A Valuable Phrase

Bertrand Russell photo TCT‘s editor has been going through a phase of reading Bertrand Russell. It is very worthwhile.

Among the treasures to be had thereby is the fact that, at moments, as you’re reading along, Russell hits upon a phrase that packs a truly huge punch. One of these is “insufficiently scientific optimists.”

This concept speaks volumes in several directions, not least of which is its usefulness for making sense of the prevalent habit among greens and lefties of treating science as a problem, rather than a solution. (If you think this is just a minor problem, step over to any major greenish website and get a load of the ubiquity of the “we need new worldviews” trope. It is dominant.)

Russell is genuinely liberating on this vital issue. The problem isn’t science; it is that our overclass and their forebears only respect science insofar as it helps them make money and extend their own power. To blame this on science is a fatal mistake, if you hold out hope for a decent human future.

We are not going to rescue ourselves with shamanism or alt-nihilism or self-referential story-telling. The problems we face are too large and too difficult.

Meanwhile, TCT repeats the point: Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony is part of an elite scramble to contain the data-scraping scandal to “politics.”

Least Surprising News

eyeball Advertising Age for March 30 includes a story titled “Brands Just Can’t Seem to Quit Facebook.”

Well, duh.

Facebook exists to collect marketing data, to perform for corporations what people with cameras and stopwatches do inside corporate workspaces.

According to this report, at most 5 of Facebook’s top 1,000 advertisers even might have ceased using the platform as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Most likely, none have.

“This speaks to how important Facebook is as an advertising channel, and that brands are surely making the decision that the benefits of the platform outweigh the smaller risks of brand damage due to association with it,” [marketing research firm CEO Gabe] Gottlieb says.

As Gottlieb knows, the institutional fact is that the spying done by Facebook and an ever-expanding portion of the rest of the infrastructure for off-the-job life is every bit as vital to corporate capitalists as is detailed knowledge of paid labor processes. Barring a huge popular uprising against them and their system, the powers-that-be are simply never going to desist from gathering such data. Power concedes nothing, and scrambles to cover its trail when important concessions threaten to get discussed. Hence, this phony little mea culpa melodrama.

The Essence of Facebook

snake As reported by none other than Michael Wolff, Mark Zuckerberg long ago admitted that, when all the cover stories are dropped, Facebook is a corporate marketing tool.

“Our business is advertising,” said Mark Zuckerberg who, although he was the penultimate speaker at the eG8 conference in a stultifying hot hall, managed to fill the room.

“This trend of people being empowered to share things that they want will be the trend for the next five or ten years. . . .” Zuckerberg probably means to share what they want to share. But it may just mean to share desires in general—impulses, hankerings, things. “If you think about advertising, what’s going to be more effective than any advertising you show is something your friend says they like,” says Zuckerberg.

Five or ten years later, here’s a very useful report on the state-of-the-art in overclass data harvesting.

As TCT has always contended, totalitarian spying is part and parcel of corporate capitalism, which literally requires its constant expansion and refinement.

Not that this kind of boilerplate-but-unmentionable social fact ever quite sinks in. Even the reporter of the above survey of what Facebook does on behalf of its other corporate clients concludes that we “did it ourselves.”

Tea-Potting the Tempest

teacup photo From the TCT perspective, it is amusing and more than a little discouraging to watch the present freak-out about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The cardinal, institutional fact is that data-scraping on behalf of behavioral managers underlies almost the entirety of our mass media, which we have not only allowed our corporate masters to monopolize, but to so thoroughly extend into our our lives that sponsored attention-and-information grabs now dominate almost all our waking hours. The notion that this process and its hateful results can be confined to Trump is every bit as addlepated and unhinged as Trump himself.

The society’s inability to name and track its own essential problems is one of the major consequences of the market totalitarianism that results from the normal operation of “our” big business economy. Trump’s use of Facebook and harvested data is but a pebble on the tip of this iceberg.

Russian Propaganda!

princess and the pea drawing So, the society’s liberals are feigning outrage that the Russians apparently spent a few million dollars generating a handful of pathetic, tone-deaf gestures “designed” to influence or disrupt “our democracy” (you know, the process we have whereby the loser of the popular election gets to take the office). The supposed outrage is about as deep and convincing as is the Democratic Party’s various other poses in areas of social justice, which is to say not in the least.

It is an open and obvious question: What possible impact could such a picayune thing have had, given the scale of the larger marketing operations that pass for presidential campaigns, to say nothing of the wider $2+ trillion sea of big business marketing that so thoroughly suffuses and dominates the society?

And, while we’re on this topic, take a look at this report on the troll factory from the WaPo. The WaPo wants you to think Orwell, but doesn’t it sound rather more similar to an ordinary workday in an advertising agency?

Once again, paging Dr. Heilbroner:

At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?