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Pope Francis, economics, and technological feudalism

March 14, 2013

Big week in the news, as least regarding the things I take an interest in. Because, first off, Habemus Papam! What are we to think of the new pope? It’s probably best not to try to figure out if he’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy” (whatever that means). Part of the point of the office of pope, after all, is that the flaws of the person holding it don’t ultimately matter very much. I’m trying to take a disinterested “wait-and-see” attitude, as per this deflationary article in First Things:

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, is the newly elected bishop of Rome. We have already learned some important facts about him: He is from the Global South; he takes a bus to work; he is the first Jesuit elected; and he has taken the name Francis, invoking the memory of those great saints, Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, both Church reformers in their own way.

While these are all interesting sidebars about the new pope, it is important to remember that the papacy is about exercising a fundamental office in the Church, an office which has only one essential goal: to help all men and women know and love the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has come uniquely near to us in Jesus Christ.

But if you do want to know what’s up with Pope Francis (and really who doesn’t), the most comprehensive account I’ve found has been this article by George Weigel (biographer of JPII). Weigel’s goal is to reassure conservatives that they’ve nothing to fear, that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new Pope Francis, besides being a very holy man, stands for everything they like: the “New Evangelization,” i.e. borrowing the personal emphasis of Protestantism to resell Catholicism to the world; reform of the Curia; human rights, democracy, and religious freedom; and resisting individualist libertinism, progressivism, and the “spirit of Vatican II.” So, he’s for reform and against progress, for a more personal emphasis in Catholicism but against individualism? I guess it all depends on what kind of reform, what kind of personalization. Then there’s this bit about Francis’ politics:

Pope Francis is also deeply committed to the Church’s service to and empowerment of the poor, as he made unmistakably clear in his ministry in Buenos Aires. But those Gospel-based commitments should not lead anyone to think that he will be Paul Krugman in a white cassock. That seems very unlikely.

This is National Review, so it’s not surprising Weigel wants to reassure his readers that the pope won’t be at all critical of their libertarian economic inclinations. I don’t quite buy it. From what else I’ve read he sounds much more interested in “social justice” than Benedict XVI was, and even if Francis is no liberation theologian he’s no Ayn Rand either. Which is a good thing. I wonder if he’s a distributist?


The other big piece of news this week has to do with how I read the news: the impending shut-down of Google Reader, the most popular RSS reader out there. I find this move personally rather distressing, since I’ve used Google Reader for at least six years, spending more time on it than on any other website. How will I get my news now? The problem is, the things I liked about Google Reader–and thus the things I want to recover in whatever I replace it with–are precisely what made it Google shut it down. It let me keep up with many different websites while not actually going to those websites; I got everything I wanted to read in one place, minus the ads and poor UI design. But that means no one gets to make money from my eyeballs. (Not that they would, anyway, since I never click on ads. I don’t understand how the internet runs on advertising revenue…)

I’m still trying to figure out what’s happened to the internet, especially in the last five years or so, as the sense of unlimited possibility has gradually been snuffed out. I’ve seen people write about it as a shift from tools to platforms, a shift from active users to passive consumers, a shift from owning to renting, a shift (perhaps most evocatively) from anarchy to feudalism. All those articles are worth reading. Of course, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. I think what bothers me about Google Reader’s shutdown in particular, apart from its personal impact on me, is that Google has been in the past such a friend to open source, data liberation, etc. I want to hope that Google will replace Reader with something I can use as a tool, not a platform, but I’m not optimistic. And no matter what it does, it will still be something made by Google, offered to me under essentially feudal conditions, able to be taken away at any time–as Google Reader has been taken away.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Micah Teller permalink
    March 14, 2013 2:59 pm

    What are the publications that you recommend staying up-to-date on, RSS-wise?

  2. March 15, 2013 5:42 pm

    The American Conservative is currently my favorite politics/culture magazine website. First Things is also excellent. I mostly read the NYT and National Review to keep up with the news, and get most of my links to random articles from Arts & Letters Daily. Longer list here:

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