THE word from the Secretary
of State that what this country really needs is "rebranding"
provides further confirmation that America itself has become
a derivative, a socio-political version of those financial instruments
Roy Davis has described as having "no intrinsic value, but
derive their value from something else . . . The job of a derivatives
trader is like that of a bookie once removed, taking bets on
people making bets."
John Maynard Keynes explained
it more than 60 years ago:
may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors
have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs,
the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly
corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as
a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not the faces which
he himself finds the prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest
to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are
looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not
a case of choosing those which, to the best of one's judgment,
are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion
genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree
when we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average
opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some,
I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.'"
Since the rise of metastatic
media and mass mood manipulation, America has become similarly
removed from the first degree of itself. The process described
by Keynes applies as well to politicians as it does to gold trading,
witness Bill Clinton's weekly meetings with pollsters to determine
what he should think and say over the coming days. Or consider
the media, which now widely substitutes perceptions for news;
features talk shows that offer perceptions of the validity of
previous perceptions; and which, even when still reporting news,
does so only after careful consideration of what the viewers
want to see, which by definition bars anything that is new and
Even war has become another
degree of itself. War used to be something to win against an
enemy that had a name. There were some relatively firm standards
- such as a surrender - to indicate when that had occurred. Now
we are told that we are in a war not against somebody but against
a character flaw called evil doing, and that the war may not
be over for 5, 10, or 50 years depending on who is talking about
This, of course, is not
really a war at all, but a new status quo that has been declared,
one in which violence and paranoia and strip searches are not
just part of a sacrifice one must make for a better future. They
are the future.
Thus have America's leaders
become rogue traders of reality, creating derivatives of it for
their own purposes at extraordinary risk to the rest of us, demanding
that we bet our all on a psychic 401K that is invested only in
megalomaniacal notions of foreign relations and in a dictator's
notion of security.
How has this happened?
One reasonable hypothesis is that the character of Enron's management
is not a perversion of elite values at all, but rather a revealing
insight into what has occurred in the rest of society as well,
including the media, academia, and politics.
You even find it in the
military, witness the current chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General Richard Meyers, who actually says things like "facilitize"
(a derivative of "facilitate" which is a derivative
of "assist") and who excused the slaughter of 16 innocent
Afghans by arguing that "the difference between a normal
Afghan citizen and a Taliban is very thin," much as if he
were a corporate representative explaining misdelivered order.
The trend is particularly
striking in politics. The last two administrations have been
characterized by the invasive influence of an arrogant, autistic,
and amoral class of late 20th century MBAs and similar members
of the technocratic elite. This class has junked sixty years
of social democracy, helped wreck the Russian economy, made every
American worker a temp-in-waiting, carpet bombed the English
language, trashed every moral concept in their way, and twisted
reality so effectively they even convinced many that they were
And they are everywhere.
You will find them running schools and universities and managing
once great museums. They talk mush, think mush, market mush,
report mush, and defend mush. They attempt to make up in certitude
what they lack in wisdom; they can't tell the difference between
a phrase and a product; and they create infantile and self-serving
distortions of economic principles that they declare to be the
only principles in life worth observing. They are, in the end,
just so many more televangelists, but with themselves as God.
Perhaps worst of all, they are without the capacity for shame.
Like other sociopaths, they are remorseless.
The fraud, the huckster,
the salesman are not new phenomena in America; what is new is
that they now so strongly control every estate of our society.
Those of a character that would have once caused Americans to
close the door, hang up, or say "no thank you," now
teach our children, run our government, and tell us what to think.
They are the Enron generation, filled with postmodern versions
of Willy Loman: "He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't
tell you the law or give you medicine. He' s a man way out there
in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."
America, in its first degree,
made things people wanted, said things that needed to be said,
and fixed things, including itself, that needed fixing. Now it
is out there in the blue, riding only on a smile and a shoeshine.
The problem, as Willy Loman discovered, comes "when they
start not smiling back - that's an earthquake. And then you get
yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished."
- SAM SMITH.