Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Timothy K. Kuhner's "Tyranny of Greed"

Timothy K. Kuhner is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Auckland. He is the author of Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution (2014).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tyranny of Greed: Trump, Corruption, and the Revolution to Come, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine wraps up a discussion of Trump’s uncanny ability to corrupt democracy. The preceding pages discuss his strategic use of voting rights violations, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism before finally arriving at his strategic relationship to reality itself.

One of the best terms to describe that relationship is “bullshit.” As Professor Harry Frankfurt explains:
[T]he bullshitter ... is neither on the side of the truth nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Frankfurt locates some of the purest bullshit known to humankind in advertising, public relations, and politics, all of which employ market research, public opinion polling, and psychological testing. Insights gained in those places enable bullshitters to transcend haphazard storytelling and home in on the narratives that will resonate with their audiences’ fears and desires.

With that introduction out of the way, here’s most of page ninety-nine:
Ultimately, Frankfurt connects bullshit’s proliferation to a breathtaking form of denial: the denial of “any reliable access to an objective reality,” of “disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false,” and even of the very “intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.” Such extreme skepticism reached a high level in the 1990s under the cynical culture of pay-to-play politics, attack ads, and shadowy outside players. But that dystopia has since been supercharged by many more layers of technology and the feverish influence of social media (android meets zombie). Amplified and inserted in just the right places, Trump’s unmitigated bullshit caused society’s skepticism to metastasize.

The way the Trump campaign accomplished this admits no skepticism, however. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was vice president of Cambridge Analytica, the firm that illegally harvested data from some 50 million Facebook users. Christopher Wylie, a courageous pink-haired whistle-blower, exposed the company for using that information to create “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.” Those were Wylie’s words for the software program that influenced voters’ worldviews and choices. Such systematic manipulation of voters’ perceptions of the political world amounts to the corruption—or the destruction—of reality.
This page happens to contain a high ratio of expletives to polite terminology. But this unrepresentative aspect is representative of the entire book in an important way: Tyranny of Greed pulls no punches. No matter how critical you are of Trump and his regime, this book will surprise you.

I began my research with standard questions in mind—including how Trump came to power, what the underlying nature of his regime is, and what it would take for the overwhelmed and outraged opposition to come together and defeat him. Those common questions led me to a number of uncommon conclusions, however. Page ninety-nine’s notion of Trump, the bullshitter, is actually one of the least surprising ones. After all, this is the book that introduces readers to Trump, the demon from Hell.

On the whole, Ford Madox Ford’s test applies well enough: open Tyranny of Greed to page ninety-nine and its overall quality will be revealed. Those technical references to bullshit and psychological mindfucking invite readers to try something new: a book that is based on academic research, but which nonetheless dares to go everywhere that’s necessary to get to the heart of Trump’s regime.
Learn more about Tyranny of Greed at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue