Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: capitalism (page 1 of 1)

two quotations on corporations

Charlie Stross (2010):

Corporations do not share our priorities. They are hive organisms constructed out of teeming workers who join or leave the collective: those who participate within it subordinate their goals to that of the collective, which pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance. (The sources of pain a corporate organism seeks to avoid are lawsuits, prosecution, and a drop in shareholder value.)

Corporations have a mean life expectancy of around 30 years, but are potentially immortal; they live only in the present, having little regard for past or (thanks to short term accounting regulations) the deep future: and they generally exhibit a sociopathic lack of empathy. […] 

We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don’t bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.

In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

James Bridle (2022)

In the last few years, I have given talks at conferences and spoken on panels about the social impacts of new technology, and as a result I am sometimes asked when ‘real’ AI will arrive – meaning the era of super-intelligent machines, capable of transcending human abilities and superseding us. When this happens, I often answer: it’s already here. It’s corporations. This usually gets an uncertain half-laugh, so I explain further. We tend to imagine AI as embodied in something like a robot, or a computer, but it can really be instantiated as anything. Imagine a system with clearly defined goals, sensors and effectors for reading and interacting with the world, the ability to recognize pleasure and pain as attractors and things to avoid, the resources to carry out its will, and the legal and social standing to see that its needs are catered for, even respected. That’s a description of an AI – it’s also a description of a modern corporation…. Corporate speech is protected, corporate personhood recognized, and corporate desires are given freedom, legitimacy and sometimes violent force by international trade laws, state regulation – or lack thereof – and the norms and expectations of capitalist society. Corporations mostly use humans as their sensors and effectors; they also employ logistics and communications networks, arbitrage labour and financial markets, and recalculate the value of locations, rewards and incentives based on shifting input and context. Crucially, they lack empathy, or loyalty, and they are hard – although not impossible – to kill.

markets and economies

David L. Bahnsen:

[Rusty] Reno’s ongoing mistakes are derived from his first mistake — the straw-man claim that market orthodoxy seeks to value everything solely on market principles. This simply is not true. A rigorous defense of the price mechanism in how goods and services are transacted does not require any such framework for how we understand truth, beauty, goodness, and love. Believing in the transcendent things and believing in them with the depth and breadth that moral enlightenment and spiritual nourishment provide makes us better market actors. That Reno and I are living in a time where the clear and unmistakable maladies of culture are evidenced in the marketplace does not make the forum for our observation the cause of what we observe. I know it is frustrating, unsatisfying, and in many cases, unacceptable, but the moral deterioration of society evidenced in various aspects of our marketplace are the fruits of idolatry, low regard for family, disdain for neighbor, and a general abandonment of Ten Commandments ethics. Markets cannot assure regard for neighbor or beauty, but a disdain for markets can assure us of impoverished conditions for our neighbors and a limited landscape for the creation of beauty. 

Bahnsen makes a point worth considering here but my general position with regard to markets is closer to Reno’s. (My general position as opposed to my specific policy preferences, which are very far from Reno’s.)

Bahnsen makes a distinction between culture and markets that’s simply not sustainable. Markets are part of culture — i.e. they’re among the things that human beings collectively do — and we have plenty of evidence that the people who are most determined to make money in the markets tend also to exploit the weaknesses of the other parts of culture for their gain. That is, market thinking is like kudzu: a powerfully invasive species that can conquer an entire ecosystem if it is not forcibly restrained. The logic of markets always wants to extend its reach into sphere of culture in which it does not belong, and its spread should be closely observed and resisted. 

As Augustine taught us long ago, we live in a single culture governed by what Wendell Berry calls two economies in tension with one another. (Perhaps some readers will know what I mean if I say that we live in a space like the one doubly occupied by Besźel and Ul Qoma. Which reminds me that I need to write something about that fascinating book.) At least some degree and kind of sphere sovereignty is suggested by Jesus’s instruction that we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. The problem is that capitalist kudzu doesn’t respect such distinctions, which is how we get surveillance capitalism and, ultimately, metaphysical capitalism. (See the tags at the end of this post.) 

The market is not something other than culture; it is an element of culture that wants to become the whole thing, as kudzu wants to spread and as water wants to run downslope. If a culture is going to thrive this tendency must be resisted, and such resistance requires constant vigilance and political imagination — both of which are in very short supply.  

P.S. The whole matter of alternative (and possibly irreconcilable) economics is central to thinking wisely about out cultural moment. In addition to the link above to Wendell Berry on the “two economies,” see also: 

UPDATE: “So what lessons, if any, remain from Polanyi for us today? At the broadest level of his argument, the recognition that there is no bright-line division between the economy and society continues to be an important, if still underrecognized point. Recognizing it explicitly would improve policy discussions all around.” 

Paul Kingsnorth:

Why would transnational capital be parroting slogans drawn from a leftist framework which claims to be anti-capitalist? Why would the middle classes be further to the “Left” than the workers? If the Left was what it claims to be — a bottom-up movement for popular justice — this would not be the case. If capitalism was what it is assumed to be — a rapacious, non-ideological engine of profit-maximisation — then this would not be the case either.

But what if both of them were something else? What if the ideology of the corporate world and the ideology of the “progressive” Left had not forged an inexplicable marriage of convenience, but had grown all along from the same rootstock? What if the Left and global capitalism are, at base, the same thing: engines for destroying customary ways of living and replacing them with the globalised, universalist, technological matrix that is currently rising around us? […] 

The post-modern Left, which has seized the heights of so much of Western culture, is not some radical threat to the establishment: it is the establishment. Progressive leftism is market liberalism by other means. The Left and corporate capitalism now function like a pincer: one attacks the culture, deconstructing everything from history to “heteronormativity” to national identities; the other moves in to monetise the resulting fragments. 


A memorable moment from Dickens’s Little Dorrit:

‘May I inquire how I can obtain official information as to the real state of the case?’

‘It is competent,’ said Mr Barnacle, ‘to any member of the — Public,’ mentioning that obscure body with reluctance, as his natural enemy, ‘to memorialise the Circumlocution Department. Such formalities as are required to be observed in so doing, may be known on application to the proper branch of that Department.’

‘Which is the proper branch?’

‘I must refer you,’ returned Mr Barnacle, ringing the bell, ‘to the Department itself for a formal answer to that inquiry.’

‘Excuse my mentioning — ’

‘The Department is accessible to the — Public,’ Mr Barnacle was always checked a little by that word of impertinent signification, ‘if the — Public approaches it according to the official forms; if the — Public does not approach it according to the official forms, the — Public has itself to blame.’

One can discover the proper branch of the Circumlocution Department to address one’s inquiries if one goes to the Circumlocution Department and asks. Assuming, of course, that one addresses that inquiry to its proper branch.

Recently I had a medical problem that needed attention, and so — naturally enough, one might think — called the clinic that handles my primary care. I was (a) told by a robotic voice that I was caller 17, that is, that they would get to me only after they had handled the inquiries of sixteen other people, and (b) asked by a different voice whether I knew that I could make an appointment online.

I hung up and got online, where I requested an appointment. Several days of silence ensued, at the end of which I got a message telling me that if I wanted an appointment I needed to call the office. I did, and heard a robotic voice telling me that I was caller 23….

Two weeks later, I discovered that a member of my family, who has a serious medical condition, was told at the doctor’s office that she had no health insurance. I called the Benefits department of Baylor’s Human Resources — though later I discovered that I was not talking to another Baylor employee, but rather to a representative of a company to whom Baylor has farmed out such responsibilities — and was told that I could not be helped over the phone, no matter how urgent the situation, but had to submit a request for clarification (and, ultimately, coverage) to a particular email address.

I dutifully took down the email address and sent my inquiry. The email address did not exist.

I called back, got from a different person a different email address. That address too did not exist.

I went online to the company’s website and found a chatbot that gave me a third email address. This one worked. Indeed, within seconds I got a reply email telling me that if I had an urgent request I should call at a particular number — the number I had originally called.

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get our insurance to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Charlie Eaton:

Between 1980 and 2016, the wealthiest 1 percent of university endowments had already grown tenfold — from an average of $2 billion to $20 billion, after adjusting for inflation. Harvard University, Yale and Princeton University did this by averaging annual return rates nearly double those of endowments valued below $100 million, as are those of most investment funds for public, private and community colleges. Similarly, this year’s median endowment among all schools gained 27 percent, roughly half the rate for the top Ivies.

In my forthcoming book “Bankers in the Ivory Tower,” I show that elite schools grew their endowments by investing large amounts early in private equity and hedge funds led by their own alumni — which helped both the schools and their graduates.

As has often been noted, institutions like Harvard, Yale, and MIT are hedge funds that happen to have universities attached to them. “Charitable” giving to them is little different than “charitable” giving to Elon Musk. 

The Washington Post: “The metaverse, to Sweeney, would be an expansive, digitized communal space where users can mingle freely with brands and one another in ways that permit self-expression and spark joy.” Users mingling freely with brands — if that’s not Paradise Regained I don’t know what is.

judging capitalism

This post by my friend Adam Roberts is precisely right about the total disappearance of anything that might plausibly be called conservatism from the Anglo-American political scene. But of course I mainly want to argue with him, focusing on two points.

First, regarding Adam’s reading of Burke. He quotes a passage from Burke’s book on the French Revolution – “A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” – and comments that “This is more like the caricature ‘conservative’, hostile to innovation not on a case-by-case basis, but on principle.” But I don’t think that’s right. Burke is not hostile to innovation but to the spirit of innovation, which (for him) is a very different thing. It is the disposition to innovate that Burke deplores, a thoughtlessness in change, choosing the Innovate setting as the default, like Times New Roman.

After all, in the very same book Burke asserts that “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risk the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.” Innovation then is sometimes necessary because circumstances alter – as Adam notes, Burke thinks a lot about circumstances – but also because politics is just fiendishly difficult. “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity: and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs.”

Moreover, our ancestors were not perfect in wisdom. Burke never suggests otherwise! But he does insist that our ancestors “handed down” certain good things to us – else we would not be here – and that we owe them a debt for that. The past for Burke is “hallowed,” as Adam says, but in this specific sense: We are here because of it, so we ought to reflect seriously on what we have been given and not allow a “spirit of innovation” to blind us to our debts. This is really just Chesterton’s Fence avant la lettre. As Chesterton wrote in his essay “The Drift From Domesticity,”

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

Note that the destruction of the fence is not forbidden – it may be, indeed, that the fence needs to be torn down – but “the more modern type of reformer,” possessed by the spirit of innovation, is not in a position to know Yea or Nay. He is the embodiment in practical action of the attitude Mill, in On Liberty, deplores in thought: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.” Until the Modern Reformer knows why the fence is there, he has no grounds for either tearing it down or leaving it up.

Immediately after noting Burke’s comment on the spirit of innovation, Adam continues,

the biggest differences between most people in 2020 and most people in 1820 are the advantages innovation has bestowed: better technologies and agricultural knowledge so we’re all better and more cheaply clothed and better (more nutritously) and more cheaply fed; better medical knowledge and technology; and a panoply of labour-saving devices and machines have freed us — the last type of innovation has disproportionately freed women, a group in whom Burke seems, simply, uninterested — from gruelling and sometimes deadly bondage.

All fair, I would say. But how to reconcile this with something Adam writes earlier in the essay?

As a leftie what I sometimes hear is: ‘Communism is a fine idea in principle; but we tried it, in practice, and it doesn’t work.’ The thing is, and speaking ex cathedra as a Professor of 19th-century Literature and Culture, I can say: we also tried full capitalism and it absolutely does not work. We tried it in the UK from the middle of the 1700s (and especially from the New Poor Laws of the 1830s) through to the Liberal government’s introduction of welfare reforms in the early 1900s. It made a tiny fraction prodigiously wealthy and it impoverished or starved the majority.

The very period of unbridled capitalism that Adam so powerfully denounces is, strangely, the one in which the innovations he celebrates were either achieved or initiated or dramatically forwarded. And if Deirdre McCloskey is right, that era did not impoverish or starve the majority, but rather increased their well-being to an almost inconceivable degree, though at a much lesser degree than it enriched the captains of industry. Surely the real picture is far more complex than Adam suggests.

I am reminded here of a critic of the most recent form of capitalism: John Lanchester, in his book How to Speak Money. In the book’s first section, Lanchester describes the trade-off involved in adopting a neoliberal economic policy, as someone like McCloskey would see it:

In a free market system, the rich will always accumulate capital and income faster than the poor; it’s a law as basic as that of gravity. The promise of neoliberalism is that that doesn’t matter, as long as the poor are getting richer too. A rising tide lifts all boats, as the cliché has it. It lifts the rich boats quicker, but in the neoliberal scheme of things that’s not a problem. Inequality isn’t just the price you pay for rising prosperity; inequality is what makes rising prosperity possible. The increase in inequality therefore isn’t just some nasty accidental side effect of neoliberalism; it’s the motor driving the whole economic process.

Lanchester makes it clear, repeatedly, that he thinks this is a completely unsustainable philosophy. But then, near the end of the book, he poses a little thought experiment: “I’d like you to take a moment to think about what you think is humanity’s greatest collective achievement: the single best thing we have all done together.” His answer:

On 29 February 2012, the World Bank announced that the proportion of the planet’s population living in absolute poverty – less than $1.25 a day – had halved from 1990 to 2010. That rate of poverty reduction, driven by economic growth across the world from China to Ghana, is unprecedented in global history. Just imagine: in 20 years there are half as many absolutely poor people. And the success story of improvement in our collective living conditions doesn’t stop there. Consider child mortality, which for any parent is the most important number there is. (It’s pretty important for any child, too.) This has been the subject of a precipitate decline. In 1990, 12.4 million children were dying every year under the age of five. Today that number is 6.6 million. That’s obviously 6.6 million child deaths too many, but it is 16,438 fewer child deaths every day…. that’s 11 children’s lives being saved every minute. Does any other achievement in human history match that?

It’s important to note that this improvement has happened during precisely the period during which Lanchester says that the neoliberal order has “unraveled” and even “fallen apart.” So here’s my question for Lanchester: if the greatest achievement in human history has been accomplished under the reign of the neoliberal economic order, then why shouldn’t we be enthusiastic proponents of the neoliberal economic order?

In the last words of the book, Lanchester writes,

It may be that we have to settle for a world that is mainly getting richer, whose citizens are living longer, and whose richest countries are enjoying slower growth, but also a more equal, more satisfying, more mindful way of life. When people say, “it can’t go on like this,” what usually happens is that it does go on like that, more extendedly and more painfully than anyone could possibly imagine; it happens in relationships, in jobs, in entire countries. It goes way way past the point of bearability. And then things suddenly and abruptly change. I think that’s where we are today.

A world that is mainly getting richer and who citizens are living longer and healthier lives is also, somehow, at the same time, going on past the point of bearability? What’s unbearable about the world in which poverty is dramatically decreasing and child mortality dramatically declining? Lanchester goes from saying in one sentence that things are improving remarkably to saying in the next sentence that our condition is unbearable. You can see his confusion in how he begins that paragraph by suggesting that we “may have to settle” for a world more-or-less like the one we have now, but ends the paragraph by suggesting that we won’t settle and that therefore some abrupt change is coming. Which is it?

In any case, I think both Lanchester and Adam exhibit a similar contradiction in their account of what life has been like under capitalism.

As for me: I don’t like capitalism, just as I don’t like state socialism. All of my sympathies are with some version of anarcho-syndicalism, with endeavors like the Mondragon Corporation. But how am I supposed to ignore the astonishing increases in standards of living, health, life expectancy, and so on that have precisely coincided with the dominance of global capitalism? That’s not the whole story, but surely it is a big part of the story. How to factor that in without losing sight of the contributions of (for instance) social solidarity and intact and functioning families to human flourishing? That’s the question that I think both Adam and Lanchester let slip.

I think those of us – whether socialist or anarchist in orientation – who would like to see a social and economic order that eliminates plutocracy, that features more equality, that does not depredate families or fray the bonds of affection among fellow citizens, need to acknowledge that any structural moves in that direction will almost certainly impede innovation, including some very valuable innovation. A price will be paid, and, if we were to get our way, we would surely often wonder whether that price is too high.

This is why there’s no political thinker I admire more than Ursula K. Le Guin. In, for instance, The Dispossessed – about which I wrote a bit here – she shows an anarchist society in practice, and in addition to showing what’s beautiful about it she shows what doesn’t work, she shows the problems that anarchism doesn’t know how to solve, perhaps because they are insoluble. The people on Anarres would love to think that all of their problems are caused by the asperities of their environment and the selfishness of Urras, but Le Guin compassionately yet sternly reveals that that is not true. Yes, their environment and their powerful planetary neighbor limit their flourishing; but so too do their own decisions, and, at times, a social system which is powerless to alter those decisions. (A similar story could be told about the society of the Kesh in Always Coming Home.) Le Guin is a lefty anarchist and in no way a conservative, but in certain key respects her themes rhyme with Burke: “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity: and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs.”

up the Amazon

I find that life is full of lines, lines I may not even know the existence of until I cross them. There’s an annoyance, say, an annoyance I can live with until one day something happens and I can’t live with it any more. The line has been crossed. Sometimes it’s not a thick clear line; it may be as thin as a hair. But once it’s crossed it’s crossed. 

Buying from Amazon has, for many years now, made me uncomfortable, but I’ve continued to do it … until now. I have had plenty of reasons to ditch Amazon — it is obviously, and in multiple ways, a predatory and intentionally unethical company — but I could never quite resist the convenience. But when Amazon decided to memory-hole a perfectly reasonable book simply because it outrages a handful of “activists” who claim — primarily on Twitter, and quite falsely — to represent all trans people, that brought me right up to the invisible line.

And then, oddly enough, the thing that pushed me across it was the deletion of Anderson’s book from AbeBooks — which is to say, Amazon decided to prevent hundreds (thousands?) of independent used bookstores who post their inventory on AbeBooks from selling When Harry Became Sally, obviously without asking those bookstores their views on the subject. 

(By the way, I don’t think the loud activists who have enlisted Amazon to act own their behalf really want to silence people like Ryan T. Anderson. The people they desperately want to muzzle are the detransitioners Anderson cites and quotes.) 

Anyway: I won’t be buying anything else from Amazon. I have canceled Amazon Prime, and the only reason I haven’t closed my account altogether is that, as Amazon helpfully explains on this page, if I did so all of my Kindle books would disappear. (I could actually strip the DRM from my older Kindle books, the ones in the .azw3 format, but as far as I can tell no one has figured out how to strip the DRM from the newer .kfx format. The various apps and sites that claim to de-DRM Kindle books are reluctant to admit this, but it’s true. Also, I could disconnect my Kindle from the internet, which would keep Amazon from erasing it, but that’s a solution that would last only as long as the Kindle itself is functional.) So I figure that if I never give Amazon any more of my money, that is a compromise I can live with. But goodness, I wish I had never bought a Kindle. 

All this is a reminder — as if we needed another one — of how deeply implicated we all are in Big Tech. There’s a new plug-in for Chrome and Firefox called Big Tech Detective that “will alert you if the website you are on is exchanging data with Big Tech by identifying and measuring connections to internet protocol (IP) addresses owned by Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.” If you have any doubts about how much of the so-called “open web” those companies control, an hour or two of using Big Tech Detective will eliminate them. 

But we’re not completely helpless. I can decline to give another penny to Amazon, and you can too. I encourage you to make your own break. It feels really good to be out of the Amazon orbit, in much the same way, interestingly enough, that it feels really good to have achieved escape velocity from the gravity well of Twitter. These days, whenever I take a look at Twitter I think, “I can’t believe I ever tweeted.” Maybe next year I’ll take a look at amazon.com and think, “I can’t believe I ever bought stuff from this place.” 

Damnatio memoriae

Let’s be clear: Ryan T. Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally has not been banned, and there are no “free speech” issues involved here. (Not in any precise sense, though I may say more about this in another post.) A retailer has decided not to sell a product. But because the retailer involved is Amazon, and Amazon has such an outsize influence over the book market, it seems to me that every published author ought to worry about what might happen to their sales if they got on Amazon’s bad side.

A number of interesting and important issues converge on this decision. For instance, the fact that by removing the book with no warning, no explanation, and no opportunity for appeal, Amazon is violating its own publicly announced guidelines: “If we remove a title, we let the author, publisher, or selling partner know and they can appeal our decision.” Or the fact that for a couple of days any search for Anderson’s book yielded a result for a book critical of Anderson’s that Amazon would clearly prefer you to read. (That now seems to have been replaced with a standard 404 page.) Or the apparent fact that there are no other topics of current dispute on which dissent is absolutely prohibited: for instance, you can still purchase Pluckrose and Lindsay on critical theory and Douglas Murray contra identity politics — for now. Or the fact that Amazon no longer has an email address you can write if you want to protest such a decision.

But to me, the most interesting point for reflection is this: The censors at Amazon clearly believe there is only one reason to read a book. You read a book because you agree with it and want it to confirm what you already believe. Imagine, for instance, a transgender activist who wants to understand the position held by Ryan Anderson and people like him in order better to refute it. That person can’t get a copy of the book through Amazon any more than a sympathetic reader like me can.

But another, deeper belief lies beneath that one: It’s that ideas like Anderson’s are not to be refuted but rather, insofar as it lies within Amazon’s vast power, erased — subjected to Damnatio memoriae. And the interesting thing about that practice is that it is simultaneously an assertion of power and a confession of weakness. Amazon is flexing its muscles, but muscles are all it has. Its censors don’t want anyone to read Anderson’s book because they know that they can’t refute it. They have no thoughts, no knowledge — only reflexes. And reflexes will serve their cause. For now.

I can see clearly now

I thought this day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I don’t believe Beijing expected it to come so soon either: the Chinese authorities were playing a long game, biding their time and building their power, and I do not think they were relishing an immediate confrontation with Western capitalism. But the Hong Kong protests forced their hand. Beijing clearly perceives these protests as an existential threat, and have decided that the moment has come to go all-in. They have pushed all their chips into the center of the table … and the capitalists immediately folded like a Chinese-made lawn chair. 

NBA officials are bowing and scraping to Beijing and begging forgiveness while trying to tell Americans that they’re not really apologizing. (Adam Silver says he’s not apologizing for Daryl Morey’s exercise of free speech, but then what is he apologizing for?) ESPN/Disney is muzzling its employees. Apple is banning apps that Beijing wants banned, for whatever reason

This has all gone better for Beijing than CCP officials probably dared hope, but in fact they held the strongest hand. Tim Cook, who got his job as Apple CEO after spending years proving that he was a wizard of the supply chain, knows better than anyone that China has a stranglehold on Apple’s supply chain, and it would take years or even decades to loosen that hold. I don’t know how much revenue the NBA gets from China, but even if it’s far less than they get in this country, that Chinese revenue can be cut off altogether in an instant; by contrast, not one American NBA fan in ten thousand will care enough about what happens in China to stop buying jerseys and tickets and League Pass. 

If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all. 

But here’s an interesting question: How woke will our woke capitalists remain if an emboldened Chinese regime starts to rail against moral perversion in the form of homosexuals and trans people? 


“Believe me, the China situation bothers me. . . . But at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my owners to make money,” then–NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2006 interview. He may not have known then where his allegiance to the bottom line would lead the league and the game he helped to grow.

To hear him tell it then, Stern was intent on turning the NBA into an exporter of American values. Under his leadership, the league began its “Basketball Without Borders” program, which initially sent NBA players to run basketball camps in geopolitically tense parts of the world. “NBACares” television spots dominated game breaks. “We’re going to keep right on showing them,” Stern told Sports Illustrated when asked about public annoyance with the frequency of the ads. “Because social responsibility is extremely important to us.”

You know it was an article of faith for Stern that “make money” and “social responsibility” could never come into irreconcilable conflict with each other. No doubt Adam Silver and Tim Cook have been similarly catechized. But their religion is in vain, so what will they do? They’ll keep making money and tell themselves that they are also socially responsible, no matter what happens on the ground. For faith is the evidence of things not seen. 

UPDATE 2: Paul Farmer, in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, on WLs (White Liberals): “I love WLs to death, they’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves.” (More about Farmer, on related themes, here.) 

Doc was in the toilet pissing during a commercial break when he heard Sauncho screaming at the television set. He got back to find his attorney just withdrawing his nose from the screen. “Everything cool?”

“Ahh …” collapsing on the couch, “Charlie the fucking Tuna, man.”


“It’s all supposed to be so innocent, upwardly mobile snob, designer shades, beret, so desperate to show he’s got good taste, except he’s also dyslexic so he gets ‘good taste’ mixed up with ‘taste good,’ but it’s worse than that! Far, far worse! Charlie really has this, like, obsessive death wish! Yes! he, he wants to be caught, processed, put in a can, not just any can, you dig, it has to be StarKist! suicidal brand loyalty, man, deep parable of consumer capitalism, they won’t be happy with anything less than drift-netting us all, chopping us up and stacking us on the shelves of Supermarket Amerika, and subconsciously the horrible thing is, is we want them to do it… .”

— Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice