Followup: Materialism vs Purposeful Life

Crony Capitalism - Prager U

Crony Capitalism – Prager U

Thanks to Instapundit for the link to yesterday’s post, Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin. I want to expand on some parts and add some new links for completeness.

First, “Lie Swarms,” which discusses how the atomization of media has created copied and mutated lies which swarm the victim from so many directions that the repetition establishes truth for many news consumers:

Spengler said that the attacks on Bannon are an example of the Big Lie. I take issue with that. What we are seeing with Bannon, and have seen and are seeing with Trump, is something different: it is the Lie Swarm.

The Big Lie is an effective propaganda tactic in a centralized, vertical media system dominated by a small number–and in totalitarian systems, basically one–of information channels. Radio or television with a small number of national stations either directly controlled by the state, or subject to substantial state pressure (e.g., the US in the days of the Fairness Doctrine). To oversimplify only a little: one message, one medium.

In the modern fractured information environment, with a proliferation of outlets and social media that allows free access to millions, coordinating on a single message is far more difficult in such a diffuse and fragmented system. But this technology is perfectly suited for unleashing a swarm of half-truths and lies that forms what can best be described as an emergent order. It is not consciously designed by anyone, but without central coordination design it does exhibit order and synergistic behaviors.

One swarm tactic that is becoming increasingly common is Six Degrees of Hitler/Putin/The KKK/etc. Target A has some connection to B who has some connection to C who has a connection with D who said something that could be interpreted as being vaguely fascist . . . so Hitler!

In some respects, it is harder to fight the Lie Swarm than it is the Big Lie in a society where there the media is not rigidly controlled. A single lie can be rebutted if the target of the lie has the ability to make the case and the access to enough eyeballs and ears to do so. It is almost impossible to swat every lie in the swarm, especially since the lies change and mutate from day to day, and since whenever you are in a position of rebutting a lie you tend to draw attention to it. But unrebutted lies are often as treated as facts, so if you don’t kill them all some damage is done.

Bannon, and especially Trump, are primary targets of the Lie Swarm, especially since Trump had the temerity to actually prevail in the election. Don’t get me wrong–there is much about Trump to criticize. But there has been a kind of Gresham’s Law at work here: the bad criticism has driven out the good. Screeching “racist!” “Anti-Semite!” “Fascist!” on the basis of the most twisted and biased interpretation of the flimsiest evidence has overwhelmed substantive argument.

And the Swarm really hasn’t figured out that their attack will do little to get Trump supporters to change their minds. If anything, it will do the opposite, because the “deplorables” know that they are being attacked and smeared as much as Bannon and Trump. Furthermore, the Swarm seems hell-bent on living out Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Hillary’s whole campaign was based on personal attacks on Trump and his supporters, and she enlisted the Swarm in this endeavor.

And it backfired stupendously. Why should they expect that doubling down on it will work any better?

Behind-the-scenes coordination a la Journolist isn’t even required. The clickbait factories read each other’s output and copy the talking points almost immediately, so a Huff Post article is usually just a simplified and more hysterical version of Daily Beast, which in turn comes from a WaPo writer. See the hype progression on today’s news:

WaPo: Trump picks Sessions for attorney general, Pompeo for CIA. Sen. Jeff Sessions is known for his hard-line views on immigration.

Daily Beast: Donald Trump Puts the White Back in White House, Taps Jeff Sessions For Attorney General. With Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s early picks suggest he’s doubling down on his ugliest instincts.

HuffPo: DARK AGE A.G. – Civil Rights Groups Condemn Sessions… An ‘Extreme Anti-Immigrant’ Voice… Will ‘Erase 50 Years Of Progress’… Warren: Senate Has ‘Moral’ Obligation To Nix Nomination… FLASHBACK: Too Racist To Be a Judge… Said The Only Issue With KKK Is Their Drug Use… Suggested White Lawyer With Black Clients Was A Race Traitor… Denounced Civil Rights Groups: ‘Un-American’…

We’ve always had yellow journalism, but the clickbait farms are influencing the mainstream sites, making them compete to be more alarmist.

More thoughts on the forms of capitalism and the two forms Steve Bannon decried at the 2014 conference:

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

He correctly calls out crony capitalism, and the fascist capitalism you see in China and Russia to a great extent today, where enterprise is heavily controlled by the state and the corrupt entanglements enrich the connected in both state and enterprise. There’s way too much of that in Obama’s America as well.

His mention of Ayn Rand and Objectivism is interesting. Ms. Rand’s followers have tended to the cultish, with a romantic emphasis that is anachronistic sixty years after she wrote her seminal works. While explicitly atheist, Rand replaced the element of religious purpose with the aggrandizement of the creative individual. As Bannon says, in a time of collectivist thought-police expropriating the fruits of labor and denying any individual credit for achievement (“You didn’t build that,”) her creed can be very attractive to the young rebelling against stifling conformity.

What’s left out of Ayn Rand’s heroic vision is room for the personal altruism of the family and friendship. She railed against mindless altruism and self-sacrifice, but that was aimed at those who glorify sacrifice to the state and abstract others like “public opinion.” She had built her heroes without dependents or those boring long-term attachments that aren’t glamorous or transgressive, so the real underlying motivation for most people, making a better life for not only themselves but their children, family, and friends, was left out. Attachments would have spoiled her superhuman heroes and heroines, and her villains were often relatives — social-climbing wives, clingy brothers and the like.

Libertarian-ish thinking today has evolved to include more nuance and understanding of economics, game theory, and evolutionary psychology. While there is a definite “drive to create” that motivates many artists and business founders, the more important drives are for status (for the esteem of others and attracting better mates) and the obvious fulfillment of basic needs for food, shelter, and security for oneself and attached others.

Capitalism works best conducted in a neutral setting with a predictable legal backing. It is also dependent on trust — the willingness to put some money or effort out despite the risk that the supplier you are contracting with will stiff you or turn in shoddy work. You trust initially because your commitment is small and you’ve checked out the reputation of the supplier, and you trust more later after completing numerous satisfactory transactions with that supplier. You share your good experience with others despite the fact your supplier may gain new customers and raise prices or have less capacity to do your work, because you are also building a reputation and credit for being a good cooperator. This trust is what really makes capitalism efficient and more capable of producing what is satisfactory for others than any other system.

So community on small and large scales is necessary to success. This isn’t “You didn’t build that,” which is intended to imply that government supplied you with the environment critical to your success; the legal system, the roads, the communications nets, and your network of suppliers all use the framework of law and government in the background, but it was the private elements that created the trust and incentives to produce. Law and government are necessary as backstops, but not sufficient, and no one who is productive owes the proceeds of their success to government. Taxes to pay for government need to be neutral, too: extracted as much as possible in proportion to services demanded, kept as low as possible to provide those critical services.

The Pope’s view of capitalism is colored by his Argentinian background; Argentina has been in the grips of crony capitalist-fascist demagogues for decades. But the notion that values are critical to capitalist functioning is reasonable; no business does well to neglect the health and security of its customers and employees, and individual transactions are about more than money and goods exchanged.

Materialism forgets about the human background, and its various flavors are damaging in different ways. Communism purports to replace the profit element and private ownership with central planning and state ownership, which destroys the incentives that make society run. Democratic socialism similarly reduces the rewards of effort and transfers to strangers the fruit of one’s effort, which weakens the strength of community bonds as the state replaces voluntary association. These flawed ideas are based on redistribution of material goods as if they were far more important than human relationships of cooperation and reliance which are critical to happiness and productivity.

Ayn Rand’s ideal society has never been tried, for the obvious reason that human beings are almost never like her characters. It is probably best to view her work as intended to counter the collectivist central planners of her youth in the USSR and later in America; she emulated the romantic socialist propaganda but to promote individualism, which was denigrated at the time. Her vision lacked the bonds between people that make them more than homo economicus, the model of man as cold calculator of transactional benefit.

So Bannon has a point here, even if he oversimplifies the views of today’s libertarian thinkers. Some overarching purpose to life and work is required to make an economy grow, and the Obama era’s stifling correctness and overregulation has been sapping the will to open new businesses and to invest in new employees. Vanquishing religious thought damages the motivation of those who rely on it, and some of the other streams of purpose — emphasis on competition and production — have been deprecated in favor of inclusion and identity politics in staffing (see my book Death by HR below.)

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more reading goodness:

Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin
Sekrit Reform Agenda: Untangling Government: Medical Deregulation
No More Elections or Campaigns: Liquid Democracy
“Death by HR” – High Tech Threatened by Social Justice Activists

Crony Capitalism - Prager U

Crony Capitalism – Prager U

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