116 of 120 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What can we possibly share with our peers in Life Inc.?
The book starts with a telling anecdote: the author, Douglas Rushkoff got mugged on Christmas Eve in from of his Brooklyn apartment, and instead of getting sympathy, he was basically urged to shut up by local residents, afraid as they were that the incident would damage the reputation of their neighborhood, i.e. reduce the value of their home. "When faced with a local...
Published on June 15, 2009 by Marylene Delbourg-Delphis
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Emotions
Under 250 pages, it's a light read. The book doesn't dive into technicals and I found it a decent airplane read.
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...
Published on August 1, 2009 by Chuck Dickens
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116 of 120 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What can we possibly share with our peers in Life Inc.?,
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This review is from: Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (Hardcover)The book starts with a telling anecdote: the author, Douglas Rushkoff got mugged on Christmas Eve in from of his Brooklyn apartment, and instead of getting sympathy, he was basically urged to shut up by local residents, afraid as they were that the incident would damage the reputation of their neighborhood, i.e. reduce the value of their home. "When faced with a local mugging, the community of Park Slope first thought to protect its brand instead of its people," Rushkoff writes. The anecdote is Rushkoff's starting point to analyze how, since the Renaissance, "the market and its logic have insinuated themselves into every area of our lives." He argues that they mediate every single aspect of our existence, disconnecting us from everything that surrounds us. The book is quite expectedly somewhat controversial -- yet may also be one of the most inspiring recent books for entrepreneurs and innovative marketers.
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. The book reads like an inexorable dispossession of connectedness to people and our environment, and like a sobering appendix to the five ages of man that Hesiod outlined in Works and Days in 700 BC. From one tectonic shift to the other, we have landed ourselves in the Age of Simulacra: "Step by step, place became property, property became a mortgage, and mortgages became derivative instruments;" we depend on brands and ad-agencies for our self-presentation and identity; our "positive thinking" and self-confidence result from intense packaging efforts and "corporate-enabled self-improvement." We can buy Disneyland souvenirs in any shopping mall without ever having been to LA. Spiritual centers, from Esalen to the Omega Institute, are well-oiled businesses, and our speculative economy has deprived us from the ability to perceive the value we create or to even create value. Even the buzz and word-of-mouth is now mediated: "In Apple's earlier days, Macintosh enthusiasts could be counted on to go into CompUSA stores when new products were released and demonstrate their benefits to consumers. But today's brand enthusiasts are paid spokespeople, faking their loyalty for money. It's big economy. New firms such as Buzz Marketing and industry groups like WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association now conduct word-of-mouth campaigns on a scale unimaginable before." So much for our friendly social sites!
The book is phenomenally well documented and provides fantastic insights into some of the roots of the current financial debacle. The way the story is recounted is fascinating -- even if you may have questions about the angle taken by Rushkoff. One can argue that while it may be true that local trade using local currencies did foster more interactions between people and a thriving economy between the eleventh and thirteenth century, and that "real people did the best when prosperity was a bottom-up approach," the idea that the corporatist economy initiated by the Renaissance also initiated a downward spiral that all subsequent innovations only enhanced feels somewhat simplistic at times -- along with the assumption that mankind has somehow strayed from a better stage to a worse one. In the end, the evaluation of what connected/disconnectedness may depend on the frame of reference. Plato/Socrates fought the Sophists's ability to brand anything as a result of their disconnectedness from the essential, the realm of Forms and Ideas.
The book is also an insightful approach to the history of the United States, full of interesting reminders. Mirroring the techniques of the railroad barons of the century before, GM crafted the legislation that made highways federally funded and controlled - and idealized suburbs. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt, fighting corporations, may have been more progressive than FDR when the latter endorsed the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) that changed the perception of mortgages (from a stigma to a plus), but ended up empowering appraisers as they assessed the quality of neighborhoods (and this to the detriment of Jews and blacks). The magic of PRs in the country has a unique ability to reframe or gloss over history. PR artists such as George Creel and Edward Bernays enabled Woodrow Wilson, who had run for reelection in 1916 on the platform that "he kept us out of the war," to persuade everybody "to make the world safe for democracy" a year later. In the same fashion, it's stunning how fast we forgot that IBM sold punch-card tabulators to the Nazis, that GE partnered with Krupp (a German munition firm) and that GM and Ford, which already controlled 70 percent of the German automobile market, retooled their factories to supply Nazis with war vehicles. As I say that, I can only suggest that you read a few foundational books in the history of marketing persuasion (of which many currently successful marketing books are spin derivatives), mentioned by Rushkoff, especially Edward Bernays's Crystallizing Public Opinion, Public Relations or Propaganda. While at it, also read Larry Tye's book, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations. Also consider another classic: Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders or The Status Seekers. Also, Douglas Rushkoff has written several other interesting books. One of them,MEDIA VIRUS - Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture, is the origin of the expression "viral marketing."
The last chapter of the book, "Here and Now," subtitled "The Opportunity to Reconnect," is in fact better than any marketing book, and may give you great ideas of companies that can make a difference. As the author reminds us in the previous chapter, PayPal's original plan was to offer an alternative payment service. True, the business model changed as Paypal activity was perceived as a violation of the banking laws. But you may have other ideas... and it's when they read scouring, abrasive books that entrepreneurs invent new rules -- and eventually might pave the way towards a new economy, or creatively revisit Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. "Like the founders of America, who may have differed on almost everything else but this," notes Rushkoff, "Smith saw economics as characterized by small, scaled, local economies working in interaction with one another."
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take the red pill...,
This review is from: Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (Hardcover)PROS: -Very fast and engaging read. Entertaining and provocative.
-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.
CONS: -At times I worry about the generalized and simplified chains of cause/effect that are spelled out when summarizing the past 600 years or so, especially in areas that run counter to traditional history education. My hope is that the explanations are not always weighed down in excessive detailed analysis due to the relative shortness of the book and the bigger point that is being made. I would trust that his numerous sources cited would back of many of the bolder claims he makes. As a teacher I have no problem doubting that the textbooks have taught us anything close to the truth anyway.
-Solutions? While I felt appropriately cynical, angry, and disgusted by our current state of the world, as well as relieved that I'm not alone in feeling disconnected from reality and other people, I also am eager to know how to change things. After all, the subtitle does include "and How to Take It Back." After 200+ pages of hearing how this Matrix was created, I was a little disappointed to read only a very small handful of concrete ways to unplug ourselves. Even the traditional ideas about how to contribute (corporate & private donations, environmental awareness, etc) were pretty much torn apart as either having minimal net impact OR as only feeding into the same broken system in the long run. I feel compelled to action but with no real direction on what to do, I'm still plugged in...
Overall, a very fresh and eye-opening perspective on how we've come to depend on corporations for everything, and how this has resulted in a complete meltdown of our human essence. If you are feeling disconnected from the real world and disconcerted by the commercialism engulfing everything, read this book to understand why things are the way they are and who is responsible. If you want to know what to do about it... hopefully he'll come out with a sequel!
70 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of Rushkoff,
This review is from: Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (Hardcover)Full disclosure: I performed research for Rushkoff on this book.
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.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Emotions,
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).
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fix this Amazon!,
This review is from: Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back (Paperback)I haven't read this yet, but I want to buy the Kindle version. The only problem is, the book was updated in January 2011, with 70+ pages added. The only Kindle version for sale is from the 2009 edition. Many people who buy this will not realize that they are not getting the updated version.
Amazon, fix this now! Either get the updated Kindle version or split the editions into separate entries.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really?,
Great book, great stories! Cheers to history. Huzzah..
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exposing Unconscious Acceptance of the Corporate Value System,
As corporations gained power in the Colonial era they changed places into 'territories' and people into 'labor', solidifying the power of the state to grant monopoly power to the corporations. Ultimately, everything and everyone could be colonized for profit, fueling European colonialism and establishing corporatism as the basis for a new continent. This new classification of human interaction created a value system that extended to every aspect of human life. Rushkoff draws a distinction between the division of labor and specialization of labor, in doing so he reveals a major flaw in our valuation of specialization. We would think a society of trained merchants, managers and laborers are more specialized than one of self-taught artisans and inherently entrepreneurial shop-owners but managers didn't want to hire highly skilled labor which could demand higher wages. The managerial classes standardized processes as to hire the least qualified and most replaceable laborers around. This activity favored generalization instead of specialization: the basis for the modern education system. A modern education system designed by people like Stanford professor Ellwood P. Cubberly created a curriculum to produce "mediocre intellects" for a docile citizenry. The model for this education was one of the factory where, "the raw product (of children) are to be shaped and fashioned according to the specifications laid down." My own thought is that by creating a population of generalists, we create individuals that have no specific knowledge, no actual ability to create a tangible good or to experience the inherent pleasure of such creation. This is an insecure individual and one with an inherent fear of survival imposed on them by the scarcity in a compounding interest based monetary system.
Even the original American Revolution was one against corporatism, as the Tea Party slogan of "No Taxation without Representation" was primarily about Britian's tax laws which removed barriers to trade and allowed the East India Company to destroy the colonial economy. The irony is that our modern Tea Party movement shares the same angst as the original one but without the clarity of understanding the connection between Corporatism and their frustration. In the United States, corporatism was held mostly in check until the landmark 1886 decision of Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company. This case established the ability for corporations to claim all the rights of personhood granted under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, a law ratified to ensure the rights for former slaves. Over the next 25 years 307 14th Amendment cases went before the US Supreme Court and 288 of them were brought by corporations. With this as a precedent, money became equivalent to speech, so corporations could obtain their 1st Amendment right to free speech by spending money. Since 1944 when the US set the rules of the global economic game with the Bretton-Woods agreement which established the US Dollar as the global reserve currency, the policy of Corporatism has been international. We've dragged the rest of the world along, yielding a race to the bottom as municipalities and then nations competed to offer corporate handouts for attracting major companies. We've demolished local economies and land with the scorched earth policy of Wal-Marts and other big boxes.
The corporation has built a mythology so transcendent it has disconnected us from the world of true science, technology, ecology and thought. As Rushkoff notes, "Corporatism depends first on our disconnection. The less local, immediate, and interpersonal our experience of the world and each other, the more likely we are to adopt self-interested behaviors that erode community and relationships." We become the rational dispassionate economic man the corporations need us to be for their survival, and in doing so we become ever more dependent on their services, confirming in our own minds a subconscious subscription to the ideals of the system. We were told the perfect society is one we could own a stake in, through owning a home and a car and our own piece of suburban perfection. As Walt Whitman wrote, "A man is not a whole or complete man unless he owns a house and the ground it stands on." This was a directed goal because it was the burden of home ownership which, "chained a man to the factory where he worked." A focus on home ownership drove a seperation of classes and produced much of the wealth disparity in the US today.
Ultimately, the myth that we are all free to compete for the great prizes the free market has to offer prevents us from conferring about the value of the system itself. Divided and conquer, as a people but mostly as a mental environment. And so we are stuck with branding instead of the relationships we used to have with real people and their craftsmanship. We are piled in droves towards others with similar brand loyalties and the public discourse is standardized by using the media to speak to "individuals". We've removed everything of value from its context and in doing so we've removed the sense of awe that is a product of its uniqueness. Even the quest to find our place in the world while recognizing the power of being human has been co-opted by a spirituality that is derived from corporate values. From L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz where Dorothy could have whatever she wanted as long as she believed, to the modern obsession with The Secret, we've developed the purist spiritual expression of consumerist culture: a disembodied other delivering whatever we want when we want it.
A questioning and curious mind is culled with the depravity of modern intelligensia as dominated by the de-facto standards of a corporate value system. Surely there must be more to this world? Fear not, economists have explored it and found, as in Freakonomics, that maximized utility is surely the primary drive behind human actions. Malcom Gladwell offers spiritual and intellectual comfort for modern persuasion professionals with advice to classify our fellow humans for finding Tipping Points and harnessing snap judgements with Blinks. When we think Wal-Mart succeeds because it is efficient, it only does so because it has access to speculative markets beyond the reach of local shopkeepers. In reality, the Fortune 500 are just names on huge piles of debt. Adam Smith and his invisible hand were regulated by the pressures of neighbors and social values, not abstract speculation on derivatives and demolished trade barriers.
In the modern era corporations became giant externality generating machines, displacing liabilities as fast as possible to increase profits and our natural world suffers. Yet, the primary discourse regarding economies treat them as a natural system, ignoring that it is itself but a man-made system imposed on an ecosystem. Fiat currency has become the operating system which runs this game but has faded to the background so that we no longer think about. We can only think of one system of money despite the existence of many others throughout history. The most valuable piece of Life Inc. are the historical accounts of jealous monarchs which outlawed local currencies based on tangible grain stores in medieval towns to regain power through their coin of the realm.
As the Corporate Capitalist systems which have driven economic reality and moderated human life continue to break down, Life Inc. provides a guide to understanding that our species has survived and thrived in many alternative economic arrangements. This is a powerful book which dispels an unconscious acceptance of the corporate value structure and outlines a path towards returning to authentic human interactions once again.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How We Came to Be Corporate-dominated and Why,
This review is from: Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back (Paperback)Rushkoff's book is a battle cry not against capitalism, as many will misconstrue it, but against corporatism, and the actions of corporate America that bleed the common American dry of their culture and freedom.
Rushkoff brings up early on the very real idea that corporations attempt to blur the line between what is factually important in American life and what is manufactured. He states:
"This fundamental blurring of real life with its commercial counterpart is not a mere question of aesthetics, however much we may dislike mini-malls and superstores. It's more of a nagging sense that something has gone awry - something even more fundamentally wrong than the credit crisis and its aftermath - yet we're too immersed in its effects to do anything about it, or even to see it."
Have you felt this way recently?
Rushkoff is careful not to rail too much against capitalism in his book. In fact, capitalism isn't necessarily the issue. What many fail to do is separate the differences between capitalism and corporatism - for it's the corporations that are putting strain on the capitalist way of life through greed and manufactured needs.
"Corporatism didn't evolve naturally. The landscape on which we are living - the operating system on which we are now running our social software - was invented by people, sold to us as a better way of life, supported by myths, and ultimately allowed to develop into a self-sustaining reality. It is a map that has replaced the territory."
Bringing up the map versus territory, Rushkoff invokes the thoughts of Alfred Korzybski, and in doing so, reveals a fatal flaw in much of consensus American (and World) thought - the fatal flaw of literalism, and not being able to separate a way of explaining a "thing" with the actual "thing" itself. We've done it with religion time and time again, and we're also doing it with the economy. Corporations became the keepers of this map as they manipulated interpretations not to better humankind, but to increase their bottom line.
Delving into the industrial age, Rushkoff declares that this era "gave corporations a new way to create the illusion of a preordained social order: the machine." The ideas of the industrial age and the philosophies of Descartes and his champions presented a mechanistic view of the world in which wheels and cogs and other pieces were easily replaced and interchangeable - pieces in solitude - to keep the whole healthy.
Thanks to Descartes, this mechanistic view became a model for society. People became the cogs - replaceable - disconnected from their original holistic position. Corporatism shaped the world into one giant factory.
"Cubberley modeled our public schools after 'factories, in which the raw product [the children] are to be shaped and fashioned... according to the specifications laid down.'"
Not even our schools are safe from this mechanistic view, despite the attempts of politicians to proclaim "no child left behind." Children are often educated to be drones in a corporate society.
People - through this misguided education - become both cogs and consumers conditioned to work the assembly lines of corporate America in order to do nothing more than spend their earnings to continue that flow - consumerism. Rushkoff portrays this as "citizens as consumers" and interjects that corporations use marketing to convince people that consumption is the "surest path to personal fulfillment."
All of this corporate thinking has resulted in a disconnected America - a disconnected community - that better serves the purpose of "divide and conquer" for the fulfillment of corporate gluttony and greed.
"The landscape of corporatism favors the selfish over the social, the brand over the product, and the central over the local."
The second chapter is one to use as a rallying cry for anyone opposed to predatory practices of certain marketing schemes. Rushkoff introduces us to people whose credit and equity have all but dried up, but who quickly charge up their credit cards trying to buy "systems" to make themselves wealthy. The irony that many of the people sitting and listening to seminars on how to take advantage of the failing housing market are people who are in danger of losing their homes because of these same marketing and speculative tactics is not lost on Rushkoff. The psychology of the sell that these human infomercials spit out is a clear indication of the sickening nature that marketing in America has taken just so people can make a quick buck.
I remember a commercial on television once (I forget what it was for), which parodied those late night infomercials about making money almost in your sleep. The slick guy in the chair looks at the camera and proclaims "Just send $50.00 for my book 'How to Get People to Send You $50.00 for a Book.'" It's funny, but sad at the same time, since this truly is what quick buck marketing does, and the Internet has made it worse.
It's not just the Internet though - even business books are getting ridiculous. Books that are supposed to be about creating start-ups or micro-ISV's or getting out in the world of consulting end up being nothing more than a book filled with common sense material and pages of interviews with already successful business people (who seem to be selling a product that relates to improving your business). If I didn't know any better I'd say that the interviewee paid for being interviewed so they could hock their product or service. It's a sad, sad thing, and I'm not even talking about the so-called business books in the "start your own business" section of the bookstore. I'm taking about the real business section and even the technology section (books published by O'Reilly and Apress).
A friend of mine once got involved with Primerica. Since he was my friend, I was obligated to help him out by sitting in on a meeting. The man in charge asked me if I knew anything about the program. I jokingly told him that I heard it was a pyramid scheme. He was slightly offended, but took it in good humor. During his speech he went on about the program telling about how people make money (at one point even drawing a pyramid on the blackboard. Hmm...). He then made sure to mention that people don't get paid for bringing others into the program because that! (he exclaimed coming over to me) would be a pyramid scheme. I'm sorry, but if you have to explain to me how your program is not a pyramid scheme, guess what? It's a pyramid scheme - no matter what the law defines. Luckily my friend only got suckered into investing into one of their life insurance policies. He soon got out of the whole game very quickly.
It is indeed a sad state of corporatism that we see in America every day, and the economic crisis seems to have done little to affect the corporations' actions or the actions of those using squeeze marketing tactics to prey on peoples' dreams. People need to realize that there aren't any get-rich-quick ventures - just get-rich-quick programs designed simply to abscond with your money, and chances are, the people making money off of you never made any money off of the very program that they're selling. It's all in the sell - not the substance.
I emailed Rushkoff recently about these same points and he concurred, concluding that:
"The people making money in business today are the people telling others how to make money - mostly through marketing."
"It's end stage capitalism. Truly end stage."
Chapter three of Douglas Rushkoff's Life Inc is one that hits solidly home for me. Back in September I moved from the overcrowded state of New Jersey to the Western side of Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley - out to the country. Now I'm not that far from a metro-area. Harrisonburg (home to James Madison University) is 25 minutes away (with all it's strip malls and corporate stores). If I'm feeling especially adventurous, I can head over the mountain towards Charlottesville (home of Monticello and the University of Virginia), which would only take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on weather and traffic into the city. Both of these places are considered cities, but in reality they're well-developed metro areas - smaller than Richmond and Roanoke. I get to enjoy these centers of commerce, but by living out farther in the valley I get to taste what traditional American life was like.
The biggest impact my move had on me dealt with the mythological feel of rural American towns. There are large stretches of country between these towns, and even larger stretches between metro areas. You can travel 10-15 minutes (sometimes longer) without seeing much civilization. When you do, it's like traveling back in time. Random small buildings have nothing of note outside except old style Coca-Cola or RC Cola signs. Each town seemed to have a Tastee Freez (made famous by John Mellencamp) at some point. Downtown areas looked like miniature cities with maybe 5, 10 or perhaps 15 two story buildings tightly packed together. It was like I journeyed away from a corporately run and soulless New Jersey to finally find the heart of America - in all its myth and legend.
Unfortunately, the visual escape was nothing more than visual. Many of the franchised Tastee Freezes are gone with their buildings sold to other businesses. Those Coca-Cola and RC Cola signs are antiques attached to closed buildings that don't sell much of anything anymore. Meanwhile much of these towns' downtown areas lack any real business - just empty stores.
In Elkton, Virginia an old movie theater sits abandoned not far from an empty grocery store that used to be locally owned. Although businesses exist in its downtown square, the area isn't nearly as bustling as it used to be. Locals tell me that 10-15 years ago, it would take you nearly 20 minutes to drive through downtown and loop back around - too many people out walking and carrying on. Today is a different story.
The community feel still exists in these small towns, but much of it is peppered with trips to Harrisonburg, or the Walmart twenty minutes away; however, these aren't communities that have given up on their personal touch. These are places that have been beaten down by corporatism. These are local, family-owned and community-supporting businesses that get crushed under corporate prices, eventually leaving a formerly self-sufficient town dependent of corporations to feed, clothe and entertain them.
In the third chapter of Life Inc, Rushkoff talks about the destruction of these American communities that effectively desocialize individuals in an almost divide and conquer way to make us slaves to a corporate run society. The community and social feel of the American culture - still slightly evident in the Virginia towns that I travel - has been replaced by a "New Urbanism" warped by corporations in an attempt to usurp that American myth and turn it into a commodity, an environment that can be used for marketing purposes. He uses Birkdale, North Carolina as an example - a corporate built and sustained town that on the surface looks like Old Town America, but beneath is nothing more than a corporate sponsored experiment.
The American dream is being replaced with the corporate motto. Corporations have declared war on the American community and are destroying that which they cannot receive an ROI from. This will result in American towns being dependent more and more on corporations for their needs and sustainability - an entire American populace at the mercy of a corporate greed that is just looking for more cogs to keep the wheels spinning.
Chapter Four of Douglas Rushkoff's Life Inc is where things start to fall a little bit in disarray for me. Rushkoff begins by attacking the ideology of the Secret, but this is the same guy who wrote Club Zero-G as a graphic novel primer on the idea of designer reality. He's a man who believes that stories shape reality and we are ultimately the architects of our world. I'm no defender of the Secret by any means, but it's hard to be critical when so many of your own ideas support some of the same ideology.
I don't think Rushkoff's gripe is with any system of designer reality. Really he's just bashing the marketers that are making millions off of cookie-cutter self-help exercises and cliches, while taking advantage of people who are looking for any means to build a better life for themselves. Rushkoff equates the Secret with the culmination of a society bent on self-promotion - on selfishness - while also exhibiting an inability to want to work for your "wants." I can agree with this wholeheartedly.
Rushkoff goes back to the Renaissance to show the emergence of the individual out of the collective of the community. To him, this individualism is what corporations want people to seek out. To view yourself apart from your community is to seek out wealth, knowledge, etc. on your own, without concern for your neighbors. To Rushkoff, this divisiveness is a breeding ground for corporations to destroy local communities, while the individual turns a blind eye. It allows the corporation to supply a person's individual needs, while slowly making them another cog in the machine.
From individualism to industrialism, Rushkoff shows how corporations from the dawn of the Renaissance have destroy a local sentimentality in favor of a corporate identity. The diminishing of local libraries, town halls and community centers (or at least the vacancy of them due to some other highly promoted, yet less locally interactive activity) allowed for industrialism to take root.
"In the kinds of towns [Alexis] de Tocqueville visited, human relationships dominated the local economy. If you needed oats, you'd go buy them from the general store - just one step removed from the mill - or maybe even from the miller himself. If the oats were bad, you'd know where to find the man responsible. You knew his face and his wife's. His kids might have gone to school with your kids. If his oats were bad, he'd lose more than a customer, for you lived and worked in the same town as the miller. You might fix wagon wheels, or even work as the local chemist, mixing his wife's medication. If you ate bad oats, you wouldn't be doing your job as well, either. The miller might end up with a dangerously assembled wheel or, worse, an incorrectly dosed prescription. If the miller supplied a bad product, he had more at stake than your business. You were more than just one another's customers; you were interdependent members of a community.
The Industrial Age brought factories capable of making oats faster and cheaper than the local miller could have ever imagined. (And where industry couldn't succeed in creating economies of scale, lobbyists were sure to tilt the playing field in their favor.) So now, instead of buying oats from a human being you knew, you'd get them from a big factory several hundred or several thousand miles away. It would come in an impersonal big brown box. There was no miller to be seen."
Instead of identifying with the makers of your products, you now identified with the brand. Your relationship to a brand took over for the lack of a relationship in a local economy. Mass marketing and mass production desocialized consumers, further separating them from their community - further solidifying an individual that was that much easier to divide and conquer from his neighbor. This is how corporate culture is slower eroding the things that made America great. This is Life, Inc., and Rushkoff wants us to take it back.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a defender of free market principles this book irritated me....,
I made the mistake of identifying Rushkoff for a Marxist that would take the easy route and blame all of the systems current problems on big bad Republicans and banksters. Instead he provides a very insightful roadmap of how WE'RE the problem and in summation he provides us with steps to become activists in our own way to take back control. All this is done by respecting the foundation of our Republic.
Life, Inc will make you question any beliefs and preconceived assumptions about the "economy". He talks about Ayn Rand, Hayek, Thatcher, Reagan, and free market capitalist as if their ideology exists solely to confuse the consumer and placates to big bankers. I disagree. And at times his interpretation of events in history seem to conveniently fit his objective. Events that span over hundreds of years are just way to complex sometimes. However, his understanding of the history of the modern day corporation, our currency, "crony capitalism" and the speculative economy is brilliant.
It felt good to read a book that doesn't necessarily subscribe to any ideology or have a hidden agenda (Maybe I'm too naive and didn't realize it).
The timing of this book is perfect. People are fed up with the system but they collectively can't quite figure out the root cause. Hopefully more books like this will help spark a peaceful dissent aimed at taking it all back.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
This review is from: Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back (Paperback)I was really expecting to like this book. The blurbs and reviews sounded very encouraging. But I found too many statements and assumptions that I just could not swallow. For example.
I can not believe that the people who created the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851 did it with the indention of fooling people on the evils of the industrial revolution. Come on really! Bill Bryson's "Home" has a much better explanation on the creation of the Crystal Palace.
Prince Henry the Navigator was granted the right to license expeditions beyond Cape Bojador in order to continue to fund his explorations not to prevent explorations! It would have made more sense to tie the funding of the explorations to the point made later that the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation earns most of it profits investing in companies that work at cross purposes to the projects that the charity funds.
The interesting chapter on the creation of centralized currency versus a local currency based on agricultural goods was spoiled by missing the part famine played. Before the Green Revolution of the 1950's local economies were subject to frequent famines brought on by local crop failures, I believe I read about the frequency of famines in Bill Bryson's "Home." A local currency based on local produce would fail in those circumstances. A centralized currency is what is needed to create the trade that ameliorates the impact of those famines. I was left totally dumbfounded with the assertion that centralizing currency is what caused the Black Death. If the point was that increased trade exposed isolated communities to increased chance of infections, it did a whole lot more that was good. Like spreading the intellectual ferment that lead to the eventual treatment eliminating plagues.
There is a whole chapter devoted to telling us that advertising by corporations is deceptive in trying to get us to buy the corporation's products. What 5th grader doesn't already know that.
I was hoping for a reasoned argument on how corporations has changed society. Peter Farb's "Man's Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State" was a great book which described societies before the development of corporations. Diamond Jared's "Collapse" presents a more reasonable explanation of how a societies institutions can work to bring it down. I don't think Douglas Rushkoff is familiar with societies before corporations. Fixing the flaws of those societies is what has given rise to our modern society. The hypothesis that corporations are leading us down the wrong path is not proven in this book. I expected better.
His remedy that we all switch to CSA sounds a lot like the solution that the Amish found to the industrial revolution back in the 1860s. It works for the Amish but it doesn't really present a viable solution to the issues that Rushkoff identifies. For a more reasoned understanding of the current economic times read Paul Krugman's "End this Depression Now!" It has a better explanation of what ails us now and certainly has a better solution. Thomas Frank's "Pity the Billionaires" is also very good.
On a personal note. I got this book out of the Southdale Public Library which while not in Southdale Mall is just down the block from it. So I guess Victor Gruen got some of what he wanted when he designed Southdale. Another point that the author misses.
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Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff