A Movie That Gets It Right

October 26th, 2010   Submitted by Jeffrey A. Tucker

facebookWho are the capitalist folk heroes of our time? The Social Network is a film that celebrates one of the greats, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It might seem at first like an impossibly boring story that resists movie making: how Facebook came to be founded and grew, meeting trials along the way and becoming the giant that it is today.

In fact, it is not only a super exciting and wonderful movie on its own terms; it is probably the finest movie about free enterprise made in our times. It gets entrepreneurship in the real world exactly right. It deals brilliantly with all the important issues from the motivational drive behind web startups (it is not necessarily money) and the impossibility of slicing and dicing ideas into ownership units. It reportedly mixes fact and fiction, but that does not matter in the slightest for the many lessons and the overall theme.

The movie comes just in time. Facebook has been the victim of an increasingly vituperative campaign by the intelligentsia. It supposedly violates privacy, feeds crazed egoism, destroys lives by tempting people to cough up too much information about themselves, wrecks marriages, leads teens to commit suicide, wastes vast time that people should otherwise be using to enjoy the great outdoors, ruins the culture by digitizing communication at the expense of real face-to-face interaction, and wrecks the language by dumbing down the term “friend.”

Such are the alleged crimes of Facebook, and if you think that the website is guilty, there is an easy answer. Don’t use it. Facebook is all voluntary. It is also free for everyone. People — the latest report has 500 million people signed up, but this will grow to 1 billion and beyond — also happen to love it and depend on it. In fact, it is the most popular website ever. It has connected people as never before, allowing one person to keep up with the goings-on of thousands of others in record time. It is a major contributor to the humanization and personalization of the Internet and has made it possible for a vast plethora of causes and ideas to find expression and an audience.

There is philosophical significance to the phrase “social network.” It echoes a distinction between the economic and political means, as made by Franz Oppenheimer, refined by Albert Jay Nock in his distinction between society and state, and further by Frank Chodorov, who pointed out that the social means is always voluntary and the statist means is always coerced. The Social Network is shorthand for the vast matrix of communication and exchange that springs from human volition alone; it is to “society” in that Chodorovian sense that Facebook owes its energy and orderliness.

As always with free enterprise, it all started with a small idea: people like to know about others and like others to know about themselves. The Internet can make this happen. The film shows how the idea germinated within the microculture of Harvard University as Zuckerberg experimented with software solutions, and gathered ideas from every possible source. He rendered dreams into code that became a phenom. The movie nicely illustrates how his entrepreneurship was driven by ideas, tested on a daily and hourly basis in response to consumer interest and demand, with constant refinements along the way.

The ideas alone, however, were not enough. They were given life by technological genius. They were implemented through deep devotion and even a praiseworthy fanaticism. The film further shows that, while making money and the profit-and-loss test are the crucial signs and seals of commercial success, in the long run, the drive for money was not the fundamental motivation for the creation of Facebook. Zuckerberg is shown as not caring about money. He cares about doing something creative, great, and pathbreaking. He cares about making a dent in the universe.

When Facebook begins to take flight and really catch on, Zuckerberg is quoted as keenly realizing that its popularity, its coolness, is its main asset. He wisely sees that nothing should be done to risk that fundamental asset. The goal is not making as much money as soon as possible but entrenching the love that people have for the thing that Facebook was making available. This attitude among entrepreneurs is far more common than conventional lore would suggest. The archetype is of an achievement-obsessed dreamer, not a greed-obsessed calculator.

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6 Responses to “A Movie That Gets It Right”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    This movie review inspired me to go out and watch it tonight. After having done so, I can say it was directed very well and was quite entertaining, although I highly doubt the average movie goer is going to get any sort of lessons in libertarian philosophy from it.

  2. This Is Anarchism?No Gravatar says:

    Boy, are you ever a sucker. Try a search on Facebook and In-Q-Tel.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      It comes as no surprise to me that the CIA tracks everything it can of us online, including social media. But there is also no demand that individuals use Facebook. My understanding is that there is a privacy friendly Facebook alternative in the making, which, if it comes out well will hopefully steal the market share. In the mean time, if you don’t like the loss of privacy Facebook offers you, you’re more than welcome to not use it.

      • RJ MillerNo Gravatar says:

        I came across that very thing around the time I got into public key cryptography: http://www.joindiaspora.com/

        I generally avoid all major forms of social networking (e.g. myspace, facebook, etc.), but I might give this one a second look once it hits the road.

        • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

          I enjoy Facebook. It has also been instrumental in helping this website grow. But yes, I hope Diaspora(terrible name) comes out and is everything the libertarian community can get behind because I would love to see Facebook get upended by something liberty friendly.

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