Until recently, I regarded Jeff Bezos as the Genghis Khan of commerce. The founder of Amazon struck me as being the kind of man whose greatest pleasure lay in devastating the businesses of his rivals, then celebrating his conquest by quaffing their tears from the upside-down skull of the first competitor he ever crushed.
A businessman with a head so hard that it was difficult to imagine something so soft as hair had ever taken root there; at best he might have had lots of sharp needles sticking out of his scalp, like the cenobite in the Hellraiser movies. I might add that The New York Times exposé a few years back, with its claims of adults crying at their desks, did nothing to dispel the impression of a man driven by an unparalleled will-to-power, a master strategist who made few (if any) mistakes.
Yet, recent events have caused me to doubt the accuracy of this image, and to wonder about Bezos’s judgement. The rot first set in this time last year, when Bezos was forced to engage in a very embarrassing face-off with the National Enquirer over some revealing selfies he had taken and sent to his lover, Lauren Sanchez, and which had subsequently fallen into the tabloid’s possession. Surely the infallible god-emperor of Amazon was more intelligent than a horny teenager? Surely he knew better than to snap a pic of his John Thomas and think it would stay private? Well, apparently not.
That said, the way he handled it — a rapid escalation and invitation to war — impressed me; those were some nerves of steel right there, that was the Genghis Bezos I believed in. And the strategy worked, the photo remains under wraps and Bezos’s loins remain an enigma; none of us need ever think about them again and everything makes sense again.
Except that recently I learned something else about Bezos which threatens once again to subvert the image I have of him as a ruthless, logical, master strategist: he takes advice from psychics. At least that’s what his girlfriend’s estranged brother Michael Sanchez claims in a lawsuit he has filed against the Amazon owner for “defamation”.
Suddenly I had an image of Bezos at night, driving his Honda Accord down some lost highway in New Mexico, bald pate glinting in the moonlight, before screeching to a halt by the shack of a roadside psychic, a neon sign of a palm buzzing in the darkness. He steps inside to seek of the medium within the advice of the spirits on this burning question: should he or should he not keep his affair with Lauren Sanchez a secret? The medium closes her eyes, establishes contact with the mystic forces of the Other Side, and then following a long pause, they reply:
“Nah, don’t tell anyone about it, bro.”
Wow, just wow. I mean, he paid for that (allegedly). Yet perhaps I am being unrealistic, and even unfair in my expectation that Bezos be all will-to-power all the time. Love can make fools of kings, as the philosopher Bryan Ferry reminds us. Besides, even that interpretation may be jumping to conclusions; Bezos’s consultation with the psychic may not have been the consequence of an otherwise rational mind scrambled by love.
Who is to say that he doesn’t visit psychics regularly to consult on all manner of things? He wouldn’t be the first powerful person to do so. The Reagan White House had a secret astrologer, Joan Quigley, whose advice was sought on far more consequential matters than running a retail empire, while Hillary Clinton roamed the halls having conversations with the long-deceased Eleanor Roosevelt, although she claims it was a psychological exercise. And what about that time T. Blair and his wife Cherie smeared fruit over each other in a replica Mayan pyramid as part of a “rebirthing” ritual? A trip to the psychic seems pretty tame next to that.
Meanwhile, Bezos’s behavior is not necessarily an outlier among his peers in the tech world. Many of these hi-tech oligarchs have an interest in the spiritual side of existence. Steve Jobs was a big fan of Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi (also the inspiration for the ultra-proggy Yes LP Tales from Topographic Oceans) and also retained a Zen master to serve as his spiritual adviser.
Marc Benioff, the founder, chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce, is a devotee of self-actualization and yoga. Meanwhile, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter spent a recent birthday on a 10 day silent meditation trip to Myanmar. And Anthony Levandowski, an engineer central to both Google and Uber’s self-driving car programs established his own church (of AI). I could go on, but you get the picture.
It also turns out that my somewhat down-at-heel conception of what a consultation with a psychic looks like is less than accurate, at least when it comes to the super-wealthy. Roadside mediums are for the proles; Bezos’s psychic is reported to have cost “thousands”. In fact, those with a talent for talking to the dead or revealing the future can make good money if they can nurture the right kind of clientele.
For instance Laura Day, a “financial psychic” who advised both Wall Street bankers and the CEO of data storage firm Seagate Technology, charged $10,000 a month for her services, and that was back in 2008. Branding is important with this elite audience; for instance, Robert Ohotto, an astrologer whose clients are reported to include Google executives, describes himself as an ”intuitive life strategist”; David Zarza, who, like Amazon, is based in Seattle, describes himself as a “psychic medium and intuitive life coach.”
Indeed, the mystic offerings on offer in today’s America have proliferated like the varieties of kombucha on offer in Whole Foods (acquired by Bezos in 2017), as entrepreneurs of the $pirit world have sought to establish a presence in this increasingly crowded marketplace.
A quick Google search for metaphysical services in my local area turned up such options as “profound reading and instant healing”, an “eclectic intuitive”, varying takes on astrology, “wise women holistic services”, “angel readings”, “aura readings”, “intuitive-angelic-reiki readings”, an “intuitive tune-up” consultation, “throat chakra clearing”, “spirit whispering” and “Akashic record readings” based on “theosophy and anthroposophy.”
Thus the language of mediums merges with the language of wellness, a crossover exemplified by episode six of The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow, currently streaming on Netflix and which I absolutely do not recommend unless you are writing an article about psychics for UnHerd and need to do some research.
And even then, I do not recommend it. In this episode, the queen of this notorious wellness/lifestyle brand (valued at over $250 million) dispatches her millennial, (mostly) female employees to discover their inner mediums by participating in assorted exercises aimed at channeling the dead with a certain Laura Lynne Jackson. What was most striking to me was how aggressively boring the show was; there was no spooky music, no crystal balls, nothing morbid.
The studio was tasteful and brightly lit, some of the activities took place in a lush garden, the graphics were straight out of a lifestyle magazine, the millennials were all young and upbeat (bar one sceptic, who even so still smiled a lot), and the language was of “energy” and “connection” as if communing with deceased relatives was a fairly straightforward matter — a bit like going into settings on your smartphone, finding the afterlife’s Wi-Fi there and pressing “connect”.
This was the world of psychics gone fully mainstream, but it doesn’t end there. For those who like a dash of intersectionality with their “mystical services”, there’s always Chani Nicholas, the subject of one of the most eye-wateringly terrible articles published in the last decade, on the website of the perennially-straining-to-get down-with-the-kids Rolling Stone: “Meet the Woman Bringing Social Justice to Astrology”. And no, that’s not a Titania McGrath spoof.
As organized religion declines in the US, this all comes with a certain dreary predictability; I am reminded, once again, of the observation attributed to G.K. Chesterton that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. Nature abhors a vacuum and today’s spiritual entrepreneurs are stepping up to fill the gap. Indeed, according to one report, the demand for “psychic services” in the US is growing steadily and the market is worth around $2 billion.
Little wonder, then, that Venture Capital is trying to get a slice of the action. Want to know what the stars have in store for you? There is an app for that; more than one, in fact. For a mere $19.99 a month Sanctuary will provide you with birth charts, opportunities to talk to professional astrologers and promises “weekly cosmic insights sent straight to your inbox.” Meanwhile, Co-Star promises “hyper-personalized, real time horoscopes” and claims to utilize an AI that “merges NASA data with the insight of human astrologers”. Both have attracted millions of dollars in Venture Capital, according to The New York Times.
But that gives me another thought. What if Bezos is not, in fact, a fool for love, nor as keen on metaphysics and mysteries of the soul as some of his tech oligarch peers? Could it be that his interest in the psychic realm is actually part of his plan for world domination, and that this most relentless of tycoons has his eye on the growing market for spiritual services?
Could spirit mediums and astrology soon join keto-friendly organic kelp granules, data storage and the Washington Post on the ever growing list of products and services owned and/or supplied by Bezos? Will Amazon Prime soon include insight into our fortunes alongside movies and free two-day shipping?
Psychics of America, gaze into your futures. Bezos is coming.