There sure seem to be a little trend of some young libertarians withdrawing from their formal institutional associations. Just earlier this month, I wrote a post when someone had decided to leave an organization spear-headed by celebritarian Cathy Reisenwitz. I was somewhat surprised to see today that Cathy herself wrote a blogpost announcing that she will no longer be doing professional libertarian activism because she has pursued and gotten a job in tech sales. And I think to myself “that makes a lot of sense”.
When I read the post, the one thing that is not surprising is that her choice is to go into sales, as sales/marketing is exactly the kind of mindset she has quite transparently been approaching things from all along, and she even quite plainly states in her post that her professional experiences so far have been part of a process of becoming such a person. This sales mindset has been an important part of my critical perception of Cathy.
What a lot of libertarians seem to have trouble understanding or acknowledging is the red flag this sends out, the immediate reasons there are for cynicism about sales and marketing. The mindset of marketing (and “political science”) is basically strategic human manipulation without conscience covered up with feel-good buzzwords. I find it very dangerous for one to view the social world in general through that kind of mindset, and it appears that Cathy kind of does. She also always strongly struck me as being someone who thrives on the pursuit of status.
Consider the pretension someone must have to move to Washington D.C. to pursue professional politics, particularly the media aspect of it, and then consider the entanglements that come along with being involved in media organizations, think tanks, and the like. There are a lot of libertarian bloggers out there, but most of them don’t take themselves too seriously as careerists or seek to become full-time payed politicos. To make an analogy, most young libertarians are more likely to take the hipster route of moving to New Hampshire than the yuppie route of trying to become a professional celebrity and hanging with the D.C. think tank people.
Cathy quite deliberately enmeshed herself in that latter world, surrounded herself with more established libertarian figures and organizations, took special interest in online marketing, and she managed to become something of a celebrity (surrounded by people constantly reinforcing her self-esteem and sucking up to her). She should have checked her privilege. It is an immense privilege to be a political careerist, especially a D.C. one. It is a privilege to be payed to do what thousands upon thousands of people do for free (write political opinions) and to have that be given significant publicity. Plainly, social status is mainly a matter of privilege.
This was somewhat aided by being a conventionally attractive female and shamelessly milking the “I’m a libertarian girl” thing while making sexual politics one of her main shticks. But more generally, she quite uncritically embraces the world of media and marketing. In my eyes, Cathy has functioned as a click-baiter and opportunist who flips between pandering to different political demographics (leftist women one day, conservatives the next, from sex workers to old men in bowties) and takes the notion of “spreading libertarianism” too seriously.
When you’ve made it your life goal to be an activist for a political doctrine, to “sell ideas”, you’ve basically become a political tool and threaten to lose touch with your own humble humanity. Everything about it is pretentious and delusional. When it is your job to promote an ideology, critical thinking doesn’t happen so much and your view of yourself and your importance becomes a fantasy. And when you’re motivated by marketing and demographic expansion, you’re not engaging in much authentic human interaction as much as you are using people and being used, while being functionally subsumed by organizations. And you risk “cheapening the brand”.
Of course, this move of Cathy’s does not represent a break from ideology, as she quite consciously explains it all in terms of being the logical path of continuing to pursue libertarian ideology – just in a less public medium. So while I’m tempted to say “Good Riddance”, I doubt this is the last we’ll hear from Cathy, and she hints that her new path is still possibly tied in to activism. Instead of being a paid political shill, she can now be a more general shill, with perhaps a good dose of techno-geek hipsterdom mixed in, while ideologically justifying it as part of some grass-roots “free market innovation”. Chant with me now: “My careeeya!”.
This has all just been a career path for her. I think even some good faith libertarians should have some reason for pause when Cathy so transparently makes this clear. Cathy has consistently been a status-seeking, attention-seeking careerist who covers it up in a winking ironic-yet-not-cynical veneer of self-conciousness. I’m not moved.
“To make an analogy, most young libertarians are more likely to take the hipster route of moving to New Hampshire than the yuppie route of trying to become a professional celebrity and hanging with the D.C. think tank people.”
Personally knowing many Free Staters, I must agree to this. If you’re a libertarian interested in living like you’re already free, you move to NH. If you desire a large amount of political power, you move to DC and work with CATO or IHS or any of those big name think tanks. Certainly, several libertarians will come to NH for the main purpose of getting involved in NH politics, but for the most part, the most power-hungry go to DC.
One very noticeable aspect of people like Cathy and her posse is how much of the causes they latch on to tend to not only be liberal causes that you don’t need to be well-versed in Critical Theory or history in order to agree with, but causes that they can use to weasel their way into the political establishment. Sex-positive feminism is a big one, as is hipster economics. It’s no surprise how libertarians involved in mainstream politics and media cling to those as their primary issues since that’s what gets them fame and political clout.
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Whatever. Everyone knows Cathy is cool. 😛
Libertarians who talk about feminism and privilege are the shiznit, and there are so many hacks who are much worse. This focus on Cathy is weird.
I don’t know why Cathy is supposed to be “cool”. Am I supposed to be seduced by some pretense of “young and hip cultured person”? I don’t see anything remotely cool about her shameless attachment to the world of marketing and media, her attachment to wonky libertarian think tanks, her “what should the GOP do?” articles, her awkwardly oversimplified views on sexual mores, or her self-conscious yet bewilderingly non-cynical milking of celebritydom.
In my view, libertarians who talk about feminism and privilege are mostly engaging in some degree of appropriation and also using it as a means to push libertarian ideology onto those other groups as a demographic. I don’t doubt that there’s some sincerity, but the sincerity has the baggage of confusion to me and can nonetheless still co-existing with not-so-concious opportunism. It’s definitely a good way to win left-hipster cool points though.
I’m definitely a fan of the left-hipster cool points. 😀
But, basically, any time some libertarian challenges the libertarian establishment, I have to hand out some respect. [Unless it’s something ridiculously stupid, like Chris Cantwell.] Thinking for yourself is a good start, and speaking out against the establishment — especially on a taboo issue like feminism — takes some cojones.
And speaking of marketing, shouldn’t you be appalled by my approach? I actually do research into group dynamics and persuasion to inform my anti-libertarian tactics. The difference between me and Cathy is that my marketing is much better informed, because I borderline-obsess over this kind of stuff.
Here’s an old, cutesy post of mine, doing exactly the same thing:
But Cathy really isn’t challenging libertarians all that much. Most of what she says leans towards a very liberal – rather than radical – take on issues of sex, race, etc. A very good example would be her outright naivete when talking about sex and prostitution: she just assumes a porn culture is a good thing because sex is seen more often (without, of course, understanding how the entire sex industry is based in misogyny, commodification, body hatred, and a hyperreal idea of sex).
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This gets back to the disagreement I’ve had with Alex, which seems to be the basis for a lot of our disagreements. I’m in fairly close agreement with Cathy on these issues.
“she just assumes a porn culture is a good thing because sex is seen more often”
Just for the record that is not consistent with anything I’ve read by Cathy.
IMO, you are totally mischaracterizing the ‘sex industry’. If you actually listen to interviews with porn stars or sex workers, or read what they’ve written on the subject, you come away with a very different perspective. (And the porn industry is so different from prostitution that lumping them together as ‘the entire sex industry’ leads to misunderstanding right off the bat.)
It’s true, you can go to some anti-porn/prostitution organization websites and find all sorts of terrible accusations about what goes on. But these groups have both an ideological and a financial incentive to cherry pick extreme examples, and sometimes their claims will be, not just biased, but ludicrously wrong.
If you listen to, say, the Internation Union of Sex Workers, you will get a totally different story.
For what it’s worth:
I find that many in the libertarian spectrum who shed their activism for opportunities at gainful employment also feel that they can leverage the market-centric libertarian-spectrum position in their favor despite any cynicism or criticism for such a decision: they can counter that they’re meaningfully advancing their ideology by participating in the market, going “all in” for capitalism.
Such has been one of the multitude of problems countering unwavering libertarians, for one often has to concede to debate them on their own terms.
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This woman has a beautiful mind, brilliantly applied. An elegance in simplicity free of inner contradiction. I perceive a purity of ends most could only approximate, married to a perfection of means most can merely envy. May she conquer the world.
Not sure if this is irony or sincere ridiculous fawning/worship expressed in overly poetic language.
I have a question for you, Brainpolice. If the life-world of “humble humanity” is so foundationally valuable, then why does Ms. Reisenwitz vibrate self-assurance and happiness, as opposed to your air of bitter, frustrated misery? Doesn’t her strategy at life seem to be working for her, delivering that happiness which is the bottom line of life? If your “authentic human interaction” is a superior mode of existence, then shouldn’t it, as a rule, lead to better results? Shouldn’t you, in principle, be able to lay out on the table the net advantages and disadvantages of your down-to-earth ethic and persuade her that her way of life is less rewarding than yours?
I really don’t think you can. I don’t doubt that your approach to life nurtures some good experiences hers does not (and most people who prefer a life of close connectedness do it with more success and consequently have less need to hate others). But ultimately such appreciations reduce to an arbitrary unchosen temperament, and some people just don’t get that much out of living the way you think they should. I highly suspect Reisenwitz is having a blast living a life which suits her passions. She shows every sign of possessing social and intellectual gifts which she’s consciously choosing to apply and develop, and others clearly appreciate what she has to offer. Marketing or not, I suspect most people are happier from interacting with her. Do many people find value in sharing time with you?
At the end of the day, it feels like your problem is that Reisenwitz gets attention, status, and resources, and you don’t, and you don’t like that. How dare people reward beauty, charm, and social savvy and pay her to write instead of you! What’s wrong with people that they appreciate her shallowness instead of your wisdom! But aren’t *you* just playing a game of zero-sum social aggression, trying to assert social structures and background rules which cut the ground out from under her feet while “rightfully” favouring your set of “real” virtues? Who’s really playing the dirtier social game here? I notice that she’s at peace with herself, serene and confident rather than cynical, and is more-or-less transparent in her motivations. I don’t think your own jealousy and resentment would appear so charming, were you to confess your psychology to the world in plain sight.
What exactly makes you better than her?
I suggest you pay closer attention to what was written on this post if you insist on making this whole thing a matter of character. The accusation here is that Reisenwitz took a path of having political pull in D.C. You can ask “what’s wrong with having influence?”. In principle, obviously, nothing. However, there’re usually these pesky little considerations called “context” that come with this sort of territory. Observe this passage:
“The mindset of marketing (and “political science”) is basically strategic human manipulation without conscience covered up with feel-good buzzwords. I find it very dangerous for one to view the social world in general through that kind of mindset, and it appears that Cathy kind of does.”
This is obviously arguable prima facie. Curiously enough, though, you didn’t even address this. If you’re interested in character I would consider the question “what kind of person would get their jollies from this?”
You can also ask yourself, “what’s wrong with seeking status?” But, while you’re at it, why not ask “why the need to seek status at all?” Ultimately, you make the equivocation that “success” in this classic bourgeoise sense (attention, money, etc.) is a necessary reflexion of one’s talents. People like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are extremely successful. I don’t happen to find anything remotely valuable or constructive in listening to them. Approval and value can be achieved without playing the career game. In fact, in playing the career game things ultimately get distorted, as I think I’ve pointed out (and as it has been clear in this post).
Here’s something that caught my eye:
“If your ‘authentic human interaction’ is a superior mode of existence, then shouldn’t it, as a rule, lead to better results?”
1) That depends on what sort of results you expect. In my mind (and in any realistic sense) happiness is not the same as permanent bliss. I’m sure you’re right when you say that Reisenwitz is “having a blast”, but -again, if character is the concern- it’s beside the point.
2) It’s interesting you used the adjective “authentic” because that’s what is really at play here. By employing this concept you’ve already answered your own question in the affirmative. I do consider it more authentic to employ your talents in the manner of “agape” (as Ricouer would put it) than to treat it as a service you charge for. Is it always more rewarding? Of course not. The same way it’s less rewarding to live a 9 to 5 work life than to be Prince William. It’s more authentic, and that’S what makes it valuable. Again, character at play.
With all this said, reading this post as an attitude problem on the part of Strekal (“…your air of bitter, frustrated misery?”), is luxury you earn after having addressed his accusations towards Reisenwitz which you have not done.
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My impression is also that Lady Aster is deliberately trying to make this more of a question of the character of Cathy vs. my own than it really is. Really, it’s a cheap attempt to turn things around on me. The problem, as you hint at, is that the terms upon which Lady Aster wants to praise Cathy as “successful” and say “you’re just jealous” (a really petty way of interpreting the post) are in terms of the values of liberal capitalism. When such “success” is influenced by conscious use of marketing tactics and is defined simply in terms of ad populum appeal and simply having money as a “professional”, I don’t see the power of appealing to the notion. Really, Aster’s Randian roots are showing in the way that success is being talked about.
Even if we’re talking “better results”, that doesn’t hold much sway if you cheapen values in the process of achieving them. Admittedly, this is a dilemma that liberal capitalism creates to one extent or another for anyone entering fields such as sales or marketing – I sure felt moral conundrums that my job’s requirements clashed with my values when I was a salesperson at guitar center, and the mentality of my boss was basically a radicalized version of everything I disvalue and find to be hype. Cathy seems to just be proudly gung ho about those very things that I detested about being a salesman – and she adds insult to injury by applying it to politics. Lets be real about the world of marketing please.
It is also a mischaracterization of my standpoint to act as if I’m simply bitter about my own lack of status, because I have *never* been someone who tried to position themselves as a public speaker, movement leader, or anything like that. I don’t even share the pretense of valueing what I’m accused of being jealous of. I reject the premise of it as such. I think the whole enterprise of young people into radical politics trying to “educate the public” and become “professionals” is pretentious. And I think “professionalism” itself quickly wreaks of some problematic dynamics – especially professional media.
Cathy, in so strongly treating libertarianism as her career, has overtly played a kind of game that I don’t find honorable. I don’t find being a professional political pundit honorable in general. She can be as happy as she wants, but that is rather subjective and meaningless relative to the crux of what’s being talked about. I don’t fault Cathy for happiness. I fault her for being an opportunist and approaching politics from a very strongly liberal capitalist mentality without any shame. Dr. Phil and Oprah may beam “happiness and success”. They’re also total cheeseballs and not the kind of people you should look towards as especially good sources on anything. There are plenty of bullshit artists who leave people feeling happy and motivated. It’s still woo-woo. *insert law of attraction bullshit here*
When you do things like buddy buddy yourself to the kind of people who write terrible articles sincerely praising McDonalds as the essence of why the market is awesome, with their pink bowtie and without a shred of irony, you don’t get points from me (especially for a “left-libertarian”). When you find yourself *thanking the Koch brothers* without blinking an eye, you don’t gain respect (especially for a “left-libertarian”). Nor do you gain respect by making it a special priority to solicit BDSM porn stars who barely know what they’re talking about to be public faces for your political movement. Libertarian think tanks are often stuffy, awkwardly conservative or liberal-capitalist organizations that try to weasel their way into educational institutions and get people into other professional fields – and Cathy wouldn’t be anywhere without them, especially the initial spark of Students For Liberty.
I’m speaking to you as an egoist, and as a philosopher. I’m comparing you and Cathy because, for me, the fundamental question of the examined life is: “how shall I live?” And, as I cannot perceive any possible motive not to live for my own happiness, the question then becomes, “what kind of life can make me happy?” Perhaps I recall incorrectly, but I believe you used to be an egoist, and you write like a selfish person. And I see you disdaining Reisenwitz so highly, but I don’t perceive what egoistic ground you stand upon to do so. Reisenwitz seems thriving and full of energy, in touch with her needs and achieving them. I see such a person, wonder how I can learn from her, and start taking notes. Meanwhile, you criticise her with an air of moral superiority, a superiority which by egoist standards you don’t have. I’m not trying to score points here, I’m just sayin’: your whole blog reads like the story of an embittered man, wounded to the core and cheated of his youth and innocence. A blind autist raised by wolves could read it from Mars.
If I don’t take the time to dispute your analysis of Reisenwitz, it’s because I fundamentally agree with you—as analysis, if not as evaluation. I think you’re quite perceptive here, and you’ve made me take a second look at a writer whose work I haven’t paid much attention to, primarily because, like Reisenwitz and for related reasons, I’ve found other environments (and other worldviews) more rewarding than political activism. With the exception of some issues about “success” and “status”, I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head interpreting a very interesting document. My answer as an egoist, is, bluntly: “what’s your point?”
You use a great deal of condemnatory language to damn her (and me, of course). “Pretentious” “Delusional” “Shill”. Boo! Hiss! Hate! My question is: if she’s happy with a marketing mindset, while your way of living doesn’t exactly look appealing by contrast, why should she care? What argument could you possibly use to dissuade her of your project and alter it to one which would presumably meet your approval? If you are an honest egoistic philosopher—if you practice intellectual integrity in your own mind (and when you choose to intellectually engage with others)—you should recognise that you need to prove this. You need to be able to show that there’s something wrong with the marketing mindset from internal critique. And I very much doubt you can do that.