Category Archives: Philosophy

The corporate woke joke.

In the 1970s, the story goes, a CEO met with environmental activists only to tell them: “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.” Businesses operating from a responsive mindset require relentless outside pressures to do the right thing. What is needed in the present moment is not uncritical celebration of “woke” companies working to ingratiate themselves into certain political constituencies, which would likely expand the current us-versus-them political divides into the private sector. Recognizing the dominance of the responsive mindset means all businesses, woke and un-woke alike, will need a healthy degree of “vigilant belligerence” from wider society as they navigate a politically contentious era. But perhaps at a more basic level, concerned citizens need to continually evaluate the degree to which profit-seeking, market-responsive entities should be tasked with preserving the social and political goods necessary for a flourishing society.

–Andrew Lynn, “The Limits of Corporate Activism”


The soft discipline of neoliberalism.

The hallmark of the neoliberal thought collective was that they more or less accepted the inherited image of an addled and befuddled populace, but thoroughly rejected any appeals to a scientific technocracy to instill some discipline in the masses. For them, the discombobulation of the masses was not a reason for despair, but rather the necessary compost out of which a spontaneous order might blossom. The primary way this would come to pass was through acknowledgement that “the market” was an information processor more powerful and more efficacious than any human being was or could ever be. The cretinous and nescient would propose; the market would dispose. In effect, the NTC believed if only the masses could learn to subordinate their ambitions and desires to market dictates, then their deficient understandings and flawed syllogisms could be regarded as convenient expedients smoothing the path to order, rather than as political obstacles to be overcome, as in the technocratic orientation of postwar social sciences. And, conveniently, the neoliberals would mobilize numerous institutional structures to nudge the people down that path.

Hence, when it came to the simple matter of bamboozling the masses with ripping tales of government as the very embodiment of evil, as Friedman did, there were never any qualms expressed about their simultaneous drive to take over the Republican Party, and then the U.S. government, in order to impose a strong state and an even stronger set of state-instituted novel markets. The neoliberals often had to disguise their true allegiances from the masses: as Friedman once claimed, “the two groups that threaten the free market the most are businessmen and intellectuals.” Yet Friedman promoted the destruction of state education and the privatization of universities to put the intellectuals out of business; he never attacked the businessmen to any equivalent degree. Indeed, he openly preached the doctrine that corporations had no responsibilities to society other than to maximize their profits; if corporations were persons, they were of the purest strain of self-interested creatures, free from all surly bonds of obligation. The demonization of the state relative to the corporation was the epitome of the short-term tactic; the usurpation of power to the extent of reregulation (not deregulation) and extension of state power both at home and abroad were the long-term goals. No matter what Grover Norquist might rabbit on about, no neoliberal in government has ever actually shrunk the size of the state, much less drowned it in a bathtub. That was merely red meat for the groundlings. While in power, neoliberals may have subcontracted out parts of government, but that rarely makes a dent in bureaucracy. The coercive power of government inexorably grows.

–Philip Mirowski, “Neoliberalism: The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name”

Emergent propaganda.

Thus the very common type of Twitter user who expresses himself or herself almost completely in hashtags: pre-established units of affiliation and exclusion.

And yet — Russian bots and political operatives (who have turned themselves into bots) aside — social media lack the planned purposefulness intrinsic to propaganda. So they must be a different kind of thing, yes?

Yes and no. I think what social media produce is emergent propaganda — propaganda that is not directed in any specific and conscious sense by anyone but rather emerges, arises, from vast masses of people who have been catechized within and by the same power-knowledge regime. Think also about the idea I got from an Adam Roberts novel: the hivemind singularity. Conscious, intentional propaganda is so twentieth century. The principalities and powers are far more sophisticated now.

–Alan Jacobs, propaganda and social media

“The explanation rests.”

It is a significant commentary on the present state of our culture that I have become the object of hatred, smears, denunciations, because I am famous as virtually the only novelist who has declared that her soul is not a sewer, and neither are the souls of her characters, and neither is the soul of man.

The motive and purpose of my writing can best be summed up by saying that if a dedication page were to precede the total of my work, it would read: To the glory of Man.

And if anyone should ask me what it is that I have said to the glory of Man, I will answer only by paraphrasing Howard Roark. I will hold up a copy of Atlas Shrugged and say: “The explanation rests.”

–Ayn Rand, “The Goal of My Writing,” from The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (The World Publishing Company, 1969), p. 174

Entropy, agency, and determinism.

Nothing is more characteristically American about science fiction than its explicit activism and the faith which its writers have expressed that events can and will be moved in desirable directions by a strong-minded people. Yet entropy is a law of nature standing athwart the history that such people might make—and a law not so easily finessed with a vaguely defined ‘warp drive’ as is Einstein’s universal speed limit. […]

Although he defined his own personal faith as Deist, Campbell’s own opinion of human nature added to an Old Testament view of divine justice a very Augustinian sense of human depravity, a Puritanical acceptance of Apocalypse as no more than people deserved. Similarly mixed were his views on the consequences of science and technology. They were at once the highly desirable goal of human struggle, the producers of the mechanized luxury of decadence, and the revealers of entropy with all its terrors for the rationalist.

The ultimate inevitability of entropy made Campbell a determinist about human history, despite his personal distaste for determinism and all his attempts to deny that he was a determinist. The attempts at denial, moreover, were rooted in what was most conventional about his Americanism: problem-solving activism, optimism, hope (if not necessarily faith) in the ability of the right kind of people to master their physical environment.[…]

Left to themselves [in a closed system], Campbell was saying, people cannot reform, rebuild, or revitalize their own lives, their own societies. That has to be done for them—or to them.

–Albert I. Berger, The Magic That Works: John W. Campbell and the American Response to Technology (1993), pp. 27, 31-32

“It could make some people angry,” she said.

One student in my class this semester, a teenager, an African American, happened not to have this typical demeanor. He didn’t make an effort to hide his lack of knowledge or to downplay that it mattered. Astonishment, disturbance–you could see him working things out. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions, though often, by the time he got around to asking one, so much time had passed that I had to backtrack a ways to supply an answer. As I talked about Hemings and Jefferson, I saw these operations going on across his face. We were almost finished and moving on to the next bit, when he frowned and raised his hand. “Did he rape her?” he asked.

I repeated the fact of their age difference. I reminded that Jefferson owned Hemings. Then I said, “That’s a complicated question that I can’t answer satisfactorily. But the question you ask is the right one.”

From the other side of the room came another question, again from an African American, this time a young woman. She was more sophisticated than her classmate. She entered into the class with clearer concerns and seemed to be in some early stage of politicization. “Why don’t they teach us this?” she said. She was speaking low, almost muttering, but I heard her and had the impression that the rest of the class did, too.

“I am teaching it to you!” I said with a chuckle, answering maybe too quickly and defensively, having felt a tick of tension rise in the room.

“No, I mean,” she said, still speaking low, “before now.”

This time I let the comment have its full weight. “Why do you think that’s important?” I asked.

“It could make some people angry,” she said.

–Anthony Chaney, The Realest Moment of the Semester

In a way that’s proven.

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

“Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

–Laurie Goodstein, “Has Support for Moore Stained Evangelicals? Some Are Worried”

In written communication, there are certain words or phrases that often do most of the work in a sentence–sort of like load-bearing structures in architecture. That phrase, “in a way that’s proven,” really does most of the work for Strang in this quote. We’re talking about a president who has lied — by the NYT’s account — a little under the half the days he’s been in office. We’re also talking about a president who was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, and whom nineteen women have accused of harrassing or assaulting them.

I wonder just how much Strang expects the burden of evidence to weigh with regard to Trump’s lies and lechery. I’m sure that, whatever the measurement is, he can always bump the decimal point on that criterion over to the right whenever he gets nervous about facing up to the truth about himself and his earthly master.

Forgiveness belongs to Donald Trump at any point he feels like not rejecting it. (First he’d probably have to admit that, as a human being, he fundamentally needs forgiveness, though.) That doesn’t mean he should be entitled to the presidency. And it certainly doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to evade the consequences of his actions. Giving someone a second chance doesn’t mean letting them get away with whatever they want.

But then, what do I know? According to Strang, I’m not really a believer.