Value of the Mind

REFLECTIONS THE MORNING AFTER THE SUPERBOWL

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The NFL will have to invoke the mercy rule. The New England Patriots have gone to the Superbowl too many times. They’ve turned the vaunted National Football League into something of a joke. Despite all attempts at creating parity in the league, one increasingly creaky team continues to dominate.

They achieved the Lombardi Trophy for winning the Superbowl with a 41 year-old quarterback against three teams each with more talent than them.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

The New England Patriots’ success illustrates the truth that value in the world, as in an economy, comes from the mind.

For 18 years the Patriots have leveraged some incremental intangible advantage– somehow out-training and out-thinking their adversaries. Not by a lot, but by enough. Over the years that edge has multiplied so that even this year with a team of players literally in some cases off the street, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, instituters of a slightly better system, have devastated the league– to the extent that critics continue to cry “luck!” or “cheating!” Which illustrates the critics’ lack of understanding.

HOW THE WORLD WORKS

Isn’t it the way of the world that an enterprise gains a slight edge over its competitors, and that edge multiplies itself again and again until the business dominates its field? In some cases becoming a monopoly. This explains the success of Starbucks and McDonald’s. They have a slight intangible edge– are able to in some way out-think and outperform their rivals. A better plan. Better thinking.

The key part of this is the way an edge is leveraged. Which explains the creation of billionaires.

This phenomenon applies to history. It explains, for instance, the rise of the West– how a better economic system combined with a stronger belief system gave Europe an edge which continued to increase, and increase. The phenomenon explains how America became, in less than 200 years after its founding, the greatest civilization the world has ever seen.

THAT America continues to value the individual mind more than do other countries– the key to American success– continues to give it an edge which draws value, in the form of ambitious go-getters, from around the world.

BETTER THINKING APPLIED TO LITERATURE?

Our bet at New Pop Lit is that creating and discovering better literary products, and presenting them in a better way, will give us an edge which will multiply quickly throughout the literary realm– and draw ambitious talent to our modest site.

WE SEE how the wrong way of writing has multiplied itself throughout literature and publishing, via MFA programs and take-no-risks conglomerates– which explains the stagnation of the dominance of mere competence in fiction and poetry circa 2019.

The task is to change that.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09
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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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Who Controls Literature?

THIRD IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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WHAT MAKES the Junot Diaz controversy interesting is the way it illustrates an establishment literary scene that today has become thoroughly politicized.

YET WHO STANDS BEHIND this scene– and behind the controversy? Who controls literature and the presentation of literature, and political changes within literature?

When you examine U.S. intellectual journals you find many of them take strong anti-capitalist stances yet are financed by wealthy capitalists. A puppet show where the behind-the-scenes puppeteer controls all sides of an issue.

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Is this the case with the Boston Review?

The two biggest donors at $100,000 each are:

1.) Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron.

Schrier is a former managing member of Farallon Capital. Currently he manages an investment portfolio valued at $600 million. Cameron was Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Old Navy. They keep a low profile, but made the news in 2010 for selling a home in Pacific Heights, California for $5.9 million.

2.) The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This is a foundation worth $9 billion-with-a-b, managed by Walter B. Hewlett– the tax-sheltered fortune of the Hewlett-Packard business empire.

(NOTE that for Boston Review editors Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman there are good billionaires and bad ones. Until recently Elon Musk was a “good” capitalist in progressive circles, but for some reason has fallen out of favor.)
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SIMILAR SITUATIONS exist for most of the trendy literary publications on both coasts. Here’s a recent photo of the editors and backers of Los Angeles Review of Books. Several of the individuals in the photo are big money investors. What do those in the photo represent? Wealth. For such people, self-image is vitally important.

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LET’S NOT FORGET the big book publishers themselves, the so-called “Big Five” media conglomerates with attached publicity arms and media outlets, and the sycophantic literary journals lavishly promoting Big 5 books (The Millions; Electric Lit; et.al.)– all of them with progressive postures and all of them based in and around the imperial city of New York.

QUESTIONS OF TOKENISM

One of Junot Diaz’s accusers, Alisa Valdes, wrote a blog post about him, portraying Diaz as– among other things– “a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker.” This raises questions of tokenism– a term also used by the VIDA website in their petition against him.

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(Still from the 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men.”)

IF the standard affluent white liberal still sees minorities as tragic victims, then have Junot Diaz’s narratives– and his recent New Yorker essay about his past– fed into that sense of virtuous power? It’s a question which has to be asked.
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The world sees only the players on the stage– and not those who control the production. It’s like the 1961 movie “The Hustler” in which Minnesota Fats, top pool player, is seen as a dynamic, powerful character– until the end, when we see he has no real power at all; is controlled by the gambler who backs him. In the same way, writers and readers alike want to see only the authors whose face is on the book jacket– they seek no knowledge of how that book is made, and the many compromises made along the way.

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THE TRUTH is that all writers are tokens, in the sense that few have any real power within the world of letters. This is a point I made in the first part of this series covering this topic. In the recent National Book Foundation awards, most of the writers nominated and awarded were women and/or persons of color. It’s the face the book world (which sustains NBF) chooses to put on its product at the moment. From the standpoint of those behind the scenes, it means little– as long as they remain the ones pulling the strings. As Junot Diaz is finding out, the power of a successful writer is tentative, qualified, and can be taken away at any time.

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EVENTUALLY: “Ownership: Are There Solutions?”

-Karl Wenclas

Marxism Incorporated

HOW MARXISM TODAY IS A WHOLLY-OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF BIG MONEY

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First of Two Parts

MUCH CELEBRATION has taken place in recent days of the May 5th, 2018 200th birthday of Communism advocate and theorist Karl Marx. Typical of the press this occasion has received is this article by Olivia Goldhill at Quartz magazine.

WHO owns Quartz?

Laurene Powell Jobs, one of the richest capitalists on the planet. In July 2017 her curiously-named Emerson Collective bought The Atlantic and its digital properties, one of which is Quartz. Ms. Jobs apparently doesn’t see Marxism as any kind of threat to her well-sheltered wealth, or to herself. (Quartz in fact recently published another Goldhill-penned tome joking about Marx’s co-optation by capitalists.)

In 2018 the espousal of Marxism comes chiefly from plutocrats– and from hugely-rich centers of power and influence like Harvard. I previously examined here Marxist intellectual journals The Baffler and Current Affairs, the former owned by a billionaire; the latter founded by Harvard student Nathan J. Robinson, son of an international corporate trainer. Olivia Goldhill, coincidentally, is herself a Harvard grad.

So what’s actually happening?

WHAT MIGHT BE HAPPENING is that Monopoly Capitalism seeks to set the current hierarchy rigidly in place. This would explain much, as I’ll discuss in a future post.

WHAT MIGHT BE HAPPENING is a Shigalovian strategy, as outlined in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed. A Ten Percent class of enlightened socialist overlords (Harvard grads?) managing the rest of the human herd for the good of all.

WHAT MIGHT BE HAPPENING is that Laurene Powell Jobs and Company see Marxism as a way to channel dissent, directing it toward ideas and programs amenable to the maintenance of Global Capitalism.

Or: Marxism today is a scam.
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NEXT: The Goldhill Essay Itself.

-Karl Wenclas

Is The Baffler a Leftist Magazine?

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THINK ABOUT IT. The “hard left” publication The Baffler aka “The Baffled” lobbies for the abolition of capitalism and presents itself as having democratic populist solutions for the ills of this flawed-and-ridiculously-complex civilization. They advocate for wrenching changes to do away with the plutocrats once and forever. Yet they, the know-everything prescriptionists, haven’t been able to abolish plutocracy even from their own little enterprise.

In 2015 billionaire Winthrop McCormack donated $3 million to the struggling magazine and installed his son, Noah, as its publisher. The Baffler is a tax shelter, so for the McCormacks it was a win-win situation all around. Nepotism, cronyism, inherited wealth– everything the Baffler editors pretend to oppose.

At least when I ran an activist writers group from 2000 to 2008, we were the genuine article. We lived our ideals– no plutocrats to be found– and still cranked out a shipload of DIY zines, made a hurricane of noise and pissed-off a great many elite people– especially in the island plutocracy of New York City– as a cooperative venture. We were proles for the most part and we slept on floors and endured short rations to keep our rebellion going.

Why do I suspect most of the Manhattanites who staff The Baffler are silk scarf revolutionaries from the Ivy League or similar prosperous spots?

Their editor, Chris Lehmann, product in his own words of downwardly-mobile social workers, has a pronounced fear of poverty, and so is unlikely to buck the system when the shit comes down and he’s required to make a choice. He is, in fact, like the rest of the staff, a Professional Leftist. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, one of their idols, they dip their toe in the real world on occasion and rake in the resulting big-system attention, financial grants, and awards.

In a twitter exchange, Lehmann assured me that “–nonprofit left magazines have always relied on financial angels, and I’m grateful that ours are genuinely principled.”

HOW principled is principal investor Win McCormack?

Win McCormack apparently overlooked the sexual harassment shenanigans of three of his buddies.

Two of them, Neil Goldschmidt and David Wu, are spotlighted here and in other news outlets. The third, fellow blue blood/rich guy Hamilton Fish V, has a long history of sexually harassing women, but friend/crony McCormack, who hired him as publisher of The New Republic when he bought the publication in 2016, just didn’t know! (If you believe that I have some toxic land in Detroit I’d like to sell you.)

This cozy world is the left in America now. Excuse me, “hard left.”

-K.W.

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Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

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One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

The Money in Media

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The richest people in America are spending enormous amounts of money in buying and developing news and information media.

For one example, look at Quartz magazine. Ever hear of it? I hadn’t, until recently. Here’s their staff list:

Meet the Staff

Scroll all the way down. This is an amazing amount of high-paid talent for a little known media outlet. (By comparison, the New Pop Lit staff is two people, who both work other jobs.) Someone is making a huge investment in the Quartz project. But who?

Quartz is owned by Atlantic Media, whose flagship publication is The Atlantic, but which also publishes National Journal, Defense One, and other brands. Atlantic Media is owned by David G. Bradley, who recently sold a majority stake in The Atlantic to the Emerson Collective, which is owned by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

The Emerson Collective’s chief message is pro-immigration and pro-global economy. Which is unsurprising, given that the Apple fortune was built via the global economy; i.e., low wage sweatshops in China. Like a lot of U.S. tech companies, Apple also depends and has depended on a steady influx of immigrant employees.

Laurene Jobs net worth is $19.7 billion, according to a recent estimate. Without low-wage labor, would this amount be lower? Would Apple have made slightly less profit– but perhaps protected or created more jobs for American workers?

The point is that billionaires like Laurene Jobs and David G. Bradley are controlling the media message– via publications like Quartz, The Atlantic, and a panoply of other well-funded outlets.