intellectuals and influencers

Both the public intellectual and the public influencer play an instrumental role in shaping cultural ideals and tying them to the individual’s sense of self. When the public intellectual was ascendant, cultural ideals revolved around the public good. Today, they revolve around the consumer good. The idea that the self emerges from the construction of a set of values and beliefs has faded. What the public influencer understands more sharply than most is that the path of self-definition now winds through the aisles of a cultural supermarket. We shop for our identity as we shop for our toothpaste, choosing from a wide selection of readymade products. The influencer displays the wares and links us to the purchase, always with the understanding that returns and exchanges will be easy and free.

This from Nick Carr is short and sharp and smart. Please read the whole thing, especially the last paragraph, which ends on a zinger. (I feel zinged, anyway.) Nick’s post is a useful contribution to the understanding of what I’ve been calling metaphysical capitalism, which is the transformation of the commodified self into a religion.

Also, this gives me the opportunity to answer a question some people have been asking me: What exactly is the narrative promoted by the reporting of New York Times that I dislike so much? The short answer is: metaphysical capitalism. For the reporters on the Times, those who tell me that “I am my own” are on the side of the angels, while those who cast doubt on that proposition are to be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Thus genuinely Left movements get only marginally better treatment in the Times than religious conservatives.) That is the primary means by which Times reporters evaluate everything from political candidates to religious organizations to movies and books. There is not even the slightest attempt in those pages to be fair to people who question self-ownership, for what fellowship has light with darkness?