Ralph Roberts’ Favorite Saying

ralph Ralph Roberts founded Comcast before handing its reins to his son, Brian L. Roberts. Here’s how Ralph describes his business’s core idea:

I didn’t burn any bridges with Muzak when I left there, and my brother, who unfortunately passed away in 1972, had been the advertising director at Revlon and had a similar career to mine. He was also in advertising and marketing, and Muzak Corporation, after I had left for some time, invited him to come over to be a senior vice-president of the company, and one day he came in to me and he said, “You know, Ralph, we ought to buy some of these franchises. They’re a license to steal as recurring monthly income.” That was our favorite expression, just like cable. You put in the equipment and every month they send you money.

Such is the true stuff of the great private-sector boondoggles.

24 Replies to “Ralph Roberts’ Favorite Saying”

  1. What’s funny, is, forty years from now, when similar quotes from Obama’s team surface, the same people with whom we’re now arguing will not admit that they were wrong in 2014, and change their 2054 tune.

    It’s weird how so many “anti-Vietnam War” boomers, who are completely aware of the Tonkin Gulf incident, have restructured their minds to believe that LBJ’s Obama’s escalation of the current war is entirely different. They criticize Henry Ford, but adore their broadband provider; they take it for granted that Marie Antoinette was hideous, but are preparing to vote for Hillary.

    There’s something a lot more devious than mere “facts” and “observations” controlling how this all plays out.

  2. This one isn’t saying facts aren’t facts, but rather, they’re immaterial as to the motivations of the people we’re (theoretically) trying to convince. There’s a whole smorgasbord of reasons out there, including that: people believe in capitalist evolution, which compels them to favor the winners, however immoral or cheating those winners; people believe in five-sense decisionmaking, leaving them vulnerable to uncharted charismata; people are emotionally stunted, unable to live without a sense of belonging that requires blocking out that which does not conform to good groupthink; people are intellectually stunted, unable to understand narrative structure, and so are malleable by those who insert poisonous narrative.

    Those things themselves may be “facts,” in some way, and yet they would be just as useless as recording the private thoughts of Congress, because the people whom those thoughts should motivate would be so mentally crippled that they wouldn’t revolt, even privy to a full and verified description of what those overlords thought of the value of their little lives.

    Facts are really, really useful and true for those of us who at least possess the strength of character (if you will) to understand less pleasant things, but our tendency on the internet here seems to be to exchange facts which vindicate us, rather than to attempt to communicate with the proletariat strength which could end the parasitic relationship.

    That’s a different form of one of the old Marxist arguments, of course: should the revolutionaries seize the state and use it to impose justice on the people, or should they spend/waste their time trying to instruct the people as to the details of their current exploitation?

    Speaking as pragmatically as possible, this one would suggest that the “education” approach is more useful than the “seize” approach. Unfortunately, elites are evolving, too, and their structures are able to strike at education before it can do anything useful. I mean, Simon & Schuster, Random House, the Department of Education…how’re you going to overcome those?

    So, this one isn’t giving every answer, but for our own self-interest, we should at least acknowledge what we’re doing here: making ourselves feel justified in having mistrusted these creeps, but not at all awakening the imprisoned masses.


  3. Hm, this is the first time I’ve seen you unload so much on ‘the people’. I don’t disagree (esp if the reference group is the white middle class etc.) but, ignoring some details and context, this contradicts your more numerous texts on how wrong, harmful and deceptive is the elite idea that the people cannot be trusted to rule themselves if left alone.

    Speaking of which, I’m also not sure that this is what some of your enemies (not the bloggers, but Plato, Leo Strauss etc.) Say. In my reading, they merely argue that there is no good, universal, contradiction free answer to the question “Who should have the power to rule?”

  4. As for the Marxist arguments, I recently found an interesting blog by Jehu, called “the real movement”, who insists that marx and engls’ understanding of ‘the religion’s is basically non-political, but simply means blindly working out the law of value whenever capitalism truly reaches its limits. Whatever actual political and revolutionary upheavals happen in the meantime are above all expressions of basic unwillingness tube submit to this form of slavery, but do not really represent any Path to global revolution. There is certainly a moment of “and then magic happens” here, but this is argued on the basis of actual marx texts

  5. The ironic thing from this perspective is that this one has both a higher and a lower opinion of “the people” than we typically see in the land of progressive blogs. By admitting that we’re not just helpless citizens, but willing contributors to all this, this one assigns responsibility for the bad stuff to the people making it happen; yet, by seeing hope and potential, this one is equally far beyond the “life sucks, people are dumb” argument. It’s kind of like pulling someone out of an alcohol binge, in that you have to be willing to acknowledge both how the person is completely responsible for the rottenness, yet also completely able to be better. So much of progressia is mired in the idea that we’re either hapless pawns in the hands of the corpocracy, or futile genetic spawn destined for unending hell.

    That’s what quotes like the one in Dr. D’s original article validate, in a way. Since we have such proof that these thieves (1) are stealing from us, (2) are aware of it, and (3) have admitted it to our faces, our ability to take it makes us either powerless or stupid, goes the traditional reasoning. We can rule ourselves alone, and better than this 2014, but we won’t get there by pretending that we didn’t build and staff our own prison in a variety of ways, including endorsing the Biggest Gorilla/competitive-jungle theory of existence. We need to donate the whisky, apologize to the super, brush our teeth, pay off the credit cards, and stop blaming the girl we broke up with four years ago for all our problems.

    What an eerie line it is between responsibility and powerlessness. As long as we all believe in “one life, sensory only,” there is absolutely no reason to risk your allotted 78.7 years doing anything but a few blog posts or candlelight vigils. In fact, it would be the ultimate act of stupidity to do so.

    You’re correct about Plato and Strauss, but in their fallen-from-forms and penultimately joyless worlds, respectively, their conclusions were the same atom-based rationalizations of five-senses that we see driving policy today. Why not steal, if you can get away with it? Ring of Gyges, right? With Ralph Roberts, we’re way beyond Plato, because now the Ring isn’t even required; we’ve all grown so accustomed to the idea, that we celebrate murder and thievery in public. Michael’s chronicle here is so terribly valuable because it can prove, to later historians, that people of this age were starved not for facts, or for the intelligence to interpret them, but for the strength to act on them. And that strength is the forbidden memory that it’s not just one-life five-sense.

    (Ogawd, she’s spiritual again. Hey, this one’s playing honestly, at least, as a cruel, petty winner confessing her crimes in hopes of some undeserved absolution.)


  6. You know, of course, that virtually nobody knows of that Roberts quote. You have to do research to stumble upon it. It is never going to be mentioned in the MSM, and the media activists are still way too polite to feature it in their mewling appeals for mere net neutrality. Hence, I see very close to zero blame on the masses here.

    As for good/bad, I’m with Einstein. Both exist in human nature. What matters is how the institutions reward and punish the impulses.

    As for democracy, it is indeed the worst arrangement, except for all the others.

  7. The Roberts quote is just one of them; plenty of us know about MKUltra or Tonkin Gulf or testing prefrontal lobotomy and atomic bomb exposure on WWII vets. What else is Roberts’ remark about Comcast then an upgraded version of, “Let them eat cake”? “The masses,” such as they are, still have–even despite generations of formal education–all the tools necessary to understand what is going on. They watched the Iran-Contra hearings, even, and yet still either (1) venerate Reagan and North, or (2) profess that it was an isolated, shameful incident, even as the more recent administrations are filled with Iran-Contra players, still rich and powerful.

    Facts are so very fun, but–as all of this internet must have re-taught us by now–a lack of facts is not the masses’ problem.

    Take, oh, I dunno, nineleven (TM). As we all know, Building 7 had a tidy implosion despite an utter lack of fires or structural damage–and yet, even hearing that mentioned makes you convinced that I’m an insane conspiracist. The only logical conclusion is that someone had it wired for demolition, and the official lack of interest in whom proves that it was official forces behind said demolition–and yet, your notions of acceptable possibility constrain you from drawing the logical conclusion, even though there have been even gifs around, showing Building 7 having its neat little explosion with no floor-by-floor hesitation, for almost 13 years.

    It’s not facts guiding what we think, but our capacity to employ them. Because most people can’t let themselves imagine that capitalists really are as evil as real capitalists are, you can show that Roberts quote to them, and they’re completely unmoved. They’ll laugh at you, say it’s taken out of context, say it’s “just business” (as though thievery is just business; as though such a blurb is relevant to the discussion), or do anything else necessary to justify not processing it.

    In the right crowd, just by making that connection–Comcast is an evil monopoly based on unfairness–you’re suddenly an insane “red” conspiracy theorist. Just like you thought about me, with a resigned groan, when I mention Building 7, or meaning beyond matter. And no, every suggestion isn’t true, but if we apply the same standards of evidence and belief to everything, we’re able to accept things on a sliding scale, from evil capitalists to false flag attackers.

  8. Again, to the extent it’s true, where do ordinary people get their delusions about capitalists? From fair and balanced information, or from a lifetime of being preached at by capitalists? And if the delusions are so complete, how do you explain all the contrary evidence?

  9. The structure of their delusions comes from entertainment and education. When you target adults with facts, it’s too late, because they can’t process them–much the same way I’ve heard many teachers complain that they can’t teach middle-schoolers, because it’s already “too late,” so they switch to elementary education, where the curriculum is even more wackily defined.

    Those of us who are able to respond to facts on some level love sharing them (and yes, there’s a valuable place for trying to maintain a more accurate record, although forms of net non-neutrality will destroy future access to such records), but facts are not things that can motivate the pre-loaded heart.

    Hm, what’s the contrary evidence? That supermajorities occasionally indicate survey support for nationalized health care, or that sort of thing?

  10. Parts of this discussion sort of vindicate parts of Bloom, unpopular in these quarters, and certainly many an Enlightenment critic. The E. idea that more knowledge will somehow logically lead to “good” outcomes seemed to have bee discredited by ‘serious thinkers’ long time ago. Yet the reason it persists, I would agree, May have to do precisely because it allows indefinite maintenance of the status quo: “Oh well, we don’t have enough knowledge yet, the masses aren’t educated enough yet” etc. Etc. Etc. It’s a basic old middle class conceit.

    Reason cannot derive values, and this might be the most cruel joke the enlightenment has played on mankind. What else is there to do but thread carefully and try not to disrupt the bureaucracies food supply chain?

  11. Of course, this is not to say that lies and obfuscation are inconsequential, but a lot of them are directed precisely to the educated classes, and it is working. I have been repeatedly surprised by my friends ability to simultaneously whimper against corporations while vehemently arguing that ‘there is no conspiracy’, or to complain about the imperial pillaging of Africa while arguing for a ‘humanitarian intervention’ to put an end to cultural practice they disapprove of (ie are ignorant about)

  12. You can file this under ‘obfuscation and blame victim’s, but I still like it:

    “Sycophancy to those who hold power is a fact in every regime, and especially in a democracy, where, unlike tyranny, there is an accepted principle of legitimacy that breaks the inner will to resist”

    Allan Bloom

  13. Typical Bloom. Unsubstantiated hyperbole with no context, all in service of his unwavering and thoroughly arbitrary personal opinion, itself probably based on his loss of some closeted Plato-and-Socrates fantasy once gays actually started defending themselves in his hated 1960s. There may or may not be evidence for this claim, though I severely doubt it and Bloom doesn’t care. Even if it’s true, it is nowhere close to an argument against democracy. The use of concepts is also sophomoric. What, pray tell, is “sycophancy?” How would one measure that and then compare it across time? Again Bloom couldn’t care less, as his self-appointment as Mr. Plato is enough to make all his aphorisms true upon utterance.

  14. How cute that this one finds herself defending Bloom all of a sudden, but we can probably mutate that quote into something more serviceable:

    “When a community teaches its young people that they are the masters of their country because they occasionally participate in elections, which elections are so thoroughly pre-rigged that their outcome is all but predetermined, these young people are less likely to resist acts of the resulting government, because they feel that they have had a say in it, and can change it later by participating in more elections.”

    One’s own belief in the rightness of something controls so much of how one can act. And we’re affected by it–even when we understand the wrongness, it is governing our behavior; our sense of acceptable thought.

    Here, you inspired me: Two Home Invasions.

  15. This highlights another huge flaw in Bloom: He takes a static, ahistorical view of democracy. He treats that as something that either is or is not, and that would always be the same once it exists. Of course, democracy is both extremely new and immature, and also a complex state that can vary very greatly in quality, structure, and reach. I don’t think it’s fair or wise to trash democracy in general because we here in this place at this time are sliding backwards, for pretty clear reasons of overclass take-backs. Any democracy that treats its unrevised wildly outdated Constitution and purchased marketing campaigns/elections as the pinnacle is a very low grade case of democracy. But other arrangements are possible and even inevitable. Will we be ready when things break, or will we have shot off our own feet in a pessimistic snit?

  16. Full democracy (say, instant and total smartphone voting) would be under the effective control of someone like, ironically, Comcast, so we return to the age-old question of “who monitors votes?” and “who ensures that the powerful don’t rig the system to deter unwanted referendi?”

    And of course, “How do we keep 500 million people aware of the daily changes in Globicast connectivity that have a powerful, almost conclusive effect on which measures get put up for a vote or not, without them all learning several computer languages and spending several hours a day reading enough code to discover the first layer of backdoors built in by the corrupt programming class?”

  17. So, obviously I have a thing for Bloom, which doesn’t mean I would defend weak arguments, but I don’t think it really applies in this case. It is true that he didn’t leave many useful prescriptions behind, but his main gig (a sweet gig if you can get it) was to rant about how much we have lost sense of the human alternatives that civilization has created, and instead wallow in superficially thought through ideas, including the one about the awesomeness of democracy. In fact, plenty of arguments can be formulated against democracy, ranging from purely pragmatic (how do you ever decide what is up to a vote or not, how do you ever aggregate capricious and contradictory preferences), to more difficult issues, e.g. in what, if any, circumstances expert knowledge should override popular preferences?

    True democracy might mean either total chaos, or be workable only in much smaller, decentralized communities. And it is not true that democracy is new – do the Greeks not count for anything? What about some so called traditional societies, where decisions are often made democratically, in some sort of tribal assembly or whatever?

    As for this specific quote, I don’t see much to quibble about – the endless repetitions about how democratic we are, and the actual practice of power supposedly changing hands certainly precludes more radical and principled forms of resistance, they can easily be dismissed as a huge and dangerous step back towards arbitrary and unaccountable power. It looks like we have painted ourselves into a corner – dampened with the status quo, no apparent place to go.

    Forme personally, the biggest strike against modern democracy is simply the fact that even in the best of circumstances, it still boils down to a fight about who will best represent their private interest as The public interest. This is a dead end, insofar the supreme value of the individual and especially the right to profit are taken for granted. For as long as this is the case, there are no solid rationales to curb the excesses of the powerfull other than meek appeals like “But must you be quite so mean?”, which is mostly where we are now. To which the obvious response is “Sure, why not?”

    A modern democracy has no good comeback to this comeback. Other human societies and regimes, whatever other imperfections they may have had, have been able to formulate an ideal other than mere survival to aspire to

  18. Again, it seems to me you’re attributing the sins of the present to the ideal itself. You can’t possibly think what we have is the only kind of democracy possible, can you?

    As for runaway wealth, there are plenty of good comebacks. They are simply off the agenda at this time, thanks to runaway wealth, not democracy.

    As for the higher purposes of societies, I don’t grant your claim that other societies had such things. I also don’t grant that survival is the main principle of our present arrangement. That would be a gigantic improvement over what orders the present state of affairs. That would be preservation of the conditions for private wealth accumulation. Survival, like strong democracy, is anathema to what is being done here and now.

  19. This one loves seeing you say that, Michael, and you’re so right–“preservation of the conditions for private wealth accumulation.”

    And you realize that survival is anathema to that, because as the weakened peasantry stops being able to support the machines that support the extravagance of the elites, even the elites must perish. So actually, what we’re seeing is the protracted suicide of the sick mind: a deliberate, knowing attempt to kill this species and this planet.

    It’s like the “why are they so hard on teachers if they care about education” conundrum. You can’t solve it until you realize it’s a literal attack. Greed and selfishness are just tools in the arsenal of endings.

  20. Is there anything more dangerous than a geriatric overclass that believes its own bullshit? I think, to the extent they think in these longer terms, that TPTB really do believe somebody from the private sector is going to invent away all the ecological problems. Money overcomes physics, in their ruling fantasies.

  21. Michael, RE: “That would be preservation of the conditions for private wealth accumulation. Survival, like strong democracy, is anathema to what is being done here and now.”

    The first sentence is EXACTLY what I meant, but I also disagree with the second part – although self-preservation, at least communal one, is wrongly confounded with private wealth preservation, the big defficiency of the contemporary regimes is precisely holding on to the illusion that it is possible to preserve the individual priorities and opportunities for profit making, whilc humanising and improving the system.

    That is one of the core problems: once you accept that you should have the right to profit and “the pursuit of property”, then all bets are truly off.

    In that sense, I am closer to agreement with High Arka – many people, myself included, are simply NOT ready to relinquish the idea that you should have the opportunity to accumulate property and wealth beyond what could be justified by your need or actual labor you extend.

    I think about it as the ultimate “liberal practicality” – we whine against the super rich, precisely ecause their behavior endangers and destroys the very possibility of a stable system of profit making. The problem is, why should they care? They can, in fact insulate themselves.

    I certainly don’t ascribe any finality to the current arrangements, but per Bloom again, maybe it is simply an inescapable feature of the human condition to meander between contradictions and distasteful tradeoffs. Ultimately, the tension between ‘inclination and duty’, which is one of the preoccupations of political philosophy, is very hard to resolve without some form of higher principle. All we can hope for is that it is self- not other-imposed.

    And that’s the problem with the modern bourgeois bureaucracues – we will worry about individual preservation. THe common good will take care of itself. Now that we know this is idiotic, it does not help much, because we don’t have a good ideal to articulate.

    Whatever the defficiencies of say, medieval Christendom, having piety, salvation, sainthood etc. as aspirations surely beats making sure our vegetables are not too poluted as an instigator of commitment and self-overcoming.

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