Veblen goods are objects of conspicuous consumption, which contrary to normal goods,
appeal to buyers because of their expense and inconvenience.
“Ideological Veblen goods,” I propose, are views similarly adopted because of their broad unpopularity and utopian impracticality./1
Why do people adopt such views? To compete for scarce attention in rarified, ideologically semi-homogeneous environments (just as the wealthy purchase Veblen goods to compete with each other semiotically in social environments where they are overrepresented)./2
One arena where such a phenomenon used to be clear (post-Trump, who knows?) were Republican primaries, where competitors would typically try to outbid each other by proposing lower and lower taxes and eliminations of more and more federal agencies./3
An interesting thing about Trump, whose approach to conspicuous consumption of the Veblenian sort was always too gauche for the Manhattan elite, was he didn’t exactly play this game. He instead foregrounded proposals — wall, Muslim ban — that set him apart in a different way./4
They stood out from the accepted standards of discourse, but were less impractical than a flat tax or abolishing the department of education. This had a similar effect to his conspicuous consumption, which failed to ingratiate him to the wealthy but won him a popular following./5
Anyway, obviously we could find many other examples on social media today, but it’s interesting to note that Democratic primaries once functioned in the opposite way: competing to be as dull as possible, the ideological equivalent of shopping at Target. But that’s changed now./6
Addendum: a few replies have helpfully pointed me to @robkhenderson who has been doing interesting work on “luxury beliefs.” A possible difference in the approach I’m outlining is that it doesn’t depend on the adherents being monetarily wealthy, merely competing for scarce...
attention and social prestige in ideologically homogenous environments. Hence it might help explain sectarian and schismatic tendencies in certain extremist political and religious settings, for example. But this is just a rough sketch of ideas I’m trying to work out.

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More from @daily_barbarian

24 Dec 20
One text I read while writing about Lasch was a reply to his critics he wrote for Tikkun in 1986 called "Why the Left Has No Future." It starts with the still valid observation that the left is unpopular with most of the people it claims to represent, which leaves two options./1
The first is total irrelevance, and the second is pursuing its aims via the "long march through the institutions." This second approach, he notes, triggers further resentment from the unsympathetic populace, which becomes the basis of the right's cultural populist messaging./2 Image
Another still relevant point he makes is that in accounting for their own unpopularity, the left falls back false consciousness theory, claiming the public is brainwashed into right-wing views by media (the more recent social media disinfo panic is the latest version of this)./3 Image
Read 6 tweets
15 Dec 20
Buried in the Atlantic's vague, catastrophizing "Facebook is a Doomsday Machine" article is a fair question: "How much real-world violence would never have happened if Facebook didn’t exist?" An article with this title should probably try to answer this./1…
The author claims it is "unanswerable." But if she really doesn't know the answer, then presumably a possible answer, would be "none or next to none," which would invalidate her thesis. In fact, she simply assumes that the answer is "a lot," but offers no evidence for this./2
If Facebook (or the social web generally) were a "doomsday machine," one would think that its devastating impact would be registered in an increase in the number of violent deaths (similar to how "excess deaths" can be used to track covid impact). Let's see if that is the case./3
Read 11 tweets
13 Dec 20
I’m going to guess this is the most obscure of Borges’s works: a series of three lectures he delivered to a group of Lacanian psychoanalysts between 1980 and 1982, published by a psychoanalytic press: one on dreams, one on Spinoza, one on poetry. It’s delightful stuff. Image
Borges was rather hostile to Freud for most of his life but he is more conciliatory in these lectures. He seems to have never heard of Lacan, but Lacan definitely read him appreciatively and, if John Irwin’s “The Mystery to a Solution” is to be believed, was influenced by him.
As it happens, there are two separate personal links between Borges and Lacan. The first is Victoria Ocampo, Borges’s friend and publisher, who met Lacan in Paris in the 30s. Lacan later sent her inscribed copies of all his books, which you can see if you visit the Villa Ocampo.
Read 4 tweets
13 Nov 20
It sometimes seems that partisans from both parties increasingly see elections as structurally unwinnable for their side—yet the turnout numbers this year suggest that far from despairing and giving up, they are participating now more than ever. How can this be?/1
The familiar version of this, from the Democratic side, is to claim the electoral college, apportionment of Senate seats, gerrymandering, and voter suppression give the GOP a lick on power that can only be partly and occasionally broken./2
On the right, you have the same demographic trends long seen as the key to the future by Democrats treated as a time bomb that will eventually seal Democratic dominance and have already partly done so. So weirdly, both parties think their situation is impossible./3
Read 9 tweets
11 Nov 20
Why are memes “dank” and found in “stashes”? The language echoes Paglian phrases regarding the cavernous, damp, enveloping female/Dionysian realm (“chthonian swamp”), hinting at the meme’s status as a subversion from within of the Apollonian pretensions of digital technology./1
To see this contrast, compare the “dank stash” to the luminosity of the Apple (note the similarity of the name to the god’s) Store, the contemporary temple of Apollo./2
The bricolage of meme production is a semiotic spargamos, a violent, but ludic, rending apart of the Apollonian image world beamed down on us, bringing its fragments down into the sweaty muck, where they’re digested, reconstituted, regurgitated and scattered into the winds./3
Read 5 tweets
11 Nov 20
All recent presidents were tarred with illegitimacy: Clinton never won a majority, only pluralities, and was impeached; Democrats viewed both Bush elections as stolen; birtherism was an attempt to delegitimate Obama, and you can add to that the "Chicago politician"/ACORN stuff.
Of course, there's the current guy with the Manchurian candidate narrative that emerged right after his election; and the likely next guy will be seen as having stolen the election by a decent portion of the country. Two thoughts on this:
An obvious takeaway is that as the country settled into ~50/50 polarization where it was taken for granted the vast majority of votes weren't even up for grabs, one result was a War of the Roses-like logic where you can only have legitimate heirs or pretenders.
Read 5 tweets

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