There are few things less surprising than Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to start a book club. As I predicted not long ago, it was just a matter of time before Zuckerberg joined in on the publishing game, given his newfound newspaper-y aspirations — think Murdoch, Hearst, Bezos. But there is more to this charade. It’s all about business, politics, the politics of business, and the business of politics.
Zuckerberg’s crackpot scheme was hatched at some point between December 30th — when he appears to have crowdsourced recommendations for his own New Year’s resolution — and January 2nd — when he announced, on the basis of the responses he received, that his resolution would be to read a new book every two weeks. Not one to do things on his own (like invent Facebook), Zuckerberg couched his ambition in a new book club.
“Many of you proposed reading challenges,” Zuckerberg wrote. “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.”
But what does this mean? Let’s first of all point out the obvious.
To begin with, it could be argued that Zuckerberg has always been into books, if you consider that Facebook is a book. But more saliently, by starting a book club, Zuckerberg is now allowed to emulate his own company: he can “like” and “share” books instead of writing his own (like, say, Google’s Eric Schmidt). This, of course, frames him as a benevolent, Oprah-like recommender instead of an exacting corporate dictator.
Unfortunately, though, the book club “event” is more nefarious than you might think; as per usual, there is money to be made here. In fact, as book publishers search for ways to circumvent Amazon’s monopsony, they’re beginning to look toward social media networks as a conduit for selling books directly to consumers. Most recently, Hachette announced its plan to sell books directly via Twitter. So it makes sense that Zuckerberg would want to warm up users and publishers in advance of the large-scale movement to direct book sales on social networks. It gives him competitive advantage.
Then there is the book itself. Zuckerberg’s first selection could not have been more slyly propagandistic. Moisés Naím’s The End of Power is a duplicitous hackwork cut in the style of Thomas Friedman, although it has been pushed upon readers as a Malcolm Gladwell-esque rendering of massive social, political, and economic trends. Plainly put: it’s precisely the sort of “rich get richer” market-drunk chicanery you’d expect a billionaire to support.
Naím’s book is a neoliberal update of libertarianism, one that would pave the way for free-market capitalism to conquer the world. Its thesis is that “power” in the world is lessening or “ending,” and that dictators and overlords will soon be a thing of the past. Naím’s silver bullet is a pseudo-intellectual breakdown of historical forces into three M-word revolutions: the more, mobility, and mentality revolutions.
The more revolution means that there is more shit in the world — money, people, etc. — and for Naím this is apparently a good thing because it implies that humans are less easily governed by, well, governments. (The notion that “more” might be destroying the earth carries less weight with Naím.)
The mobility revolution suggests that we’re more, well, mobile. As a result — you guessed it! — we’re less governable. Although, again, it doesn’t seem to bother Naím (overmuch) that this very mobility implies that the global population lives and works in precarious circumstances.
Finally, the mental revolution suggests that we’re tending towards greater openness as a society, a development that technology entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg would love to take credit for.
Although the book shies away from an out-and-out endorsement of tech companies (it is pretty jazzed about hedge funds), it certainly supports a world where “free-market” entrepreneurs with “soft power” — like Zuckerberg — rule the roost. And, most damningly, Naím appears unruffled by Thomas Piketty’s revelation that wealth has a tendency to accumulate under capitalism. Nor does he appear to believe that wealth and power are aligned, or, for example, that the ability to accrue endless wealth is itself a power.
Basically Naím endorses a world where hundreds of thousands of people buy an intellectually predatory book after it is “recommended” by a billionaire. You know, a world without power.