Who Goes There? Amazon’s Fatuous War on Gatekeeping
IT TAKES ONE to know one, as we used to say in Brooklyn. Jeff Bezos, one of the most powerful gatekeepers in the history of gatekeeping, had the effrontery to rhapsodize not long ago about “eliminating all the gatekeepers.” The eliminationist rhetoric was consistent with the monopolistic inclinations of his company. “I see the elimination of gatekeepers everywhere,” he hypocritically declared, referring no doubt to his fellow Internet oligarchs, whose codes and algorithms and policies and interests have broken new ground in the manufacture of gates. (Bill Gates.) Rarely has so much control presented itself as so much freedom. The destruction of gatekeeping by digital technology is one of the cherished myths of our day. The inebriated literature about the Internet is riddled with this illusion, which diverts attention from the uncool fact that the promise of anarchy and equality was swiftly usurped by the appetite for power and profit. Every revolution exaggerates its discontinuities. This is not always a bad thing. Gatekeeping, after all, is merely an ominous term for the exercise of judgment and the expression of preference. Curating is gatekeeping. Aggregating is gatekeeping. Running a website is gatekeeping. As for marketing, it thrives by the manipulation of desire online and off. All these activities require definitions and decisions. All include and exclude. And why would one want to enter a realm that had no standards for entry? Distinction, after all, is a consequence of selection. It was the apostle Matthew who established the difference between the strait gate and the wide gate: “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction,” whereas “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” The better dispensation must be earned, as a matter of merit. Levels will be established. Recently I came upon a short oppressive work by John Bunyan called The Strait Gate, or Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven (it has the charming subtitle, “Plainly proving, by the Scripture, that not only the Rude and Profane, but many great Professors, will come short of that Kingdom”). “A gate, you know, is of a double use;” the pietist wrote, “it is to open and shut.” He was right. If the gates of heaven were open to all, it would not be heaven. It may be protested that they are open to too few, that the criteria for admission are unjust—modern religion has sought to widen the narrow gate; but whatever the theological basis for the higher gatekeeping, the collapse of distinctions of effort and effect would make a mockery of human striving. Even in the digital empyrean, people strive.