Politics Magazine

Myth of Infinity

Posted on the 10 May 2014 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

There are only five major trade publishing houses left. Despite the bewildering number of publishers around, five corporate giants own most of the industry labels that make really big money. Those of us who dabble in the literary arts dream of some day being published by one of these big houses because it might mean some success is involved. There are, of course, hundreds of indy publishers who are more author friendly, but you might never get noticed. So when I attend meetings and see the zig-zag that represents the EKG of capitalistic vital statistics, I often wonder about the myth of perpetual growth. A business isn’t really considered a success unless it can chart continued growth, year after weary year. And this in a finite world of shrinking resources. How long can perpetual growth last? In the publishing industry, if you get too successful you’ll be purchased by an even bigger company. Remaining solvent isn’t enough in a hungry, hungry capitalist world. The winner, they say, takes it all.

This idea bothers me long after the meeting’s over and the lights have been turned off. Have we truly come to believe in our own mythology? What kind of value is it that can be measured only by acquiring more? I went into higher education unsure of my commitments to capitalism. I’d rather not have some kind of quota hanging like Damocles’ stock report over my head. I want to ponder through the implications and burst out on the other side, hold the whole thing at arm’s length to consider it. If all businesses constantly grow, we run out of material. Don’t we? If all businesses don’t grow, some will shrink, then die. As often as not, they will be the ones I like the best. Infinite growth in a finite universe. Or is it really infinite and the capitalists are mining the very stars we can’t yet reach?

Glancing over my bookshelves, I see publisher’s names I’d never noticed before. Long before I was forced out of academe, I had purchased books on esoteric aspects of religion from publishing houses most consumers would never recognize. I even surprise myself sometimes. Some of these publishers haven’t survived. The self-published never outlast the death of the author. This is not a world of perpetual growth, but some of the ideas are nevertheless very fruitful. Can infinity grow from a finite stock? I think we all know the answer to this deep down. But mythologies thrive when not examined too closely. So perhaps it is better just to keep on pretending. And if you ever find someone who works for an independent publisher, give that person a hug.

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