Are Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos the new feudal elite? Anand Giridharadas talks to INET President Rob Johnson about how the titans of Silicon Valley use “philanthropy” to control more of our lives.
The president wants African Americans to kiss his ring.
Are Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos the new feudal elite?
Anand Giridharadas talks to INET President Rob Johnson about how the titans of Silicon Valley use “philanthropy” to control more of our lives.
And so I snarked on Twitter that “the porn-y side of Game of Thrones helps keeps liberals deluded about why they like the show,” letting them tell themselves, “Oh, I like it because it’s deconstructing this patriarchal pre-modern world and showing how it’s sex and power all the way down.” But not so, liberals: “You like it because it lets you escape the flat dreariness of liberalism for a little while. Because deep down you want a king or queen.”
.. I think that dystopian exaggeration is in fact key to the show’s appeal to liberals in many ways. It lets you fantasize about the negation of your principles while simultaneously confirming their rightness. GoT presents a vision of a world in which illiberal instincts can be freely indulged, in which the id is constrained only by physical power. All the violent, nasty stuff liberal society (thankfully) won’t let us do, but that’s still seething in our lizard brains, gets acted out. And not just acted out — violence and brutality are the organizing principles on which the world is based.
.. the show chides you for harboring the very fantasies it helps you gratify. It wallows in their destructive consequences — makes that wallowing, in fact, simultaneous with the fulfillment of the fantasies. Will to power leads to suffering and chaos, which lead to more opportunities for the will to power to be acted upon, etc. This is a vastly more complex and interesting emotional appeal than “people secretly want kings.”
.. These shows invite liberal viewers into various illiberal or pre-liberal or just, I suppose, red-state worlds, which are more violent and sexist and id-driven than polite prestige-TV-viewing liberal society, and which offer viewers the kind of escapism that Phillips describes … in which there is a temporary attraction to being a mobster or hanging out with glamorous chainsmoking ’50s admen or leaving your put-upon suburban life behind and becoming Heisenberg the drug lord.
.. But then ultimately because these worlds are clearly wicked, dystopic or just reactionary white-male-bastions you can return in relief to the end of history, making Phillips’ “reconciliation with the existing order” after sojourning for a while in a more inegalitarian or will-to-power world.
.. But what the shows properly understood are doing isn’t a celebration of illiberalism; it’s an exploration of its attractions that ultimately confirms the liberal world and all its norms.
.. fundamentally “The Sopranos” was a story without any heroes, a tragedy in which the only moral compass (uncertain as Dr. Melfi’s arrow sometimes was) was supplied by an outsider
.. fantasy from Tolkien to the present (in both its fictional forms and role-playing varietals) partakes by its nature of romantic and reactionary themes, often scratching the same anti-modern itch as certain forms of far-right and New Age lefty politics — and perhaps the same monarchical itch as certain forms of Macron-esque centrism as well.
.. it’s a world in which the fabric of a feudal society gets rent and you root for a very particular set of noble families to regain their rightful place and help weave it back together
.. whatever their politics in this world, both the show’s bad fans and its good fans are rooting a queen or for a king.
Postmodernism presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself. That may sound like a bold or even hyperbolic claim, but the reality is that the cluster of ideas and values at the root of postmodernism have broken the bounds of academia and gained great cultural power in western society. The irrational and identitarian “symptoms” of postmodernism are easily recognizable and much criticized, but the ethos underlying them is not well understood. This is partly because postmodernists rarely explain themselves clearly and partly because of the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of a way of thought which denies a stable reality or reliable knowledge to exist.
.. They underlie the problems we see today in Social Justice Activism, undermine the credibility of the Left and threaten to return us to an irrational and tribal “pre-modern” culture.
.. It drew on avant-garde and surrealist art and earlier philosophical ideas, particularly those of Nietzsche and Heidegger
.. Above all, postmodernists attacked science and its goal of attaining objective knowledge about a reality which exists independently of human perceptions which they saw as merely another form of constructed ideology dominated by bourgeois, western assumptions
.. The modern era is the period of history which saw Renaissance Humanism, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the development of liberal values and human rights; the period when Western societies gradually came to value reason and science over faith and superstition as routes to knowledge, and developed a concept of the person as an individual member of the human race deserving of rights and freedoms rather than as part of various collectives subject to rigid hierarchical roles in society.
.. the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy denies this and says “Rather, its differences lie within modernity itself, and postmodernism is a continuation of modern thinking in another mode
.. If we see the essence of modernity as the development of science and reason as well as humanism and universal liberalism, postmodernists are opposed to it.
.. If we see modernity as the tearing down of structures of power including feudalism, the Church, patriarchy, and Empire, postmodernists are attempting to continue it,
but their targets are now science, reason, humanism and liberalism.
.. postmodernism are inherently political and revolutionary, albeit in a destructive or, as they would term it, deconstructive way.
.. He defined the postmodern condition as “an incredulity towards metanarratives.” A metanarrative is a wide-ranging and cohesive explanation for large phenomena. Religions and other totalizing ideologies are metanarratives in their attempts to explain the meaning of life or all of society’s ills.
.. For Foucault, discourses control what can be “known” and in different periods and places, different systems of institutional power control discourses.
.. “The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.” He leaves almost no room for individual agency or autonomy.
.. He presents medieval feudalism and modern liberal democracy as equally oppressive, and advocates criticizing and attacking institutions to unmask the “political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them.”
.. shared humanity and individuality are almost entirely absent. Instead, people are constructed by their position in relation to dominant cultural ideas either as oppressors or oppressed.
.. We see too the equation of language with violence and coercion and the equation of reason and universal liberalism with oppression.
.. Derrida’s best-known pronouncement “There is no outside-text” relates to his rejection of the idea that words refer to anything straightforwardly. Rather, “there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring.” 
.. Therefore the author of a text is not the authority on its meaning. The reader or listener makes their own equally valid meaning
.. Man” is positive and ‘woman’ negative. “Occident” is positive and “Orient” negative. He insisted that “We are not dealing with the peaceful co-existence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy.
.. Deconstruction, therefore, involves inverting these perceived hierarchies, making “woman” and “Orient” positive and “man” and “Occident” negative. This is to be done ironically to reveal the culturally constructed and arbitrary nature of these perceived oppositions in unequal conflict.
.. We see in Derrida further relativity, both cultural and epistemic, and further justification for identity politics.
.. There is an explicit denial that differences can be other than oppositional and therefore a rejection of Enlightenment liberalism’s values of overcoming differences and focusing on universal human rights and individual freedom and empowerment.
.. The intention of the speaker is irrelevant. What matters is the impact of speech. This, along with Foucauldian ideas, underlies the current belief in the deeply damaging nature of “microaggressions” and misuse of terminology related to gender, race or sexuality.
.. intense sensitivity to language on the level of the word and a feeling that what the speaker means is less important than how it is received, no matter how radical the interpretation.
.. Morality is culturally relative, as is reality itself.
.. Empirical evidence is suspect and so are any culturally dominant ideas including science, reason, and universal liberalism. These are Enlightenment values which are naïve, totalizing and oppressive, and there is a moral necessity to smash them. Far more important is the lived experience, narratives and beliefs of “marginalized” groups all of which are equally “true” but must now be privileged over Enlightenment values to reverse an oppressive
.. we are at a unique point in history where the status quo is fairly consistently liberal, with a liberalism that upholds the values of freedom, equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race and sexuality. The result is confusion in which life-long liberals wishing to conserve this kind of liberal status quo find themselves considered conservative and those wishing to avoid conservatism at all costs find themselves defending irrationalism and illiberalism.
.. Whilst the first postmodernists mostly challenged discourse with discourse, the activists motivated by their ideas are becoming more authoritarian and following those ideas to their logical conclusion. Freedom of speech is under threat because speech is now dangerous. So dangerous that people considering themselves liberal can now justify responding to it with violence. The need to argue a case persuasively using reasoned argument is now often replaced with references to identity and pure rage.
.. one wonders why Derrida bothered to explain the infinite malleability of texts at such length if I could read his entire body of work and claim it to be a story about bunny rabbits with the same degree of authority.
.. If I judge that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles, can you show precisely how it is that my gender, historical and spatial location, class, ethnicity, etc., undermine the objectivity of this judgement?”
.. “When I had occasion to ask her whether or not it was a fact that giraffes are taller than ants, she replied that it was not a fact, but rather an article of religious faith in our culture.”
.. There is something very odd indeed in the belief that in looking, say, for causal laws or a unified theory, or in asking whether atoms really do obey the laws of quantum mechanics, the activities of scientists are somehow inherently ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Eurocentric’ or ‘masculinist’, or even ‘militarist.’”
.. Despite this, science as a methodology is not going anywhere. It cannot be “adapted” to include epistemic relativity and “alternative ways of knowing.”
.. The social sciences and humanities, however, are in danger of changing out of all recognition.
.. Empirical historians are often criticized by the postmodernists among us for claiming to know what really happened in the past
.. Christopher Butler recalls Diane Purkiss’ accusation that Keith Thomas was enabling a myth that grounded men’s historical identity in “the powerlessness and speechlessness of women” when he provided evidence that accused witches were usually powerless beggar women. Presumably, he should have claimed, against the evidence, that they were wealthy women or better still, men.
.. Shakespeare’s audience’s would not have found Desdemona’s attraction to Black Othello, who was Christian and a soldier for Venice, so difficult to understand because prejudice against skin color did not become prevalent until a little later in the seventeenth century when the Atlantic Slave Trade gained steam
.. Postmodernist thought sees the culture as containing a number of perpetually competing stories, whose effectiveness depends not so much on an appeal to an independent standard of judgement, as upon their appeal to the communities in which they circulate.”
.. the far-Right is now using identity politics and epistemic relativism in a very similar way to the postmodern-Left.
.. sections of academia and of the left have in recent decades helped create a culture in which relativized views of facts and knowledge seem untroubling, and hence made it easier for the reactionary right not just to re-appropriate but also to promote reactionary ideas.”
.. making itself harder for reasonable people to support.
.. we need to out-discourse the postmodern-Left. We need to meet their oppositions, divisions and hierarchies with universal principles of freedom, equality and justice.
.. We must address concerns about immigration, globalism and authoritarian identity politics currently empowering the far- Right rather than calling people who express them “racist,” “sexist” or “homophobic” and accusing them of wanting to commit verbal violence. We can do this whilst continuing to oppose authoritarian factions of the Right who genuinely are racist, sexist and homophobic,
The battle between the U.S. and the Confederacy affected global trade in astonishing ways
.. It took just a couple of weeks after the outbreak of hostilities in South Carolina for farmers the world over to realize the scope of the bounty that had landed in their lap. Agricultural laborers from Australia and India to the West Indies ditched wheat and other food staples and hastily planted up their fields with cotton. Prices had risen by up to 150 percent. As soon as it became clear that England wouldn’t enter the war as allies of the Confederacy, many farmers doubled down and gave over every scrap of their acreage to this enriching crop.
.. In 1861, Egypt had only exported 600,000 cantars of cotton (a traditional measurement equal to about 100 pounds), but by 1863 it had more than doubled this to almost 1.3 million cantars, the New York Times reported at the time. By the end of the 19th century, Egypt derived 93 percent of its export revenues from cotton, which had also become “the major source of income for almost every proprietor in the Delta,”
.. For just as the expansion in the trafficking of slaves to the southern United States is often explained in part by the pick up in cotton production, so too the arrival of this tremendously labor intensive crop in Egypt led to the introduction of a variation of the feudal system. Farmers who had previously spent much of their time planting land that was for all intents and purposes theirs, now found themselves pressed into work on large estates. Where once poorer townspeople had had access to cheap produce, soon they discovered that the cultivation of cotton at the expense of food meant much higher prices for fruits and vegetables.
.. Ismail was so intent on building up cotton infrastructure and transforming Cairo into a ‘Paris on the Nile’ that he encouraged the “establishment of banks like the Anglo-Egyptian from which he might borrow heavily in return for certain favors,” writes Owen. Very soon he’d built up such big debts to mostly British and French creditors that he couldn’t hope to ever pay them back. Additionally, the end of the American Civil War in 1865 led to a steep fall in global cotton prices as the U.S. crop came back on the market and proved particularly damaging for Egypt. It created a sharp budget deficit and ultimately a declaration of national bankruptcy a decade later
.. “I think you can say that the American Civil War – and the effects on cotton – made the British change their policy towards Egypt,” says Mohamed Awad, director of the Alexandria & Mediterranean Research Center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. “Indirectly it was one of the main reasons for the occupation of Egypt.”
.. But the stellar reputation of Egyptian cotton still holds, even though in the United States, linen manufacturers can use the name on products with just five percent of the Egyptian crop.