The Google God

Free market capitalism, in the time of high-tech communication technology, rewards the marketability of an idea more than the idea itself. Of course, in any liberal capitalist order, good ideas always needed to be noticed before their creator could be rewarded. Traditional investors recognized the potential of an idea for the betterment of society and decided to put money into it. There was a basic equality between ideas and the financiers that judged and nudged them. A good idea had a fair chance to become reality, because it was judged on the material basis of what good it would do for humanity.

When ideas are no longer judged by their merit, but their marketing potential, we relinquish the expert judgment to whatever the crowd thinks, and the crowd is subject to manipulation by the same forces that judge the ideas. There is no need for a precise portrayal of this dynamics: it is a race to the bottom, to the lowest common denominator idea. This in turn will reinforce the ‘dumbing down’ of society and embolden the corporations. They will be absolved from democratic accountability by sabotaging the basis of any working democracy: civil society with thriving discourse. They have the power turn democracy into a parade of strongly felt issues, infused with cynicism about the ‘powers that be’. True accountability will be replaced by political showmanship. We already see this happening in the wealthiest nations.

Renegade economist and rockstar academic Yannis Varoufakis said that capitalism has already been replaced by technological feudalism, Amazon and Google acting like feudal overlords. They de facto, if not de jure, control the marketplace: Google becoming a synonym of searching and Amazon another word for online shopping.

This totality of power cannot but seek a connection with religious thought: the divine right of Kings, the identification of Pharao with the most powerful god. What does this mean in the case of Big Tech? How does their totality of power act on our religious instincts. Could we measure with electrodes people’s response to Bezos’ monolyth and would we find a similar response as when people pray to an almighty god? Of course, Big Tech’s totality is not yet perceived as unavoidable. We don’t need to beg Google or Amazon to be using their services – or do we? Would we one day pray to the Google god for recognition by their algorithms, with very real consequences such as visibility in a global “charity” platform that could save our lives?

This is still the stuff of science fiction, but beware. We humans have a hard time grasping exponential growth, as the Covid-crisis demonstrated. We now witness the exponential growth of corporate power until they break the critical barrier and become, for all intents and purposes, power Totalities*.

The re-introduction of Religion as a fully conscious submission to a man-made higher power is completely in line with sound Hegelian dialectics. There will be a Google god, unless we resist while we can.

*Incidentally, I write about this in my latest novel, a parody on Elon Musk who gains near-total power until he hits not death, but the other unavoidable thing in life.

The Google God was originally published on Meandering home

Profit maximization is a ‘clean’, strong forcing idea, i.e. one that allows for the abstraction from local context. It binds human actions together in a social structure that proves very hard to disentangle. Communal welfare cannot abstract from life in this way. The internal motivation hinges on local outcomes and thus erodes, leading either to societal collapse or suppression, which represent more primitive forcing ideas, namely following orders and immediate survival.

was originally published on Meandering home

Review: Capitalism by Jürgen Kocka

This is the first of some short book reviews here on creativechoice. I love reading and will share my thoughts about the books that I are think are worth my readers’ while.

Cover from goodreads.orgThe short book Capitalism: A Short History begins with a concise discussion of the most important figures in the history of the concept of capitalism: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Josef Schumpeter. Kocka also mentions other thinker such as Karl Polanyi.

The book has a wider view of capitalism than Marx, who looks mainly at the mode of production and the way labor is organized. Kocka shows that the merchants of the Middle Ages already operated in a capitalistic way because they were profit oriented and seeking expansion. Apart from what is generally considered the heartland of capitalism, he sketches the development of proto-capitalism in the Arab world (where profit seeking was, unlike interest, compatible with Islam) and China (where it was politically controlled and embedded).

Kocka tells the story of the inevitable expansion of capitalism. He discusses colonialism and the plantation economy, pointing out that the mode of production of capitalism does not require free labor. The Joint Stock Companies such as the VOC and the beginning of finance capitalism is discussed. The book shows how in mining, agrarian capitalism and proto-industrialization capitalism encroaches on the domain of labor.

The expansion eventually led to managerial capitalism in which the manager is no longer the owner of the enterprise, like during the Industrial Revolution. Kocka identifies the ‘autotelic character’ of capitalism:  “the concentration on goals of profit and growth coupled with a simultaneous indifference to other goals” (p.  114). This trend had started with managerial capitalism but reached new heights in financialization.

The book concludes with some thoughtful reflections about the current state of affairs and how capitalism is always embedded in a social, cultural and political context – and its reform is a ‘permanent task’.

Review: Capitalism by Jürgen Kocka was originally published on Meandering home