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The Californian Ideology Becomes Hegemonic

by ELLIOT SPERBER

Along with a considerable deal of surprise, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ sudden 250 million dollar purchase of the Washington Post (a trifle for him at 1% of his estimated fortune of 25 billion) has elicited no small share of conjecture as well. A libertarian who has funded legislation opposing taxation in Washington state, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage, Bezos’ economic conservatism, social liberalism, and demonstrated interest in political issues will very likely influence how he runs the Post. Whether Bezos’ motives for acquiring the legendary newspaper stem from a desire to enhance his cultural legacy, aggrandize  his hold over public opinion, or whether the acquisition is simply a hobbyhorse of sorts – akin to his Clock of the Long Now, his collection of long lost space rockets, and his other space projects – remains a mystery. Irrespective of Bezos’ motives, though – which even he may not be wholly conscious of – the purchase is indicative of a more empirical, observable, configuration of power in the US. To be sure, it is difficult to overlook the fact that, as the oligarchs of the tech industry begin to exert more control over national policy (from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us, to the industry’s general interest in tax policy, privacy issues, immigration reform, and intellectual property rights), the Post – the paper imbibed by Washington politicians along with their morning coffee – is now owned wholly by one of the giants of the technology industry.

Bezos’ faith in capitalism and technology – his desire to eliminate taxespublic education, and other aspects of the public sphere – along with his liberal position regarding “social” issues (as though the economic were not subsumed by the social) are both major facets of the so-called Californian Ideology. Prevalent among the libertarian-leaning members of the tech community, not to mention many Republicans and Democrats, the Californian Ideology (whose name derives from a 1995 article describing the phenomenon) is marked by a faith in the so-called – state-funded – free market, as well as by a faith in the ability of the – equally state-funded – high technology industry to triumph over every human challenge. As the likes of Obama proclaim their anti-statist/small government Reaganisms, declaring their faith that technology (clean coal, green energy, etc.) and the market can deliver society from the harms inflicted largely by technology and the market itself, it is not difficult to see that the Californian Ideology is not all that different from mainstream ideology these days.

This nominally anti-statist faith, however – along with its dogma – should not be confused with other, more critical types of anti-statist thought. For in spite of his libertarian suspicions of the state, Bezos (and the tech industry in general) has worked intimately with that great agency of the state, the CIA. Partnering with the CIA to develop quantum computing, Bezos has contributed a considerable degree of expertise to the CIA’s development of programs designed to break encryptions. As such, in many respects Bezos is the opposite of computer experts like Edward Snowden. Like Bezos, Snowden was also a CIA contractor. Unlike Bezos, though, Snowden’s use of encrypted material was central to his disclosure of the NSA’s spying operations. That is, rather than collaborating with the state as Bezos has, Snowden used encryption technology to subvert its power. Another tech figure who comes to mind in this light is Julian Assange. In addition to aiding Snowden in the latter’s flight to safety from US wrath, via WikiLeaks (and help from whistleblowers like Bradley Manning), Assange has fought and continues to fight against concentrations and abuses of state power. This polar opposition between Assange and Bezos is only heightened by the fact that Assange’s maligned and persecuted WikiLeaks – through which Assange has exposed war crimes and crimes against humanity, among other things – is itself something like the opposite of Bezos’ freshly purchased, propagandistic Post.

That said, it is unsurprising that political views such as those that define the pro-business Californian Ideology would be held by the current Newark, New Jersey mayor, US Senate candidate, and Silicon Valley darling, Cory Booker. As disclosed in a penetrating CounterPunch article by Linn Washington Jr., as well as by Glen Ford,  Booker is hardly the proponent of social justice he portrays himself to be, and is portrayed as. Very much like Obama, Booker merely masquerades as a person concerned with the public. When not performing political stunts such as briefly living off of food stamps, however, the Twitter enthusiast of a mayor spends his energies aggrandizing the fortunes of the rich – and lining his own pockets to boot. Notorious for his absenteeism, traveling around the country delivering speeches, Booker has picked up a fortune in speaking fees while the people of the City of Newark remain largely neglected. While he delivers lip service to investing in public education, he is in fact advocating for the privatization of Newark’s public school system. And while he tweets quotes by Plutarch concerning the trouble with the polarization of wealth, he is all the while plotting to dismantle social security. To be sure, corporate profits are up in his corner of New Jersey, unemployment and home foreclosures are higher than in the rest of the Garden State, and this is all a result of his actual, economic policies.

In light of the fact that they share the same ideology, it is hardly surprising that Cory Booker should be bankrolled by, among others, the technology industry. As disclosed in a recent article in the New York Times, not only has Booker raised millions from fundraisers thrown by such figures as the late Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs; tech giants Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman of Google’s Board of Directors) and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, among others, have funded and created a start-up company for Cory Booker. Ostensibly a video curating operation, Booker’s start-up – called Waywire – appears to be little more than a lavish political gift. As the Times article relates, though Booker has likely invested little of his own money into the enterprise, he owns the biggest ownership share. Estimated at somewhere between 1 and 5 million dollars, Booker’s stake in Waywire is worth more than all of his other assets combined. One needn’t worry, though, that such gifts will influence Booker’s decision making; Booker’s mind is already firmly shut. A staunch believer in virtual democracy, Booker seems oblivious to the fact that, by reproducing prevailing distributions of power and wealth, virtual democracy is in many respects inimical to the demands of actual, concrete democracy.

With its libertarian attacks on economic regulation and its laissez-faire attitude concerning social issues, the ideology of the tech industry has no difficulty supporting measures designed to roll back such things as worker protections and taxes while supporting social legislation, like gay marriage, in equal measure. As far as protecting the environment is concerned, those who believe strongly enough in technology feel no need to worry about that, noting that, no matter how bad it gets, technology can fix it. That this techno-fetishism is tantamount to religious belief doesn’t seem to be reflected upon by these ostensible lovers of science.

From the regressive egalitarianism involved in condoning gays in the military, to the institution of Obamacare – which firmly places private, for-profit, insurance companies in charge of health care policy and distribution; from the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, to endless surveillance, fracking, and the fascistic privatization of the state itself – all are subsumed within the ideology and values of the hegemons of the tech industry. And should their investment pay off, Cory A. Booker will prevail in his race for a seat in the US Senate. Ensconced in the Capitol of Capital, he will no doubt continue to serve the Californian Ideology of free markets as US Senator from New Jersey. And, like others, he will no doubt receive much of his (dis)information from Bezos’ newly acquired Washington Post.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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