Intellectuals Catering to the Wealthy

DreznerThis morning I read Eric Alterman‘s review of Daniel Drezner‘s The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.

Alterman’s review might be summarized in two sentences: “Drezner is a reliable and intelligent guide to the current state of play. But while focusing on the trees, he doesn’t always pay proper attention to the forest, which in this case is the power of money to corrupt and control literally everything which it comes into contact–most particularly the intellectual culture.”

Here is a further taste:

Today, our most famous purveyors of ideas sell themselves to the wealthy much like the courtiers of the Middle Ages. Drezner notes that these ideas are therefore shaped by the “aversion” that plutocrats share toward addressing the problems we face. Inequality? Global warming? Populist nihilism? An explosion of global refugees? From a Silicon Valley perspective, Drezner notes, such things are not a failure of our system but rather “a piece of faulty code that need[s] to be hacked.” Examining data from a survey of Silicon Valley corporate founders, Drezner notes their shared belief that “there’s no inherent conflict between major groups in society (workers vs. corporations, citizens vs. government, or America vs. other nations).”

“Intellectuals who wish to cater to this crowd will find it difficult to contradict the narrative of meritocratic achievement,” Drezner explains. His discussion of the function of the TED phenomenon is especially cogent: “TED talks are designed for thought leaders to appeal to plutocrats. At less than twenty minutes, they are mercifully short—a perfect format for potential patrons. The working rich are busy people operating on a compressed schedule. Time is their scarcest resource, and they have limited attention spans…. The format itself also rewards more utopian thinking. There are no discussants for TED talks, no critical feedback.” It’s important to remember that we are not talking about the Koch brothers’ spending or the corruption of traditional think tanks by corporate money or the purchase by foreign governments of this or that policy shop. This is what’s happening on the progressive side.

Read the entire review at The Nation.