Doing an interview with Peter Schiff, a radio host, adviser to Ron Paul, advocate of the gold stndard, and all-around lunatic, was a big mistake. All it did was bring out the zombies at the Amazon site: there is such a thing as bad publicity Why, then, did I do it?
Two reasons. First, I wasn’t thinking about consequences. I thought this was just another radio interview. I didn’t know the man was a shouter as well as a fool, someone who would invoke Robinson Crusoe as the basis of a conversation about the function of consumer spending in a modern, post-industrial economy. Actually, I was the one who dismissed Defoe as the proper groundwork of discussion, after Schiff had suggested that my program was the equivalent of dropping money on tribes in Africa.
I should have gone further and characterized his utterance as quite possibly racist. I should have noted that Crusoe’s island is a paradigm of new world slavery, not free labor, fee soil, free men. Or rather, it’s a place where abstract social labor hasn’t yet happened—on Daniel Defoe’s island of imagination, as on Peter Schiff’s desolate reef of humanity, you produce of yourself, by yourself, and for yourself. How does Marx put it in Capital? “All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated [in “a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common”], but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour [until the encounter with the Other], and therefore simply an object of use for himself.” [1: 90]
Better yet, there’s Marx on Jeremy Bentham, the theoretical perfection—or should I say personification?—of Robinson Crusoe. The first time I read this, forty years ago, I laughed out loud. Honest to god, Karl Marx is a pretty funny guy, for all the carbuncles and the sectarian strife.
“This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes, is in fact a very Eden of the rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say, of labour-power, are constrained only by their free will. . . .Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself.” [1: 195. See also 1: 668 n. 2 for even more gleeful asides on utilitarianism]
Second, I was thinking like a good liberal. Everyone owns the truth-tracking faculty called reason, I thought, and so even an all-around lunatic could understand why my arguments were better than his. I know better than this, why did I subject myself to someone who also knows better? Because I still harbor the strange illusion that there’s a body of fact independent of any methods, values, and desires—even as I argue against this illusion in every course I teach. The gravitational pull of the idea that we share the same facts is too powerful.
But just to let myself off the hook, I was also thinking with Alasdair MacIntyre—I can produce commensurability by showing how rival accounts of the very same events produce questions they can’t answer, in other words, by narrating the evolution of these accounts and demonstrating that my version of the events includes the rivals. Not a chance.
Like I said, the man is a shouter as well as all-around lunatic. Abolish the Fed, repeal all income taxes, get back to the gold standard, and then, if anybody’s left standing, let’s also do away with the 20th century! How can you argue with a man this delusional? Well, you can’t.
But there’s a serious downside to engaging with creeps like Peter Schiff. I use the word advisedly, as a technical designation. He’s a moron and a bully: he makes Donald Trump sound erudite and insightful. That downside comes with his following, the zombies who haven’t read my book but proudly post vicious reviews at Amazon because they know, from listening to Mr. Schiff, that my ideas are dangerous. Communist propaganda and all that.
I’ve actually complained to Amazon about these reviews. Not the three that cite the book and explain their disagreement, no, I mean the four “reviews” that cite the interview with Schiff and/or announce that they were written without reading the book. The Customer Service crowd at Amazon has gone over these reviews and decided that only one of them must be permanently deleted.
The moral of this story is pretty simple: it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how good your arguments might be. The truth is fungible, malleable, and marketable. Don’t be arrogant or stupid enough to believe that your truth is inviolable.