Posts tagged ‘Clerisy’

Silicon Robber Barons

Silicon Valley’s power brokers want you to think they’re different. But they’re just average robber barons.

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The press [i.e., clerisy] enjoys excitedly praising tech titans by comparing them to fantastical and mythical figures. Zuckerberg is Caesar. Elon Musk, a wizard. Peter Thiel, who believes that he lives in the moral universe of Lord of the Rings, is a vampire. I do not know if these men believe that they have the supernatural powers the media claims. Maybe they do. I do know that they do not mind the perception, or at least have done nothing to combat it, even among those critics who believe that they’re cartoon villains.

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This might not be so bad if the phenomenon were limited to daft profiles by fawning magazine writers. But this Hegelian fan fiction is nowhere more potent than from the mouths of the Disruptors themselves. Mark Zuckerberg speaks in the voice of God. Shane Smith, by his own account, is the Stalin of Vice. Silicon Valley investor Carl Icahn was called “evil Captain Kirk” by fellow billionaire Marc Andreessen, before he was himself dubbed Dr. Evil by Rod Dreher, who has evidently not absorbed a cultural reference since 1999. When Elon Musk worries that Larry Page is hurtling toward AI without a sufficient appreciation of the risks, he calls it “summoning the demon.” Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky, a typical case, says his food delivery application for depressed millennials is “disrupting the paradigm” by showing people that “the era of the paper menu” is over. AirBnB’s mission statement laments “the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century,” which “displaced” “feelings of trust and belonging”; their mission is to turn the world back into the “village” of simpler eras by encouraging longstanding residents of gentrifying areas to rent out their homes to monied travelers. Some firms are more modest: HubSpot, a marketing and sales platform, is merely on a mission to make the whole world “more inbound,” which is to say, more reliant on their blogging tips for small businesses.

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Let us state the obvious: None of these men are Roman Emperors, and they haven’t got the wherewithal to “blow up” anything but a stock market bubble. They are not Lex Luthors or Gandalfs or Stalins. Their products do not bring about revolutions. They are simply robber barons, JP Morgans and Andrew Mellons in mediocre T-shirts. I have no doubt that many are preternaturally intelligent, hardworking people, and it is a shame that they have dedicated these talents to the mundane accumulation of capital. But there is nothing remarkable about these men. The Pirates of Silicon Valley do not have imperial ambitions. They have financial ones.

The vast majority of Silicon Valley startups, the sort that project lofty missions and managed improbably lucrative IPOs despite never having graced the cover of The Economist or the frontal cortex of the president, work precisely like any other kind of mundane sales operation in search of a product: Underpaid cold-callers receive low wages and less job security in exchange for a foosball table and the burden of growing a company as quickly as possible so that it can reach a liquidation event. Owners and investors get rich. Managers stay comfortable. The employees get hosed. None of this is particularly original. At least the real robber barons built the railroads.

Like all slim ranks of oligarchy, the Silicon Valley billionaires hate and fear nothing more than ordinary people. This manifests itself in mundane ways, in their open, cartoonish class spite (why, they ask, must Innovators in San Francisco be burdened by the existence of homeless riff-raff?); it is revealed in their most contemplative moments too. Peter Thiel has said that when the history of the 21st century is written, René Girard will be remembered as one of its greatest intellectuals. Girard is best known for the contention that all human desire is mimetic, that not only aesthetic taste but even hunger and lust are modeled on the desires of others. Perhaps this is why Thiel does not believe that capitalism and democracy are compatible. We know which side he’s chosen. So long as he and his fellows can continue to exploit that same mimetic tendency to persuade people that they are superhuman and essential to their flourishing, his side will continue to win.

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If your enemies can convince you that they are an unprecedented species of madman, you will convince yourself that you need unprecedented weapons to fight back or that you may be better off just hiding in the forest. But you are not.

The rigged contracts and wage suppression, the racism and surveillance collusion (soon to be playing voluntary footsie with Donald Trump’s NSA, with further chicanery to follow), all these sins of Silicon Valley have come about and been overcome before in the short history of American capitalism. They require only the same weapons as before. Organization and agitation. Strikes and labor laws. The ordinary practice of radical politics. Some of these efforts have begun already, with militant organizing and unionization drives beginning to organize Silicon Valley laborers against their exploiters. But these movements require national and popular support, support that cannot begin until the pretense and terror of world-conquering wizards is abandoned and the truth is laid bare: These are only rich assholes, the same as they ever were. All that superman bullshit is just the cheap propaganda of the powerful, propaganda so thoroughly saturated in the American mind that its own inventors might believe it.

Valley of the Dolts

Moral preeners aided and abetted by the clerisy.

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[E]ducated and well-placed people today tend toward a stripped-down view of man and society that redefines family, religious, and communal ties as private preferences, thereby erasing their public importance. The effect is to promote exclusive reliance on the social authority of bureaucratic and commercial arrangements.

The existence and sentimentalization of non-binding private connections, such as marriage as it is now understood, doesn’t affect that result. After all, how much reliance can be placed on connections that are thought to have no intrinsic function and can be dissolved at will?

The tendency naturally concerns Catholics, because it leaves no room for Catholicism—which cannot understand itself as simply a private preference—or any number of understandings and arrangements needed for a minimally humane and functional way of life. Whatever theoretical beauty some may find in a society of radically autonomous individuals tied together by global markets and bureaucracies, it’s not a place any normal person would want to live. Nor is it one likely to hold together and last.

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In part it’s a result of the stripped-down view of man and social order. If at bottom you view the social world as something like an industrial process designed to produce satisfactions and distribute them equally, then family ties and religious and cultural community make no sense unless they are reduced to private predilections of no practical significance.

To the extent they correspond to definite public standards and retain the ability to play an important role in social life—for example, to the extent marriage is viewed as a uniquely legitimate and enduring union of man and woman oriented toward new life—they’re viewed as irrational prejudices that gum up the system. As such, they are expected to reduce efficiency, equality, and stability, so they’re stupid, oppressive, and dangerous. The people who favor them evidently approve of that, so such people must be motivated by ignorance, bigotry, or rage and resentment looking for an excuse to lash out at the helpless. To many people, that conclusion seems a simple inference from basic principles.

In short, the dominant view of social order, because it leaves out basic features of human life and considers itself uniquely rational, can’t conceive of reasonable well-intentioned dissent. But for that same reason, the form of life it aims at is not achievable. We’re not going to have a global society, a sort of perfected EU writ large, in which sex, religion, and cultural community don’t significantly affect success and social position.

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[I]f all identities are equally supported then no identity is supported. Identity is too basic for anyone to construct for himself, but in the world now emerging no one can expect social support for his actual identity, since any other would be accepted as equally valid. That situation guarantees that there will be a lot of fragile and insecure people who will be intensely alarmed if anything seems, even by implication, to put the equal validity of their chosen identities in question. It will seem an existential attack on what they are, and thus the moral equivalent of murder. That’s why the infinitely multiplying possibilities of “microaggression” are increasingly viewed as a serious problem: each is thought to erase the people microaggressed against.

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More people move from place to place as employment becomes tenuous, home ownership an impossible dream, and locality less local as America is swallowed up by chain stores, shopping malls, apartment complexes, multi-lane highways, and the evanescent electronic world of the Internet.

Under such circumstances, many people, especially women, young people, minority group members, the unmarried and unchurched, and those who have moved away from their homes and connections, feel insecure. Such feelings are easily exploited for political gain; so politicians and publicists can be counted on to exacerbate them as much as possible.

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In the storms ahead, Catholics, when engaged in the things of this world, need to remember that the most important things precede and transcend politics. Lunacy is contagious, and they’ll have to remember that to keep a cool head and steady judgment.

What is Progressive Derangement Syndrome?

Clerisy, Statolatry, Ozymandias. Forward!

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The President is not My King or My God – How About You?

Up to a certain age, belief in Santa Claus is charming, and entirely harmless. Blind faith in presidential benevolence is neither. If you’re teaching your kids that the president reliably tells the truth and does the right thing, then the future citizens you’re raising may turn out gullible and easily led.

Why lie to them? After all, in living memory, presidents have conducted themselves abominably in their personal relationships, lied us into war, and, in former Nixon aide John Dean’s memorable phrase, “use[d] the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies.” Trump, who seems positively gleeful about the prospect of turning the federal machinery against his enemies, seems unlikely to set a higher standard of presidential character.

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For nearly eight years, President Obama has waged a War on Cynicism from the bully pulpit, railing against “those who question the scale of [government’s] ambitions,” and telling college students to reject the “voices” that “warn tyranny is lurking just around the corner.” Somehow, what the president decried as “cynicism” always sounded like healthy skepticism toward increased federal power. In Trump’s case, even Obama might be starting to appreciate the “cynics” point.

Tell The Children The Same Thing About Donald Trump As For Any President: Beware

Statolatry and Ozymandias

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Obamacare a Success!

There’s one thing for sure: no matter what happens, liberal cheerleaders of Obamacare will continue to act as if the law was an awe-inspiring success.

When Will Liberals Answer For Obamacare’s Failures?

Also see “Obamacare woes to linger long after Obama is gone

The conspiracy theory about the woefully misnamed Affordable Care Act is that the architects of Obamacare intended their program to fail, thus creating an opening for a so-called public option which would then be expanded to a full-on British-style government health-care monopoly. That’s a fun story, though it isn’t true.

The truth is worse: These idiots thought this would work.

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Obamacare was intended, in theory, to enhance competition. The Democrats were never quite clear on how that was going to work, but that’s what they said. In Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest city, those shopping for health insurance have a grand total of two insurers to choose from. Until recently, the state of Pennsylvania had 13 insurers; today, it has eight.

It is worth keeping in mind that the people who brought you Obamacare want to apply the same model across the commanding heights of the U.S. economy.

Obamacare and the Fundamentals

Philosopher Kings, Clerisy, Ozymandias

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Politics Is Idolatry for Many

Supreme Court nominees will not save you. National security advisers will not save you. An Ivy League education will not save you. A quarterback who’s cool under pressure will not save you. Tax breaks will not save you. The love of Mr. Right will not save you. A traditional priest will not save you. A progressive priest will not save you. This pope will not save you. A different pope will not save you.

If there’s any heresy the internet encourages, it’s the passionate conviction that “all we need is….” All we need is a Republican president or a more compassionate bishop or a baby who sleeps through the night or a diet that actually works or a higher minimum wage or better paternity leave or free reign to go after ISIS or a new iPhone or a good harvest and then we’ll be happy.

No. All you need is Jesus.

We all seem to know, Christian or not, that we’re in desperate need of a savior. Every four years, we find that savior in a political candidate, appalling as he or she may be. In between, our savior might be an ecclesial movement or a dear friend or a cup of coffee. They’re not bad things until they’re everything and then they’re idols just as much as any golden calf or statue of Bel.

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It’s not just politics, of course. We look to money and love and fame and comfort to save us just as much as we do to our political leaders—more. We make them our gods, confident that what we need is a raise or a faithful spouse or a vacation or more reliable internet provider and then we’ll be okay.

Those things might be nice. Or they might be bricks building up into a wall of self-sufficiency, good things that blind us to our need for a savior. And without making a single deal with the devil or even skipping a single Mass we suffer the loss of our souls because we have installed created things in the place set aside for the creator.

Looking for our savior in all the wrong places

Statolatry, Idolatry

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Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

[A]ny visit to an awesome commercial center, teeming with life and full of human diversity, would be palliative. Or maybe it is a visit to a superstore to observe the products, the service, energy, the benevolence, of the commercial space. We can meet people, encounter their humanity, revel in the beauty and bounty of human life. Or it could be your local watering hole with its diverse cast of characters and complicated lives that elude political characterization.

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In this extremely strange election year, escaping the roiling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life.

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The message that politics beats into our heads hourly is that your neighbor might be your enemy, and that the realization of your values requires the crushing of someone else’s.

That’s a terrible model of human engagement to accept as the only reality.

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What if the whole of life worked like the political sector? It would be unrelenting misery, with no escape, ever. As it is, this is not the case. We should be thankful for it, and remember that the thing that makes life wonderful, beautiful, and loving is not crushing your enemy with a political weapon but rather the gains that come from turning would-be enemies into friends in an environment of freedom.

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A slogan passed around some years ago in academic circles was that “the personal is the political.” That sounds like hell on earth. The slogan should be flipped and serve as a warning to all of us: whatever you politicize will eventually invade your personal life. We should not allow this to happen. The less that life is mediated by political institutions, the more the spontaneous and value-creating impulses in our nature come to the fore.

Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

Many of us seem to have made an idol of politics.

Ozymandias and Statolatry

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2016, How Strange

I cannot tell gentle reader how shocked (shocked!) I am to learn that Donald Trump talks dirty in private; or that Hillary Clinton says one thing to small paying audiences in Wall Street, and quite another to big audiences across the USA. This changes everything. It revolves my commitments 360 degrees. From a position of condemning both candidates, I come out giving my support to neither. Or perhaps the turn was only 359; for the shrieking hypocrisy of the international media, and the whole political class, has possibly moved me one point closer to Trump. It is hard to pick out, however, one-sixth of a second on the dial of a small watch.

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How incomprehensibly strange is this world; how large, in the passing of trivial events. In thanksgiving for the peace that passeth all understanding, let us whisper deep to deep.

How strange

Clerisy. Ozymandias

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Hoarding, Scrupulosity, and Detachment

To hoarders, belongings are physical anchors in a stormy world. Hoarders might otherwise lead functional lives, but according to experts who spoke at the conference, many derive security from having their keepsakes always in view.

“People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially, instead of categorically like the rest of us do,” said Randy Frost, a psychologist and co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, in an interview with Fresh Air. They sort things by location, rather than importance. When he asked one hoarder where her electric bill was, she responded “on the left side of the pile, about a foot down.”

Far from being dirty or disgusting, hoarders might actually be too careful. A common manifestation of OCD is scrupulosity, or an extreme fear of wrongdoing. For example, a highly religious person with OCD might have a fleeting, blasphemous thought one day—”What if God is actually terrible?”—and obsess for days about what thinking it means.

Hoarding in the Time of Marie Kondo

[M]y moderately smug disdain is directed at the writers and “experts” who breathlessly report and analyze these trends—especially when, as is the case in the New York magazine piece, consumerism is highlighted as a contributing vice. “Ours is a spendy culture,” one subheading announces with vague judgmentalism while surrounded by ads for Tiffany and Burberry. “It’s expected that as you earn more, your lifestyle should swell accordingly . . . . If you can’t Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat your material progress, it might as well not exist.”

My question is: Why on earth would we expect anything different? Our culture gives us no compelling reason to resist the allure of conspicuous consumption. We have gutted society of any institutional recognition of, let alone support for, traditional virtues, and yet we vainly expect people to live virtuously. It may be impossible to improve on C.S. Lewis’s concision: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Now, the virtue I’m thinking of here is not the old-timey Puritan concept of thrift. Thrift can certainly be virtuous, but it can also emerge just as much from a preoccupation with wealth as conspicuous consumption does—a preoccupation with economic status in the future rather than the present. It’s an idea that is easily co-opted by a secular culture where class is considered a reasonable proxy for moral worthiness.

I’m thinking instead of the relatively unknown and little understood virtue of detachment. We shouldn’t be too surprised that detachment has been largely forgotten; more than almost any other virtue, it relies for its coherence on the public recognition of the divine that secularism has systematically purged from our society. Detachment from worldly goods and concerns only makes sense if there’s another world to which we owe our loyalty.

Perhaps the most well-known description of detachment comes from Jesus himself in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Secularism solves this dilemma elegantly by erasing God. Only mammon remains.

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We’ve gutted all the social and spiritual foundations of a healthy relationship with worldly goods, and there’s nothing our hordes of life coaches and inspiration mongers and financial therapists can do to replace them. It’s foolish and even a little cruel to expect a society of slaves to mammon to resist their master.

Why the Rich Can’t Save Money

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No Regulation Without Representation

When law in America can be made by executive “pen and phone” alone — indeed, by a White House press release — we’re faced starkly with a fundamental constitutional question: Is administrative law unlawful? Answering in the affirmative in this far-reaching, erudite new treatise, Philip Hamburger traces resistance to rule by administrative edict from the Middle Ages to the present. Far from a novel response to modern society and its complexities, executive prerogative has deep roots. It was beaten back by English constitutional ideas in the 17th century and even more decisively by American constitutions in the 18th century, but it reemerged during the Progressive Era and has grown ever since, regardless of the party in power.

Is Administrative Law Unlawful?

In this nation, we have a problem where Congress no longer represents the people. Because our representatives are more concerned about re-election, they have abrogated their authority to an unelected bureaucracy that passes rules We the People have no say over but that have a real effect on our daily lives. When we complain to Congress about these regulations, our representatives can play the good cop and claim they agree with us but there is nothing they can do because regulations are passed by the bad cop, bureaucracy.

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It is time for We the People to stand up and let our voices be heard. No longer can our elected representatives allow an unelected bureaucracy do the job they were elected to do. We live in a republic, which means We the People are entitled to have our representatives vote on the laws that affect our lives.

The new slogan for this movement should be “No regulation without representation.” While some are pushing for a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to have a say in the regulation process, this effort should be extended to all 50 states. Each state should not allow its bureaucracy to pass rules absent the consent of the state legislature.

No Regulation Without Representation

Farewell to the Administrative State?

Is Administrative Law Unlawful?” by Philip Hamburger


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Mrs. Clinton

Mrs. Clinton’s nomination will have a similarly negligible effect on the lives of American women. It isn’t exactly a Muppet News Flash that women can run for high office in these United States: You can be Sarah Palin and be on a major-party ticket and be called a “c**t” by all the nice people who will be urging you to vote for Mrs. Clinton as a show of solidarity with women. You can be a woman and do a hell of a lot better job running PepsiCo than Mrs. Clinton did running the State Department. You can be a woman and be seriously considered for the Republican nomination in spite of a slightly short political curriculum vitae. You can be a woman and be a Marine.

If your daughter didn’t already know that she could grow up and make of her life whatever her dreams and abilities allow, and learned otherwise only upon seeing a dreadful politician take the next step in her dreadful career, that isn’t a failure of a patriarchal society. You’re just a bad father.

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If you think Mrs. Clinton “cares about women,” ask Juanita Broaddrick or Gennifer Flowers.

Making hay out of ‘making history’


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