Inquiring Minds Wanna Know

I just heard Douglas Rushkoff on Colbert talking about his new book. I don’t know anything about Rushkoff, but what he said sounded LL-compatible, and a websearch revealed this quote:

Most people seem to think having written a book as stridently anti-corporate as mine qualifies me as a lefty. While I might be left-leaning, I find myself disagreeing with pro-market publications only about as often as I disagree with pro-labor or progressive ones.

Pro-market advocates often forget that the corporations whose interests they’re championing are actually the beneficiaries of government policies and rule sets developed to favor the activities of giant, centralized, conglomerates; they argue against regulation, when it’s regulation that have built the monopolies preventing truly free commerce from taking place. Anti-market arguments, on the other hand, too often rely on the false promise of central planning or equally large institutional forces to address societal ills. They may hate corporations, but they see them as necessary employers of the masses.

So, can anyone tell me more about him? Is he a homeless or potential left-libertarian, or is there a bunch of disappointing statist stuff lurking in the background somewhere?


13 Responses to Inquiring Minds Wanna Know

  1. Roderick July 16, 2009 at 12:48 am #

    I see that what was a working website for Rushkoff’s book a couple of hours ago is no longer so. But here’s its Amazon page.

    • Roderick July 16, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

      The website for the book seems to be fixed now.

  2. Kevin Carson July 16, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    From what I’ve seen, Rushkoff is writing from roughly the same place as Kevin Kelly, the Cluetrain authors, etc., and has recently taken things in a “the market is destroying the corporation and the computer’s putting workers in control of the means of production” direction. I like his work a lot. He’s what Tom Peters would be if Peters had considerably more critical thinking ability. Joel Schlosberg, a Rushkoff enthusiast, first drew my attention to him.

  3. Edward Parsons July 16, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    Rushkoff is occasionally interesting, but basically lazy. He’s very happy to make sweeping cultural points about, say, tech culture or gaming culture with almost no research to back him up. I do think, however, his heart is broadly in the right place – he’s got a techy LL edge, sort of. His new book sounds a bit frustrating (including his defense of pre-Renaissance society as a more equitable system). I don’t think he’s got that many statist tendencies.

    Weirdly, though, he did predict the whole Keith Preston kerfuffle, in his “good-concept-sloppy-execution” comic series Testament – that an American liberationist movement will face disagreements over whether to make alliances with elements of the traditional far right (“nats” to use Rushkoffs terminology). He’s got that funny gift of telling more truth through fiction than he can ever manage elsewhere.

  4. Soviet Onion July 16, 2009 at 9:10 am #

    Here’s a somewhat recent article of his in which he implicitly defends competing, commodity-backed currencies.

    He sounds like a bright and talented individual on several fronts. Who wants to contact him with an invitation to check out our writings and sign up? 😉

  5. Jesse Walker July 16, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    He isn’t a libertarian but he has some libertarian tendencies. He’s friends with Julian Sanchez and was a friend of Robert Anton Wilson, so he isn’t averse to hanging out with our crowd. He’s a nice guy, and I like some of what he does, but I think his work is frequently superficial in the way Edward Parsons describes.

    I’ve butted heads with him (in a cordial way) a few times in the past. Usually via correspondence but sometimes in print. In LIBERTY in the ’90s I gave a harsh review to his book MEDIA VIRUS because I thought it understated the extent to which the media changes he was celebrating did not challenge the corporate corporate control of media that he decried. Then he went too far in the other direction, and I criticized him in REASON for not appreciating the extent to which Net users were undermining traditional corporate media. We also ran a harsh review by Tim Virkkala of his book COERCION. On the brighter side, I thought he wrote a great critique of Current TV.

  6. MBH July 16, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    The concept behind the book Life Inc. reminds me of the 1976 movie Network–in which Howard Beal is led to believe that “the world is a business” before he is literally killed by management.

    • MBH July 16, 2009 at 10:20 am #

      While I was writing that response, Chuck Grassley on MSNBC just said, “the government cannot provide competition; the government is a predator.” Chuck Grassley = anarchist?

  7. freeman July 16, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    Jesse’s description of Rushoff as not libertarian but with libertarian tendencies seems accurate to me.

    I haven’t read his new book yet, aside from the introduction and other excerpts available online. It seems as if he engages in a similar tendency as Naomi Klein – acknowledging that the market is coercively distorted on behalf of corporations one minute, then lamenting on how corporations seek to spread free markets over the whole globe the next minute.

    Despite various disagreements here and there, along with his (as Edward notes) occasional tendency for making sweeping cultural points that don’t seem warranted, I like and recommend his writing.

    I wonder how familiar he really was with R.A.W.’s political views?

    • Jesse Walker July 16, 2009 at 10:41 am #

      I suspect, though I don’t know this as a fact, that it was RAW’s work that got Rushkoff interested in competing currencies.

  8. Aster July 16, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    I know nothing about Rushkoff, but I think Roderick’s approach as to how we might grow left-libertarianism is precisely right here.

    • MBH July 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

      Agreed Aster. Rushkoff was an online associate of Timothy Leary. Leary was nuts in a lot of ways, but he did outline several projects–I think–correctly. Making “think for yourself; question authority,” into a mantra was definitely a positive contribution. And, to me, the notion of cognitive liberty is particularly relevant.

      Cognitive liberty, I think, is the common denominator throughout all left-libertarianism. Whether you’re a voluntarist, mutualist, agorist, social anarchist, radical minarchist, or whatever, the field with which you’re concerned is the freed mind. And growing left-libertarianism means highlighting the spark when it arises in others.

      I think Mr. Rushkoff would agree also, since, in Jewish mysticism, “raising sparks from behind the curtains” is the central purpose (and he seems to be involved in updating Judaism).

  9. Micha Ghertner July 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    Rushkoff’s a pretty groovy guy, though I know him primarily through his work on taking Judaism in a secular humanist direction. Here’s his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

    I think the ongoing Israel crisis merely exposes the obsolescence of the nation-state model. It may have been an interesting idea back during the Renaissance, but nations just don’t work today. They generate false notions of solidarity and, worse, false notions of competition and difference. Besides – as corporations continue to transcend nation state boundaries, conglomerates become the true power brokers on the world stage. Thinking of oneself as living in a nation deludes one into thinking that nation has some authority over anything but weapons.

    So, my creative solution to the Israel crisis would be to transition the region from nation states to city states. The interests of cities are much more aligned to the people actually living inside them than are the interests of more abstracted nations. Garbage pickup and water supply takes precedence over national identity, whatever that might mean. This makes city law less susceptible to religious and racial specificity.

    If a standing army is required, then let this be a shared resource of the city-states, and even operated by NATO or the UN or some other international body that people trust. Or let the US and NATO and the Arab League accept responsibility for the area’s security from more distant attack.

    So yeah, I’d bag the two-nation or three-nation solution, and go with the NO nation solution. This does not mean the Jews need to stop thinking of themselves as the chosen people if they want to, or that they need to stop thinking of Israel as the God-sanctioned land mass for Jewish residence.

    Further, the no-state solution could help the rest of the world move beyond the Balkanization crisis with which it is currently obsessed.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes