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Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back Paperback – January 4, 2011
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Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Lethem has also published his stories and essays in The New Yorker, Harper's, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the New York Times, among others.
I once sat astonished in the audience at a conference on business law and copyright and watched as Douglas Rushkoff stood on stage and patiently, even gently, explained to a group of record company executives, who'd paid for the privilege of hearing him speak, why it was simply time for them to stop trying to rescue their industry. "You don't make anything of value," I believe he told them, with a tone of humane explanation. Ever since that moment Douglas has been one of my personal heroes, and I've been a most attentive reader of anything he cares to put between covers, knowing that his combination of a cold eye and a warm heart is guaranteed to astonish and embolden my own thinking about what's possible in the world--about what's possible to enact in the space between one human being and another. I don't exaggerate when I say he takes the potentially dry notion of 'public advocacy' and shifts it into the realm of epiphany, and art. That puts him with few living writers--Lewis Hyde, perhaps, and the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Yet Rushkoff is perhaps even braver, or anyway lighter on his feet, working without the protection of any sort of ivory tower. He occupies the ground of our most immediate perplexities, and his reports of what he finds are breaking news.
Life Inc. is Rushkoff's best and most important book. Few texts stand any chance of truly changing your mind, let along saving the world. This is one of them. Rushkoff's the first to put the economic crisis in its greater historical and cultural perspective, and doing so, he reveals the underlying biases and embedded agendas of institutions we take for granted, from banking and central currency to corporations and even the suburbs.
Rushkoff really works the manner of a historical philosopher, but without any off-putting jargon or air of self-reference you'd fear encountering within the discipline--he's writing for his readers. His fundamental gesture here is to reexamine the very meaning and use of the world-concept "corporation." You'll never use it again unthinkingly, nor consent to its automatic use in any conversation that's meant to be halfway serious.
In Life Inc. we're given a concise and acute history of corporatism, from its origins as a way for feudal lords of the Late Middle Ages to maintain their monopolies on power, to its present expression in finance industry bailouts--consistently revealing things we take for granted as inventions with purposes that may not be serving us today. In Rushkoff's persuasive account, our acceptance of corporatism as a given leads us to internalize the values of corporations as our own. We use metrics like the GNP to measure our health as a nation, treat people as competitors or marks to be exploited, and the planet as a resource to be extracted. Each Wal-Mart purchase further bankrupts the local community, alienates us from our neighbor merchants, and makes us less likely to attend the PTA meeting.
Life Inc. is a book to give your uncle the disenchanted union organizer, and your other uncle, the soon-to-be-disenchanted Tea Party activist. Rushkoff goes beyond the left/right dialectic to show how both political parties suffer from a dependence on highly centralized solutions and an unhealthy marriage to corporate interests that know no national allegiances.
I recently wrote about the great John Carpenter movie, They Live, which concerns itself with magic sunglasses that translate the corporate signage all around us back into the raw propaganda it really is at its root: a set of commands to WORK, CONSUME, SLEEP, OBEY. This book is those glasses, a lens for seeing deeper into the world you occupy, the commitments you've chosen, the money in your wallet. Read Life Inc. and you'll want to start organizing a local currency in your neighborhood, I promise you.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
Rushkoff's first book about digital culture, Cyberia, was canceled by Bantam in 1992 because they thought the Internet would be "over" by the time the book came out in 1993. It came out the next year with HarperCollins. When he told his publicist there about listing the book on Amazon, she replied "that sounds great! Is Amazon for the Mac or the PC?"
Top Customer Reviews
Chapter after chapter, the author recounts how charters disconnected us from commerce, how by mistaking the map for the territory, we got disconnected from place, how the real estate business disconnected us from home, public relations from one another, consumer empowerment from choice, a unified financial architecture from the meaning of currency, big business from the creation of value - and how many of our attempts to combat corporate power are likely to disconnect us even more. "Brands were invented to substitute for the real connections we had to people, places and values."
The system that we have created for ourselves through a "six-hundred-year-old-business-deal" is a "progress" that translates into a loss.Read more ›
-Personally - hit very close to home on many points regarding how we are suckered in to so many corporate schemes on both large and small levels. Especially impactful when discussing how little value we create and how little value we give our own lives, working every day just to survive long enough to work another day.
-Fascinating take on the Dark Ages, Renaissance, and rise of corporatism that came of these periods, and how it relates to our lives now.
-Easy to follow explanations of the cause and effect relationships between corporatism and our lives unraveling.
-On-point analysis of the current state of American society and, most importantly, WHY it is the way it is. Personally I felt like he was expounding upon the exact complaints I've been voicing gradually over the past 10 years, such as: Why don't I know/see/interact with my neighbors? Why can't I walk/bike to all the stores I need to get to? Why don't I know who made my food, or even what state it's from? Are there ANY small businesses left? Why do all the radio stations suck? Do I actually own my home when I own a home? Why does buying a car feel scarier than getting married? Why don't my kids play outside? Why can't I sell my house? Why don't I watch the news anymore? Who has my name and contact information and purchasing history? Why am I so fat? Why do I own so much crap? Why are we always at war? Will I ever be out of debt? If the apocalypse came tomorrow, and I survived, would I be able to support myself for more than a few days? And so forth.Read more ›
And I'm proud to have done so.
LIFE INC. isn't another Shock Doctrine or some Millenial Marxist Manifesto. It's a history of how we came to mistake human-implemented value systems as natural laws, how these value systems have disconnected us from each other and from our work, and how we might reprogram this systems and reconnect with each other.
It was a tough book for Rushkoff to write, incorporating myriad disciplines and historic perspectives into a narrative of our corporate lives.
Whether you think you agree with him or not, Rushkoff will certainly get you thinking about how we got where we are and where we can go next.
The chapters on pre-Renaissance commerce are thought provoking. The idea of local versus centralized currencies is also interesting. But midway through, the book starts to wallow in your typical left-wing hodgepodge of history lessons that are loosely tied back into the main thesis of the book. The middle section of the book jumps around from Joe Millionaire to Walmart to GM writing road legislation. It's the system, man, the system.
And I feel a little conned when the subtitle includes, "and how to take it back" which only accounts for the last 15 pages of the book. Rushkoff tells a few stories about some people in the Bronx starting a garden and a restaurant that makes a different kind of coupon. My guess is the publishing house tacked on that subtitle.
Overall, I learned something about pre-Renaissance Europe, a different way to think of commerce and currency, and it opened my mind to new possibilities. The institutions in our world have been around before we were here, and I had been ingrained to think of them as a given, and not a choice. This book is thought provoking in that sense, and this book opened my eyes to think of commerce in a different way. Should have waited for the paperback though. Or maybe created my own currency and paid for the book that way (sorry cheap shot I know).
Most Recent Customer Reviews
After a page or two, I strongly dislike the points being made and found the style that the content was poorly presented. I flipped ahead and found more problems. Read morePublished 9 months ago by JinnGinn
More documentation of how corporatism has trumped democracy and reduced the world's population to slavery to an unjust, hierarchical economic system. Read morePublished 13 months ago by EthosInFreefall
Great book and have loved the author since reading the Ecstasy Club in the 90's.Published 13 months ago by benny
A whole new way to see our modern day to day economic interactions. Rushkoff traces a very clear historical line of how the economic world is arranged today, and why are we so... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Rodrigo Silva
This book should be required reading for all Americans, starting with Corporate Heads, Bank Presidents and all Government Officials. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Shunka Witco
I bought this book for a consumer culture class. I reads like a book, not a textbook and it's very interesting. I actually plan on keeping this after the class ends.Published 21 months ago by Brandy
This book, while sometimes accurate, entirely misses the distinction between free markets and corporatism. Read morePublished on December 27, 2013 by Andy
One of the best reads in a while. really breaks it down and offers some interesting advice in making financial decisions.Published on December 4, 2013 by Christina