  As Hanson and Yosifon write in their first post, academic economists came to this realization after “two centuries” of seeing their best work ignored by politicians.  They had bought into the assumption that governments were about public welfare, and not about power, particular the monopoly and use of violence and having control over the redistribution of resources.  To be honest, I think most anthropologists still have this naïve orientation about “policy,” even as we are critical of those in power and often spend time trying to give voice to those who rarely have it in today’s world. 

In the end, it’s quite an interesting hypothesis, simply because it forces us to think differently about any given situation.  Who’s trying to control a situation?  How do they use our dispositions against us?  It’s a rather clever reduction of both inequality and cultural theory, of focusing on how power works and on how culture works at the same time. I might like to see some broader considerations of how culture/power come together, like I briefly outlined in the post Prison Nation, or with dispositions, how context, symbolism and neuropsychology come together, as Greg discussed in What’s The “Culture” in Neuroanthropology.  But Hanson and Yosifon present a lot of interesting considerations over the breadth of their series.

One thought on “Deep Capture and The Situationist

  1. Whatever its merits, it also sounds like a recipe for paranoia. In fact, isn’t a similar viewpoint behind conspiracy theorizing in general?

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