When the Market Is Our Only Language

What next, after Anand finally understood, or actually felt it was necessary to speak up? Time will tell.

After his book (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) he met to discuss some of the details on the On Being show. Some of the transcript is printed below:

I had started to realize as I got deeper into that Aspen world that it was also a world where Pepsi and Monsanto sponsored things, and the Koch brothers sponsored things, and Goldman Sachs sponsored our reunions. You started to realize that it wasn’t necessarily clear that this enterprise we were a part of was truly about world betterment. And I basically became very interested in the silences, what we were not allowed to talk about or what we, just by custom, didn’t talk about when we came together to talk about making the world better. So the Aspen consensus was: You can tell the rich and powerful in our age to do more good, but you can never tell them to do less harm. You can tell them to give more, but you can’t tell them to take less. You can tell them to share the spoils of extreme capitalism, but you can’t tell them to renovate capitalism…

It seemed to me that what we were doing in coming together in this way was genuinely trying to help, genuinely talking about these problems, genuinely creating action and programs and thousands of little initiatives to help people. But in some deeper way, the whole thing, actually, I started to realize, was a conservative exercise in protecting the system that kept us on top.

This is as unequal a time as America has been in 100 years. It’s evidently as angry a time as it’s been in a long time. It’s as democratically dysfunctional a time as it’s been. And a lot of how we got there, in my view, is through seemingly innocuous language, language that found ways to smooth over real problems so that we didn’t address them and so that they festered and festered and festered. It’s language like the “win-win,” which sounds great, but in some deep way is actually about rich people saying, the only acceptable forms of social change are the forms of social change that also kick something back upstairs — language like “doing well by doing good,” which, again, is like, “The only conditions under which I’m willing to do good is under which I would also do well.”
You really have this rising figure in our time, the “thought leader,” who is the winner-friendly thinker, the thinker who trims some of their diagnoses and prescriptions and looks at the world and what to do about it in ways that justify the winner’s position on top. Those people get a certain kind of patronage and sponsorship and acclamation from the winners.
Sometimes, on the darker corners of the internet, it’s imagined that rich people are all sitting in a room making these horrible, evil schemes. And part of what I found was that a lot of these folks are incredibly decent and upholding an incredibly indecent system. And the way you get from one side of the river to the other, from those decent people to the indecent system, is the bridge of faulty assumptions and weird myths and bad ideas that have managed to really rise to the fore and conquer a lot of our culture.

…you can write a criticism, a profound and fierce criticism of people among whom are many of your friends, and you can lament their giving in to the magic influence of this new, new faith, but you can do it in a way that’s a debate with your friends. The idea is for people to sit with these questions of: What is my relationship to the system? What is my relationship to inequality and the injustices in this country? Am I actually working on the right side to solve these problems? Am I enabling these problems by day and then tinkering with them by night? Is my regular job, as opposed to my side hustle, on the side of justice? All of these things. What’s been so amazing to me is actually the openness of a lot of the people — the kinds of people I implicate in the book — the remarkable openness to looking at these questions.

…We’ve also always had this story of movements. It wasn’t individuals who got rid of the King of England. The most important things we’ve done in this culture have also been together.

Anand Giridharadas

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