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Jewish World Review June 20, 2000 /17 Sivan, 5760

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Consumer Reports

Derrida-t.Com --
BY NOW, everyone knows someone, perhaps many, who has lost his job at the hands of the "Internet economy." It's a satisfying feeling, to see people who have left your company for fame and fortune come crawling back, looking for their old jobs. It warms the heart to watch the near-billionaires of 1999 appear today with bushels-full of penny stock certificates. Particularly if they didn't even give you a shot at friends-and-family shares in the IPO.

So far, it has been a purely economic phenomenon: those who were rich and enviable are now merely pitiable wage slaves like the rest of us. Soon, I think, will come an intellectual reckoning. How could we have been so stupid? How could anyone have thought that the kind of advertising that runs in television and magazines would simply move itself onto the Internet? How could anyone have thought that audiences for Internet media would grow, remain loyal, and be profitable? How could anyone have declared that to ask that a dollar invested show a return in a reasonable time was an outmoded notion? How could anyone have thought successful a company which had $10 million in the bank, would spend $20 million in its first year of existence, and had revenues of $74.12?

Understandably, people have been turning to cliché explanations like comparisons to the Dutch tulip craze and rediscovering books about mass delusions in the past. Might there be a simpler explanation? I think there is. I think people have behaved stupidly because they have been made stupid.

And there is a direct connection between the education that our country's best colleges have been offering since 1985 or so and the absurdity of the Internet industry. The Internet bubble is a direct result of the likelihood that a graduate of the modern university will be trained in post-modernist thought, critical theory, and other silly, sweet, but disastrously anti-rationalist disciplines. He will never have encountered anyone who thinks differently, or, more likely, has the courage to admit that he does.

And as a result we have a generation of under-40s who have had their native ability to reason, to draw conclusions, and to use common sense deliberately drilled out of them by highly paid, self-confident, and committed teachers.

I have a book about marketing on the Internet, which has remained on the floor near my bed where I threw it in December, 1998. It was published by Harvard Business School Press in 1997, which means it was written in 1996.

Everything in it is a hilarious delusion. It's one thing to make predictions which don't come true. What is not forgiveable is the air of certainty and self-satisfaction of this book. It has charts, graphs, and lists of "to-dos." It assures us that its predictions are the result of "an extensive computer model." Its authors give no indication that none of what they say has ever been tested or observed in the real world. The authors are from McKinsey, the book is published by Harvard-that's all we know and all we need to know. It can only have been written by people educated to think that there is no such thing as objective reality. It can only have been appreciated by people who have been taught that authority is never earned-but only unjustly seized by hegemonists.

If ever there was a case for the "social construction of reality," it's the case that pure "new economy" companies made for their existence. I don't think that the idea that male and female are separate categories is a social construct. A social construct is this: you buy stuff for $1.00. You sell it to people for 90 cents. And it costs you 30 cents to find the people to buy it at a loss. And you are an Internet visionary.

Since about 1985-roughly when the graduate students educated in the 70s gained tenure and seized control of the curriculum-students have been trained for leadership roles in the Internet bubble economy avant le lettre. Their curriculum might have been designed by experts to create Internet managers. The brave Roger Kimball has dedicated himself to showing how the postmodernist academics have tried to destroy the finest achievements of our culture. But perhaps his villains will have done more lasting damage to capitalists - and to the value of their TIAA-CREF retirement funds-- than they have done to poets.

When they were in college, the workers of the Internet generation have been systematically taught that all rules are a matter of power and property. Translation: when we get hold of the venture capitalist's funding, we'll spend it anyway we please.

They have been taught that those with power and money can bend reality to their will. Translation: If we are funded, then we must be a success.

They have been taught that the concept of "value" is a purely conventional notion-that with the right tools, anyone can impose his 'values' on anyone else. Translation: customers will not mind if we sell products we can't deliver, because we have a concept and the funding to back it up.

If it weren't hegemonic to say so, I'd suggest that the parents of the Internet fiasco are not the geeks and entrepreneurs who invented and funded it-not Jim Clark and Steve Case and TK, but Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, and Gayatri Spivak. names.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman