The Marketplace of Ideas Has Crashed

It’s time to pick up the pieces and move on — but that requires some new thinking.

Peter Coffin
Aug 27, 2016 · 5 min read

I’ve spent a lot of time (too much) trying to figure out why society accepts certain things. Like you probably were, I’ve always been taught that the truth always prevails, the best ideas are implemented, working hard is all it takes, and presenting a rational approach will make all the difference in the world.

It’s horseshit. All of it.

We live in a society built on top of the worst ideals and tendencies of humanity: greed and malice. Those without conscience are at an advantage in our neoliberal capitalist society, where being a magnate is both an economic goal and a social one — where “social capital” is not just an acceptable term, but an unavoidable one in the quest for a sustainable life.

Neoliberal capitalism is the application of the free market as a solution to all of society’s issues (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), whether economic or social. When an issue becomes viable both economically and socially, neoliberal capitalism deems it worthy to take on. My favorite examples are renewable energy and marriage equality — now that you can make money on both because people have accepted their validity, it’s time to take them on. Nevermind that over 95% of the scientific community has been talking about climate change for 40+ years. Nevermind that gay people are human beings. There’s criteria, damn it!

A large chunk of why society functions in this manner is that, by and large, we’ve accepted “the Marketplace of Ideas.”

If you’ve watched my 21-minute comedy-documentary on the subject (which I obviously recommend — though be warned, there’s a fair amount of profanity), you’d know that I think systematically applying a metaphorical free market in order to determine what ideas and ideals are valid is utterly absurd. The market exists only in the abstract, so it has no standardized processes, no means of transactions, and no regulation. It doesn’t actually mean anything besides “guys, let’s look at people’s thoughts like a free market! I worship the free market to attempt to fill the gaping hole left by an absent God!”

Thought just does not work like a market. Purporting it as working that way has resulted in what I would consider to be an unbelievable reality. People are expected to accept that we are trading ideas on a market like stock, but as a result, attention has become the currency.

Currency can be manipulated — and that’s exactly what Donald Trump has done. He figured out how to ram himself through by making a dizzying array of comments and desensitizing people in a manner that he is quickly able to move on to another “issue” without losing attention. At very least during the primary season, he was able to disable narrative’s effects him by being inconsistent faster than people could keep up — and interesting.

It’s possible Trump actually did crash the Marketplace of Ideas.

I’ve been using that phrase as a joke, but I am gradually coming to the belief that Trump has overloaded the marketplace and created many branching outcomes, most of which help him. My hope is that through things like Donald Trump’s campaign, people begin to understand what we’ve enabled by accepting the proposal that society — especially societal ideology — works like a market.

Attention has become the currency in the Marketplace of Ideas because the situation has always maintained a “main narrative” structure. There’s one prevailing narrative at all times, despite all of the social technology we’ve created that should allow for competing narratives to gain more representation. People like to pretend there is an actual, objective truth — and that this narrative is it — but there isn’t. Truth, facts and reality are subjective — all human-made constructs attempting to explain things we perceive about the universe, “perceive” being the operating word. Perception differs by individual. No one’s perspective is exactly the same.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to beat — simply getting attention only works if the opposing viewpoint doesn’t get a comparable amount. This is a huge flaw, though, as presenting an opposing idea at a separate, later time almost never garners the same attention as the original one.

As I said in the documentary that the rule of three compels me to mention again, people like Kim Kardashian are successful because they are adept at manipulating the attention currency. Alex Jones and Donald Trump are significantly worse offenders than any Kardashian, might I add. In a way, they all kind of cheated the marketplace of ideas, which is essentially how capitalism works when applied to any situation. It’s a system built to cheat.

We’re metaphorically applying a “system” built to be cheated as a means to explain how we accept the validity of ideas — which frames the way we think about thinking as (overly) competitive and monetary in nature. It isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be.

What is most interesting to me: neoliberal capitalists and their market ideals made Candidate Trump, but if I’m correct about Trump “crashing the market,” he’s completely messed things up for them.

This has been going on right in front of their faces on an intense level for a year now, and if it plays out how I am theorizing it will, the memories are not going to be shakable. This whole thing is changing people in a way no one understands yet.

Watch my documentary on Neoliberal Capitalism and The Marketplace of Ideas, “How Donald Trump Won

Peter Coffin

Written by

satirist/weirdo -

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