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Eugene McCarraher

The Confidence Man

Meet Mark C. Taylor, the virtuoso of Nietzschean boosterism.

Say you're a theologian in the religion business who's concluded that your company's oldest and most trusted product doesn't really exist. What do you do after the death of God? You could lie to the customers and stockholders, continue writing copy, and ruefully await retirement. But if you're more imaginative, you could turn your crisis into an opportunity, as consultants like to say, and spin God's death as a new form of life, an "entrance of divinity fully into the human." You could "re-tool" and jump to another firm—English, philosophy, or perhaps a start-up in something-or-other studies.

Or, like Mark C. Taylor, you could become an entreprofessor, a broker in the emerging intellectual markets, trading in some of the hottest stocks in cultural capital. Pooling your dwindling fortunes in theology and philosophy with venture capital from postmodernism, you nimbly navigate the volatile and bubbling markets in profundity, hang out with the rich and famous, and after a while you're a pioneer in internet education, adulated in the Sunday New York Times. As long as the bubbles don't burst, and as long as the old business doesn't revive, you're as safe as a tenured academic—which, of course, you are already.

Lest anyone recoil from these remarks as ad hominem, consider that Taylor himself (a professor of humanities at Williams College) blithely endorses the opportunism they evoke. "For the canny player," he writes at the end of Confidence Games, life is a "game of poker." Since "one can never be sure that the chips can be redeemed"—redemption being a game for losers and suckers—"the best strategy is to keep the game going as long as possible." And since the game is, according to Taylor, increasingly played as a "complex adaptive system" of global information networks, "we" need to "cultivate an appreciation for the resources and limitations of many religious traditions." In short, don't invest too heavily in any one company—diversify. You can't be ...

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