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.