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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets
Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics
By William Bonner and Lila Rajiva
HC, 432 pgs. $27.95
ISBN: 0-4701-1232-8

A tough cut of book

By Daniel Ryan
web posted September 10, 2007

Mobs, Messiahs and MarketsIt's a commonplace nowadays in the psychologically hip circuit to divide people up into three categories, as based on a well-known experiment with rats: alphas, betas and gammas. Alphas are leaders; betas are followers; gammas are independent-minded dominant loners. Members of the last group often become alphas at some point in their lives, but discover that they don't like leadership that much, and return to the dominant lonerhood that they prefer. Gamma leadership tends to be of the "gang's all here" type.

Each group has its own mindset. Alphas tend to see betas as docile, as good-enough sheep, who need to be led for their own good; gammas are seen by alphas as oddballs, but as ones that might rate respect based upon their accomplishments.

The beta mindset is the one that's generally misunderstood in our competitive society. The idea that betas look up to alphas is a conceit generally shared by would-be alphas. If you want to find out the real attitude of the typical beta, there's no better place to do so than at work. Try being friendly to the middle-aged person that's unpromotable but well-liked. His or her views of alphas and gammas will give you an idea of what the typical beta point of view is. Chances are, you'll find out that betas tend to size up alphas as people of use: a "good" leader is a useful leader. If a leader isn't sufficiently attentive to the needs of the followers, then he or she isn't a "good" leader. (If you're interested, the eye-opening business book Neanderthals at Work by Albert J. Bernstein and Sydney Craft Rozen, divvys up alphas, betas and gammas as Competitors, Believers and Rebels, respectively.) The beta view of gammas is easier to guess. Gammas, from the point of view of the beta, are largely pitiable deviants unless they have some extraordinary talent worth noting. Sad to say, but the typical gamma fits into the beta world as part of the entertainment. No wonder that so many gammas get into the bash-the-alpha racket.

The gamma mindset is utterly cynical regarding general society. It's in the gamma circuit where you find the maxims about the "sheeple" being asserted as fact. The typical gamma view of the alpha is that the latter is a huckster, or "humbug;" unlike frightened or disillusioned betas, the gamma sees an alpha as largely clownish or incompetent – as a Sorcerer's Apprentice. The damage that the alphas do is the result of their limitations catching up with them. Given the amount of gamma-coined slogans about the "deluded masses," it's not that necessary to elaborate upon the gamma's view of the typical beta. The gamma's view of the alpha is the crucial mindset to remember. In a nutshell, alphas are sized up as tragic figures – impractical pragmatics whose loose moorings wind up getting the better of them. In the gamma world, alphas are often perceived as unruly slaves.

Mobs, Messiahs and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics is a thoroughly gamma book. Even the organization of it gives the authors' mindsets away. Both Mr. Bonner and Ms. Rajiva are goldbugs; both are regular columnists at LewRockwell.com, the well-known libertarian Website. Had they been alphas, they could have gotten the message across to the general public through a Goldwateresque approach: first, by reviewing the horrors caused by Communist and leftist humbuggery; and then, by showing what damage has been wrought by American delusion-chasing. Instead, the reader gets the opposite. In the part that deals with politics gone wrong, "Militant Messiahs," the three chapters therein discuss: the damage wrought by war; the blunderings of United States foreign policy, particularly in the area of nation-building; and, the horrors wrought by left-wing politicos – in that order. Further proof of the gammaeque nature of this book seems superfluous.

There is a devil figure in this book. It's none other than the alpha that genuinely cares what the betas think of him or her. This kind of alpha inevitably winds up being a "do-gooder" – the type of person who, according to the authors, causes the most trouble in this oft-saddened modern world. 

If you're the alpha type, you'll undergo something rarely experienced in this day and age, despite the number of Mencken imitators currently around: you'll actually feel the same way that a good, worthy, successful U.S. burgher felt in the 1920s when reading one of  Mencken's works when it was hot off the presses. The two authors are that good at being intellectually detached from all parts of the popularity-and-leadership game.

Some may find it roundly offensive, but it would be tragic if the reader, through umbrage, expels him- or herself from the Bonner/Rajiva School for Creative Cynics. After reading this book, you will re-evaluate some of your more cherished ideas. Some will find grist for self-reflection in its material.

There's actually little investment advice in Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, largely because the authors are attacking the underlying mindset that leads to recurrent and poor investment choices. If you graduate from the Bonner/Rajiva School in good standing, then you'll have the mental equipment to come up with good investment ideas of your own and/or the recognition of which commonplace ideas are the good ones. It's actually debatable whether or not this book has its prime value as an investment manual. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com, and has an undamaged mail address here.

Buy Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets at Amazon.com for only $16.77 (40% off)


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