Monday, October 31, 2011

Geniuses Relieve Needs; They Don't Create Wants

I've been reading Neoliberal Hegemony, which is an edited volume dealing with and detailing the individuals and institutions involved with the creation, fostering, and dissemination of neoliberalism as a project. Obviously, some of the contributions are stronger than others. One I found interesting is Peter Josef Muelbauer's" Frontiers and Dystopias: Libertarian Ideology in Science Fiction." Among other interesting arguments, he insists that market-based success requires attracting the approbation of the masses. This fact, he insists, shows that at its core there is a contradiction between being true to one's vision and selling enough crap to make a buck. Obviously, Ayn Rand's various visionaries avoid this by catering to the plutocracy. One wonders if the various obits of the late Steve Jobs, which emphasized his genius for knowing what consumers needed before they did, was or is an attempt to overcome this basic fact of market capitalism.

Is it the case that creating or more precisely manipulating preexisting technology to create, market and sell over-priced and unnecessary bits and bobs of technology is a sign of genius? Is it all that difficult to appeal the infinite wants of the mind, as Nicolas Barbon put it, to make a buck instead of working on providing the finite needs of the body? I say no it isn't. ShamWow, which is aptly named, made somebody rich but none of us better off. Having an overpriced bit of Apple gadgetry does little to ensure that, as one example, the majority of the world has a sufficiency.

Instead, the various Jobs encomium serve to continue the approbation of a spokesman for a trinket that fails to address the pressing problem of, what we might as well call, capitalists' hatred of humanity should their bodily needs interfere with profit maximization.  Indeed, the old Cynic, Stoic, and Christian trope of the wisdom of not wanting that served for a long time to restrain, at least in the west, the adoration of merchants and capitalists more generally argues against valorizing catering to the infinite wants of the mind.

It seems to me that real genius has better things to do than find a better way to peddle a mousetrap.

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