Entrepreneurialism As A Way of Life

I want to scrutinise and interpret this type — the Entrepreneur — who is promoted as the ideal type, and most favoured and desired type, in economistic society and commercial civilisation. In effect, “capitalism” could just as well be referred to as “entrepreneurialism”, and neo-liberalism, as previously mentioned, a schema of utopian capitalism for producing a society of entrepreneurs, ie, “everybody an entrepreneur!” which, in any event, is often considered synonymous with “innovator”. Free trade deals so often favour this type, the Entrepreneur, that they, too, must be considered projects of a utopian cultural and social engineering in which the entrepreneur (or “producer”, or “investor”, or “innovator”, “capitalist”, and so on) is promoted as the ideal and progressive social type. It’s just assumed that social progress depends upon the entrepreneur and entrepreneurialism and that, therefore, this type should be in the driver’s seat and should be making the rules, and so every effort is made to ensure that he or she does.

But what is this “entrepreneur” really, who is promoted as the most favoured model, ideal, and progressive type?

Well, the word, which is French of course, means “go-between” or “middle man”, so originally a merchant, trader, or salesman and man of commerce who served as the nexus between a primary producer and a consumer. Over time, though, the word has become synonymous with “innovator”, amongst other meanings, and therefore with notions of creativity and even individuality. In capitalist society, then, entrepreneurialism has become the only acceptable, perhaps even the only permissible, outlet for creativity. The Entrepreneur has become the model and dominant type — the archetype of the artist that takes this particular form within the matrix of commercial civilisation. This is what is meant by “bourgeois civilisation” and “bourgeois values”.

Today, even film-makers, artists, writers, and so on, are expected to be entrepreneurial first, and creatives secondarily. They are supposed to create for “the market” moreso than for a readership, an audience, a public, and so on. The farmer, too, is now expected to be a businessman or entrepreneur first, and a farmer secondarily. Whether, for example, the farmer is a good farmer or a bad farmer is now quite secondary to whether he or she is a good businessman or a bad businessman. And so, too, for the artist, writer or film-maker, a successful work is measured in its market value — how much it brings in at the box-office in its opening week, or whether it’s a best-seller, and so on. One is expected not just to have a brand, but also to be a brand.

The entrepreneur, in economistic society, is cast as the heroic type, whereas in the Renaissance period, it was the artist as heroic type, and before the Renaissance and Reformation, it was the saint as heroic type in the context of Christendom. Almost invariably, a myth or legend of rags to riches accompanies the curriculum vitae of the successful entrepreneur, as exemplified, for example, in the film The Big Lebowski where the entrepreneurial type is contrasted with the “slacker” type in the two Lebowskis — the Big Lebowski and the Little Lebowski. The Big Lebowski berates the Little Lebowski — the Dude — for his lack of initiative while regaling him with the almost mandatory entrepreneurial narrative of his own triumphs over adversity, “competitors bested”, over obstacles swept away, and so on. It has become part of the “brand” — the mythic narrative of heroic entrepreneurialism. The Little Lebowski, the “Dude”, doesn’t possess the entrepreneurial chops, and this is counted against him as a defect of character, lack of industriousness, or even as a deficit of intelligence.

There is no necessary connection at all between industriousness and creativity, though. Productivity and creativity are different issues, although I’ve encountered plenty of entrepreneurial types who are “industrious” to the point of work-aholism, and who confuse their mere busy-ness with being productive, and being productive, with being creative.

The Entrepreneur as “innovator” and therefore assumed to be the most “progressive” social type, is also deemed to be the most creative social type, then. But the talent of the Entrepreneur lies not so much in creativity as in commercialisation and marketability.  To a certain extent, the Entrepreneur is a also a creative type. I have nothing against the Entrepreneur. It’s a socially useful talent, and often involves to some extent its own measure of creativity and imagination. But I object to the elevation of the Entrepreneur to top dog, which could only happen in a society that had become completely commercialist and economistic, and dominated by dogmas of “market fundamentalism”. That is to say, a commercial civilisation and its ideal of the man or woman of commerce.

The fundamental assumption in commercial society (or what is called “economism”) is that social progress accelerates when the Entrepreneur is elevated to the dominant and privileged social and cultural type. Even a good many scientists today think of themselves as entrepreneurs primarily and as “truth-seekers” secondarily, the idea being to discover something or invent something that they can patent and commercialise — biotechnology and biotech companies, for example, and in effect what is referred to as being “market driven”. The Entrepreneur is essentially that — one who is market driven.

If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments. The invention of commerce has arisen since those governments began, and is the greatest approach toward universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles. — Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

In that statement from the liberal revolutionist Tom Paine’s Rights of Man lies the original rationale for elevating the Entrepreneur, or man of commerce, to the status of legislator of society and now the globalised cultural model and ideal that is promoted by free trade agreements. It is also the core rationale of neo-liberal globalisation. Yet, Blake denounced this particular vision of commerce as the guarantee of “universal civilisation” as being “Universal Empire”.

When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold,
And Commerce settles on every tree

Commerce is so far from being beneficial to Arts or to Empire, that it is destructive of both, as all their History shows, for the above Reason of Individual Merit being its Great Hatred. Empires flourish till they become Commercial & then they are scattered abroad to the four winds

In contrast to Paine’s somewhat utopian liberal idealism based on a universal commerce (or “free trade” as we would say today), Blake saw a strictly commercial civilisation as an anti-civilisation, and denounced what we would today call “entrepreneurs” as “fiends of commerce“.  A commercial civilisation ends in nihilism.  “The Arts, and all things in common” was his political formula hurled against commercial culture and an entrepreneurial civilisation, and his objection to the man of commerce as privileged social type. For Blake, entrepreneurialism as a way of life was ultimately destructive of the very thing it pretended to promote — civilisation and authentic individuation.  And, indeed, in the main, the liberal and liberalising Entrepreneur of old has degenerated into the contemporary technocrat.

Blake, by making the Arts and the Artist the heart and soul of any civilisation worthy of the name, rejects the two extremes represented by Burke and Paine — the Monarch or Aristocrat and the Entrepreneur, or the conservative and the liberal, as ideal types, represented by Edmund Burke on the one hand (Reflections on the Revolution in France) and Tom Paine on the other (The Rights of Man) — the contending poles of the modern malaise. The notion that Blake was a “theocrat”, as I’ve read in some places, is utter hooey. But, indeed, for Blake a commercial culture was no culture at all, and was certainly not the way to a planetary civilisation or “Universal Humanity”. This was the work of the artist. And this idealisation of the Arts and the Artist is also something Blake shares with Nietzsche.

The Entrepreneur as ideal, and even heroic, type, and entrepreneurialism as a way of life, only makes sense within the greater context and matrix of a commercial civilisation. So, to that extent, all free trade deals imply a blueprint for a measure of human and social engineering to recreate societies and cultures in the image of commercial civilisation and the Entrepreneur, which is presumed as final telos of all civilisation — “the end of history”

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15 responses to “Entrepreneurialism As A Way of Life”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Now, here’s a more thoughtful article by the CBC’s Don Pittis on the collapse of the CETA deal, although it still doesn’t quite get it

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ceta-trade-canada-belgium-wallonia-1.3815639

    The point of contention is not just the worries of the Wallonia government that the deal scuppers the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest, but that these trade deals contain a “Trojan Horse” in the form of cultural re-engineering. For more communalist and cooperative forms of society, the promotion of competitive entrepreneurialism is like an alien invasion.

    And that’s really the issue here that even Pittis doesn’t address. Why should the Walloons give up their way of life and exchange it for an entrepreneurialist way of life? What makes the Entrepreneur type so sancrosanct? And why should the Walloons effectively give private enterprise and the Entrepreneur the legal power to challenge their more communal way of life and effectively dissolve it? Pittis doesn’t even ponder that. Why? Because neo-liberal ideology has become practically instinct — the unquestionable dogma and orthodoxy, as if there was something obscene about a culture of strong communal values and a more cooperative ethos. In fact he has no language to describe this preference at all except to describe it as “hard left”.

    What’s implied here, and simply assumed, is that the only valid form and process of “individuation” is entrepreneurialism — again the ideology of “the one best way”. And this is bullshit.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “And we do not want private arbitration in which multinationals can attack nations,” Magnette said.

    http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/no-ceta-deal-at-this-stage-belgian-pm-says-1.3128252

    Few, I see, are calling this “sensible”.

  3. donsalmon says :

    This was such a refreshing take on the entrepreneur.

    Jan and I are working on an e-course which we intend to “market” sometime next year. Everyday, in my inbox, I receive advice on being a successful entrepreneur. I dutifully file it in a particular area, intending to read it but almost never doing so. When I do go to the article or worse, one of the forums, it always gives me a dull, sick feeling.

    The forums are full of people telling stories about the latest tricks they’ve figure out to get more eyeballs on their site, and most important, to get the “click” to their shopping cart page.

    As you wrote, there’s nothing inherently wrong with creating a product and trying to sell it, but when “selling” becomes an obsession it is one of the most “anti-civilizing” things I can imagine.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I just read a review of a book by Tim Wu yesterday called The Attention Merchants, which deals pretty much with what you reference in your comment. Up my alley, too, with my interesting in branding, so I may order it

      http://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/07/the-attention-merchants-the-epic-scramble-to-get-inside-our-heads.html

      I think we tolerate this sort of thing — this banality — precisely because we do idealise the entrepreneur overmuch.

      • donsalmon says :

        Well now I have to sing our theme song (our brand).

        Under the sun remember to breathe
        under the stars remember to breathe
        all of the kids RTB …..[notice how that works!]
        Everyone now RTB

        remember, remember, remember remember to breathe
        etc

        (the tune actually came to me in a dream – i saw throngs of people around asheville dancing in the streets to this music….)

        now, where the link to our shopify store……..

          • Scott Preston says :

            Your link led me to another one, where Shopify defines what makes an “entrepreneur” or the “entrepreneurial spirit”.

            https://www.shopify.com/blog/117049413-what-exactly-is-an-entrepreneur-and-how-do-you-become-one-today

            It’s a rather nice supplement to my post, I think.

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            And before that, the “pioneering spirit”. But, you know what they say, “if anything is worth doing, do it with your whole heart.”

            I hope I’ll be forgiven, but I have to throw a wrench in the works here. If we start agonizing over every word we say (or write), we will be paralyzed.

            I ran across this quote the other day, btb — shortly after I spoke with you, as fate would have it. A gift for you, from Howard Zinn:

            To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something, If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

            • Scott Preston says :

              To spin the world in another direction — I like that! It’s pretty much what I was writing in my most recent post on “Earth as Marketplace”.

              Our language has been compromised by the technical and economistic milieu and by propaganda and advertising. We don’t have to agonise about that or feel guilty about it. This is what I mean by “retrieval”, in some respects. It’s what Gebser does in his Ever-Present Origin and what Rosenstock-Huessy does with his grammatical method. Rediscovering ancient wisdom already encoded in language becomes a great adventure. It’s what Rosenstock means in saying “language is wiser than the one who speaks it”, and Gebser reveals why this is true.

              What Rosenstock means by that statement we might re-express so: The perceptions of McGilchrist’s “master awareness” are already encoded in language. Becoming conscious of that code is already a step towards that awareness. Why? For the same reasons that Yogananda held that to arrive at the root and source of speech was the same as enlightenment. Rosenstock attempted to make a science of this, and called it “metanomics”. And we might call it “the metanomics of the meta-universe” or the Yoga of Speech.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    We are all a go between creatures, the problem is in how we serve the role of that go-betweenness. It is a question of misuse even art can be misused, Come to my mind the video Dave sent about the flashy commercialization of the spiritual path in the way of serving the person and not the community. Nothing is immune or untouchable. Even god has been desacralised and truth trivialized. In a culture of zombies everything is permissible. It is sad but this is the divine program of negation and affirmation, the play of the opposites. It started in the garden and it will continue to the end of history, the only thing the human can do is to stick with god,the truth and be good to others away from self-centrism. Not every entrepreneur is bad and not every artist is good. It seems we need to rewrite our language. Any work that is not built on production is anti-social that is why usury is prohibited as an in between service. The kingdom of the soul is in ruin that needs be saved and be rebuilt anew in light of the demand of this time. It seems the spirit witch used to descends on a single person in the old time is going to descend on the many in our time only to prove that the messages the prophets have brought from god to humanity is true. There is accountability,nothing runs in vain.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    You probably have read this- karl Polanyi “Our Obsolete Market Mentality”
    https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~immer/polanyiobsolete.pdf

    How do humans transforms from homo-economic to homo-ecological?

    • Scott Preston says :

      No, I was not familiar with that essay by Polanyi. Thanks for the link and recommendation. It actually suites even more my last post on “The Earth as Marketplace”. A good essay.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        There’s that prefix again.

        From French eco-, from Latin oeco, from Ancient Greek οἶκος ‎(oîkos, “house, household”).

        More at “home”, i.e. Sagan’s “the only home we’ve ever known”. Unless I’m mistaken, “economic” and ecology” share the same root. Perhaps we might begin there. But — wait — there’s more!

        Nietzsche’s dictum, “be true to the Earth”, is…well, a dictum. Those of us who never have been nor desire to be either “global souls” nor “ecological minds” certainly understand it (and especially the desperation in it), but don’t necessarily subscribe to it as the “one best way” of being.

        They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
        Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

        ~ Robert Frost

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