Satyajit Das: Why You Should Support Naked Capitalism’s “Imagined Community” (More Powerful Than That Might Sound!)

Lambert here: I wanted to break in here because I’m quite taken with the concept of “imagined community” that Das introduces below. The classic sociologist’s buzzphrase for groups of people connected through the Intertubes is “the strength of weak ties” (Granovetter, 1973). But as a moment’s thought will show, the ties between Naked Capitalism readers are not weak at all, mediated through this site though they be. One obvious example is the success of our fundraisers; after all, a donation benefits not merely the donor, but all readers. Second, we have the many cases of readers offering each other mutual aid, whether in the case of information from trusted sources on Covid prophylactics, mitigations, and vaccines, or various on- or of-the-ground issues like plantings or bugs, and, of course, deciphering the increasingly incomprehensible news (a second example of trusted sources). These are strong ties! Although, like anything living that is strong, they need to be exercised and kept in good trim. Das has links to the Tip Jar, so I won’t add one, but if you were to glance to your right….

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author of numerous works on derivatives and several general titles: Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives  (2006 and 2010), Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk (2011), Fortune’s Fool: Australia’s Choices (2022)

Benedict Anderson coined the phrase “Imagined Community.” Originally conceived in the context of nations, it signifies a group that is too large for all of its members to actually know one another but who share interests with others in the community across time and space. Naked Capitalism is such an imagined community.

Unfortunately, such communities do not run themselves nor do they survive on nothing. They require hardware, software, and dedicated workers — all of which require coin of the realm. Hence, my appeal to you, readers, to give as much as you can to support your imagined community. So please, go to the Tip Jar right now. If you can give a little, give a little, and if you can give a lot, really give a lot.

I don’t remember how I came to know Yves. It must have been around 2009 after what Australians call the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) and the rest of the world calls the Great Recession. I had read where she questioned whether readership of the Financial Times and the Economist equates to actual knowledge of finance. Given that the Financial Times repeatedly points out to its readers that lower bond prices equate to higher yields, I shared Yves’ concerns.

Over the years, she has been good enough to support my work (declaration of self-interest). But what is most important is that from that time to the present I have been an avid daily reader of the site. Why? Because I believe that it is informative and useful. (I confess that I also read the Financial Times and Economist sometimes for entertainment value.)

Central to the Naked Capitalism community is information, which is important at multiple levels. Immigrants, forced or voluntary, know that ultimately that the only currency they have is the knowledge they possess. More generally, information is critical for understanding our times and history, shaping our political beliefs and purpose, and holding institutions to account. The written word also embodies certain aesthetic values.

Today, traditional information sources – newspapers, TV, radio – are increasingly partisan vehicles. It is disingenuous to assume that this is new because major mastheads have always been owned by proprietors aware of their influence and desirous of exercising their power. But even the semblance of objectivity and concern about truth appears to have weakened. Western coverage of the Ukraine conflict is a case in point. It is now little more than Pravda-like propaganda. Veteran correspondents, with field experience in covering conflicts, are struck by the one-sided and manipulative treatment of information and jingoism.

The press, especially investigative journalists, once spoke truth to power. Now, they provide, for the most part, infotainment. Perhaps it is because, as Oscar Wilde once noted, “the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing”; a hunger that journalists feel obliged to feed. The decline reflects financial weakness. A business model based on hard copy and advertising revenues was undermined by digital competitors. Mainstream firms lost advertisers to online channels better able to target potential customers. The proliferation of free news and media undermined existing mediums. Cost cutting meant cutting corners.

What remains of the quality press has dumbed down coverage. Factual reporting has given way to sensationalism and opinion pieces from celebrity columnists who claim instant expertise on everything. Opining is cheaper than reporting and appeals to advertisers able to tailor ads to more specific audiences. Embedded in politics and business, fearing loss of revenue and privileged access to decision-makers, reporters, for the most part, uncritically transmit the official view. Regurgitation of press releases and self-serving interviews is the norm. Most of the time, to borrow from George Orwell, it is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The fragmented alternative media – websites, blogs, podcasts, tweets – had generally not proved corrective. It is focused on aggregation rather than original reporting or research. To survive economically, it must create echo chambers built around particular views designed to deliver a specific demographic to advertisers. The emphasis is on items that will trend or go viral, boosting advertising revenue rather than accuracy or fact. Legalised lying, which is what H. G. Wells termed advertising, now finances information.

The effects are insidious and dangerous. Verifiable facts necessary for an informed debate are no longer readily accessible to or even sought by most people. Ultimately, a world based on propaganda, manipulated factoids and conspiracy theories destroys trust without which institutions and authority cannot function.

Naked Capitalism and its imagined community is an antidote to this deplorable state of affairs. Its fearless curators and actively engaged readers provide astute commentary, and purvey actual verities and well-thought out opinions (even if you don’t happen to agree with them). Its credo is one that physicist Richard Feynman espoused: “I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” The site has since its inception been essential reading if want to remain informed about our complicated world.

If it is to continue then Naked Capitalism needs to at least cover its operating costs. These add up because Naked Capitalism is independent, with its own hosted space, its own able code wrangler Dave, regular writers like Lambert, Nick, Conor, and KLG, its very busy moderators, plus the time Yves (and sometimes Lambert) spend reviewing, editing, and formatting over-the-transom submissions deemed worthy.

A contribution to its fundraising is an essential step in being part of this imagined community which is more vital than ever. You owe it to yourself to dig deep and do your part to keep this site going. See that Tip Jar with those begging snow leopards? Keep them and your mind well fed.

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  1. Susan the other

    An imagined community for me is like the emerging pathway. Like Blinkin attempted to explain when he invoked the words of Dean Acheson that “We live in the past but must go into the future.” There is no clear way forward – something ancient Chinese wisdom explains as “you must find the path by walking it.” And NC is my favorite place to take long walks. Thank you forever. And ban the bomb please, in your spare time!

    1. Zen

      Thanks Das for this wonderful argument on why this particular “imagined community” is worth imagining and supporting!

      I would like to pitch in with some transcultural history of the “newspaper” institution. I’ve been looking into the adoption of newspapers in the early 20th century China, which up until the late 19th century primarily knew gazettes issued by officials. These usually failed to communicate reliable information between the court policies and the people. In the early 20th century some newspapers appeared (such as Shenbao), which were often ran by ex-pats and modelled by the idea of informational “free press” as a crucial institution that ensures a well-functioning governance by providing a critical mirror to it. Shenbao for instance ran quality opinion pieces and editorials that ran counter to some of the government narratives (along with advertisements), and was perceived as far more functional by the readers, who also emerged as an “imagined community,” which not only bought the newspaper on a daily basis but also contributed commentaries to its content.

      Interestingly, in the course of the 20th century the newspapers, such as “Shenbao,” practically disappeared from the media landscape both in the PRC and ROC, and were instead replaced by advocacy papers, which chimed in to the tune of the Party-state despite their various ownership, funding strategies, and readership preferences… For the Party apparatus independent papers were a liability and were quickly banned, whereas journalists and readers were either silenced or became complacent with the argument that all independent papers were simply a pretence for “foreign meddling.”

      Here we are in the 21st century and we see how the technology has been transforming the media landscape. In practice, the big newspapers — our “free press” — became no different from the advocacy papers, whereas smaller journalistic projects either chime in to the echo-chamber of mass-media, turn into “yellow” press, or cater to their own bubble of clientele… While technology was probably a nudge because of the funding issues on online platforms with their ease of access, I’d argue that censorship apparatus on the internet via algorithms on search engines and similar are likewise behind the demise of independent media…

      Naked Capitalism is indeed a treasure, since it stands as an “imagined community” that rebels against the market logic (click-bait, ads, etc.), the master narratives of powers-that-be, and the informational bubbles, repeating without self-reflection the same messages over and over again. It offers that critical mirror to the information space (and often to itself), which is desperately needed in the era of Newspeak.

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