Saturday, October 27, 2012

UPDATED: Disruption and societal deconstruction

This morning while looking at my Facebook newsfeed (makes me sound very tech savvy, does it not?), I saw an article posted by one of my many insightful friends, Sharon. Her tumblr blog quaerere deum is really stunning. She daily demonstrates that a picture is not worth merely a million words, but can move us beyond words. When she resorts to words she posts only that which is worth reading and considering. The article she pointed me to, entitled "Travis Shrugged," by Paul Carr, is short, but no less profound for its brevity.

In his short piece, Carr goes some short distance towards explaining why so many people, especially fairly young, well-educated people, develop what I can only describe as a kind of solipsistic libertarianism. The broad features of this view strike me as economic Darwinism, and being societally atomic (i.e., individualistic), failing to grasp the inevitably interpersonal nature of human society and so leading to a kind of dystopia (i.e., how does letting X do A affect Y?)- a kind of socially destructive utilitarianism.

I certainly don't want to co-opt Carr for my own purposes, but reading his article, especially his description of the purpose of legislative regulation (i.e., "Laws don’t exist merely to frustrate the business ambitions of coastal hipsters: They also exist to protect the more vulnerable members of society"), brought to mind the fact, even the memory of which is rapidly fading, that at the root of Western civilization, what makes it identifiable as a single entity (i.e., "Western civilization"), is Christianity, which, among other things, affirms that we are each others keepers.

On a practical, even political level, this makes it important to identify those who hold or run for office who are willing to do the bidding of these folks, who can't have the common good in mind because, much like Heidegger's view of human nature, they don't see the common good as real, let alone binding. On their view, society is best served by everyone doing what is best for one's self and not worrying about how that might impact the other, the whole.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, citing Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (paragraphs 26 & 71), defines the common good as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily," also states that "In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person:

"'Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together'" (par. 1905).

Along these lines, it is not insignificant that Rand's most famous and influential follower ever is Alan Greenspan.

Concerning altruism, Carr points out that Rand wrote "the issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence." In her ideological novel Atlas Shrugged, Rand famously wrote: "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." It's short step from there to Gordon Geckko's insistence
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed...
In Christian theology, of course, we do not call such an approach to life altruistic, but properly "Christian," characterized by selfless love, agapé, caritas, even kenosis, or self-emptying. We are only disciples of the Carpenter from Nazareth to the extent that we live an other-centered life.

The article concludes with a recognition that responding to this emerging state-of-affairs in a truly human manner is not easy:
I’ve written before that to be truly disruptive (small ‘d’) the startups must have a moral dimension, even when that jars with the pursuit of profit. It’s just hypocritical for me to argue that on one hand while sidestepping those same ethical choices myself. And so, as of about ten minutes ago, the Uber app has taken its place in the dustbin of services I’ll just have to live without, at least while the company’s founder continues to celebrate the ugliest face of capitalism
Carr's honesty is refreshing, recognizing, as he does, how easy it is to be complicit in all of this (the digital age variant of North/South polarization). He is quite correct, at least on my view, to describe this in his subtitle as "The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley’s Cult of Disruption" and not just because Halloween is almost here.

UPDATE: A friend, who is also a brother deacon, someone whose intelligence and judgment I trust, and who works in the tech industry, informs me that "disruption theory" as applied to business is not necessarily underpinned by Rand's Objectivist philosophy and so does not inevitably lead to the kinds of things Carr writes about with regard to Uber. I certainly claim no extensive expertise in any kind of business theory. Nonetheless, I do find myself wondering what effect this particular business model has on things such as labor. It is important to point out that that is not really the focus of my post, which is, rather, the attraction of Objectivist philosophy in a society and culture in the throes of not only losing any memory of its Christian foundations, but losing any transcendent understanding of the human person altogether, keeping in mind that, being the personalist I am, one person is no person.

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