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Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Tonight on TDS, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and former Kansas governor, discusses her new Cabinet role with Jon; and on TCR, expect Stephen to thoroughly enjoy interviewing  Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

 sausage grinder of snark

Kathleen Sebelius is on with Jon, talking about the kinds of things that you might expect the  Secretary of HHS to talk about. I assume.

I'm trying to like Douglass Rushkoff. He's a  New Media/ Cyberpunk kinda guy, after all. And his most recent book is titled "Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back". But, reading through various reviews, interviews (I chose not to watch the Althouse interview), and the excerpts at Boing Boing, it's, well, tricky. Not to mention  some of the stuff he's written at The Daily Beast. Or the simple fact that he's writing at The Daily Beast -- he's comfortable there, that is.

Amazon and B&N have industry (& customer) reviews. Both have Publisher's Weekly:

Rushkoff ... offers a shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other. An engaging history of commerce and corporatism devolves into an extended philippic on how increasing personal wealth and the rise of nuclear families constituted a failure of community-whose services are now provided by products and professionals. While he makes some good points-for instance, about how some laws are now written to favor the rights of corporations above the rights of human beings, and the phenomenon of pro-wealth spirituality as espoused by The Secret, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen-he skews wildly off-course lamenting how "basic human activity... has been systematically robbed of its naturally occurring support mechanisms by a landscape tilted toward the market's priorities." His unsupported and flawed assumption that societal interdependence is a natural or even preferable state for all people, everywhere, his disdain for filthy lucre and joyless recasting of independence as "selfishness" will leave readers weary long before the end.

Booklist, at Amazon, calls it "an excellent, thought-provoking book," but Library Journal (at B&N) ends thus:

...Rushkoff advocates for sustainable, bottoms-up activism, but many of his suggestions (including garden shares and "complimentary credit" bartering) seem like willful amnesia; history has proven that a commune by any other name remains unviable. Still, Rushkoff's prose is eminently readable, and he weaves together a colorful fabric of facts and anecdotes more than interesting enough to carry the reader past a little kookiness; the first 200 pages are truly conspiracy theorizing at its best. The last 50 pages do suffer from excessive moralizing, unsupported idealism, and a limp call to pseudoaction, but otherwise this is an entertaining screed for those who agree with Rushkoff's position.

But the Canadian (BC) online magazine The Tyee (which I've come across before; remembered to bookmark it this time) has a thoughtful review which clarified things for me:

...It's a breathless narrative that veers dangerously close to conspiracy theory in places. There's a determinism to his story that suggests an intelligent goal rather than the "invisible hand" of the market.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Rushkoff's book is the assertion that before corporatism, society was more humane. It's the prelapsarian assumption that once there was a perfect way of life and then somebody had to eat that apple from the tree and ruin everything. It ignores just how nasty, brutish and short pre-modern life could be. Every once in a while Rushkoff takes a break and grudgingly allows that modernity has its good points, but then he goes back to cataloguing the crimes of corporatism. Much of this isn't really news to anyone who's ever picked up a copy of Adbusters, watched the documentary The Corporation or read other works of social-economic commentary like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed. It needs to be said again, particularly at this moment, but it doesn't explore new ground.

...Rushkoff paints such an idyllic picture of life in late Medieval Europe that is so at odds with perceived wisdom that it is difficult to swallow. You need a book work of evidence to justifying such a bold claim, and Life Inc. doesn't devote enough pages to supporting it.

...Rushkoff's answer, somewhat oversimplified, is dropping out of the rat race, turning off the high def plasma TV and starting a community garden. ...This gets uncomfortably close to the romantic primitivism of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club or James Howard Kuntsler's World Made By Hand, an almost gleeful yearning for civilization to collapse and be rebuilt the right way. Small scale communities carry their own baggage of conformity, inequality and violence. Sure, people used to hang out and shoot the breeze at the lunch counter at the five-and-dime; they also had lynchings...

...Life Inc. isn't quite more than the sum of its parts: an anti-corporate editorial, plus a historical essay that needs a lot more evidence, plus an economic primer. The most exciting and hopeful component, the idea of complementary currencies and local economies being a way out of the virtual economy, gets frustratingly few pages. For a book that urges the small-scale, do-it-yourself approach to changing the world, it stops short of giving any idea of how to start such a system....

Ah. Gotcha. Well, I didn't like his comics either.

(Wanna buy the books? Try indiebound or bookfinder.com.)

Originally posted to TiaRachel on Wed Jul 15, 2009 at 07:54 PM PDT.

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