Boing Boing 

Douglas Rushkoff

Winner of the Media Ecology Association's first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics. His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.

Life Inc: a book against corporatism, published by a corporation

lifeincsquare.jpg

(Douglas Rushkoff is a recent Boing Boing guest blogger -- below, a previously-planned excerpt from his new book, the last in a series of excerpts which ran during his guest-blogging period.)

Here's the final excerpts for the BoingBoing serialization of my new book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back.

I've chosen them in response to concern from readers of the earlier excerpts, who are asking "what should we actually do about all this?" 

I think the first step is to fully comprehend how the financial mess we're in is not some aberration, but the culmination of a debt-based economy. When speculation and lending outweigh innovation and value-creation as drivers of economic activity, addiction to growth and the attendant bubbles are really the only possible long-term outcome. That's why it's important we understand how the ground rules were established, who came up with them, and why. Only then can we begin to look at how arbitrarily they were determined, and how artificially they were upheld.

But once we've done that, we need to look at mechanisms for restoring the functioning of a bottom-up economy that is at least as worthy as its top-down counterpart. Corporate foundations, while well-meaning, end up sitting on giant stores of investment that work against the very causes the foundations are supposedly working to fix. (There's a big section on how this works, using some of the LA Times terrific analysis of how the Gates Foundation invests its assets.)

It's not a matter of getting rid of corporations and centralized currency altogether, but maintaining alternative means of creating value and exchanging it. This is as much about simple participation as it is about active legislation. Finally, I'll argue, it means abandoning "causes" as abstract as the entities for which we mean to develop alternatives.

(for more on the book, movie, and tour, as well as appearances for groups such as A New Way Forward, check out lifeincorporated.net )


From Chapter 8
No Returns


The Fourth Estate is made up almost entirely of large corporations. And, operating almost entirely under the principles of debt, media companies cannot make any distinction between the market value of information and its importance. Britney Spears's latest breakdown and the invasion of Iraq are both treated as major media events deserving of equal time and space. In the face of all this, the hippest way out is to adopt the attitude of amused and quizzical cynicism worn by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

Besides, no matter how critical of corporatism some entertainers and journalists might be, the impact of their arguments is undercut by their dependence on corporatized media for dissemination. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart work for Viacom. Naomi Klein writes for a division of the German publisher Verlagsgruppe, and this book is published by a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. We all have mortgages to pay. Even most progressive journalism--just like the kind that emerged in the early 1900s--tends to frighten and isolate the middle classes rather than bring them out of their homes to improve their communities. Populists such as CNN's Lou Dobbs, and others speaking out on behalf of working stiffs, stoke more rage and discontent than thoughtful engagement. In the isolation of our living rooms and surrounded by bills, the menaces of immigrants willing to take our jobs for less pay and affirmative- action candidates offered our jobs with fewer qualifications feel all too real.

Read the rest

Life Inc: Everything's Open Source but Money


200905092048.jpg

Douglas Rushkoff - author of the book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back - is a guest blogger.

I'm posting an excerpt from my upcoming book, Life Inc., every Monday morning until the book publishes on June 2. Two weeks ago, I published the introduction. Last week, I published the first half of Chapter One. Today, some excerpts that answer or at least address the questions and comments being raised here at BB. Next week is the final installment. I'll also be keeping the excerpts up as PDFs at LifeIncorporated.net.

from CHAPTER ONE
ONCE REMOVED: THE CORPORATE LIFE- FORM

...As a result, our physical, commercial, spiritual, and personal accomplishments came to be valued only insofar as they could serve the market. And while the market may be as good a model as any for human interaction, the corporate terrain did not represent a level playing field or a "free market" in which value might be created from anywhere. Remember--in spite of its individualistic mythology of open competition, the landscape of corporatism was first cultivated during the Renaissance, when local currencies were outlawed in favor of centralized money.

In the United States, in an assumption of centralized value creation that reached a crescendo under the Nixon administration, the Federal Reserve won the authority to create money by fiat, based on nothing but faith in its own corporate chutzpah.

The massive potential of computers and networking, technologies developed in many cases by engineers hoping to decentralize the very power structures funding their projects, was quickly recontextualized as a market opportunity--the beginning of a "long boom"--and appropriated as NASDAQ's stepchild. New rules for a new economy were invented, in which people's ability to access interactive technology for free or to create value independent of any corporation could be understood as the power of the network to leverage what were formerly "externalities." The dot- com boosters sought to reconcile the incompatibility of an abundant, decentralized media space with the legacy of a scarce, centralized monetary system.

Everything is "open source," except, of course, money itself.

Read the rest

Strange, but Never Strangers

Douglas Rushkoff was a guest blogger.

Thanks for having me aboard these past two weeks, engaging with me so honestly and provocatively, and for quickly scrolling past my posts if they just strayed too far from what it is you know and love about BoingBoing. The beauty of guest bloggers is that we are temporary. And no matter how combative we get in these spaces, sometimes it's good to remember we're all on the same side. 

I do hope I get to meet a lot of the people I engaged with in the comments sections, here. I'll be touring - both for my Life Inc book and, more importantly, to promote ideas for DIY commerce. I really do believe the BoingBoing ethos of open source and cyberpunk (make) culture dovetail perfectly with those of complementary currencies, peer-to-peer lending, and other non-outsourced finance. And I look forward to taking what I've learned into the field and into the media.

There's two more excerpts coming up to finish the serialization on BB, too - this Monday and next. 

For those of you who may want to catch up or meet up, here's where I'll be the next few weeks. You can always find out where I'm going to be via http://rushkoff.com - and I'll be on the MediaSquat via WFMU every week, as well, so call in. Please don't be strangers.

Thanks again. Your humble but happy mutant,
Douglas

Upcoming gigs:
NY: May 26th: Reading in Irvington, 8pm-9pm Chutney Masala 4 West Main Street in Irvington, NY 

NY: May 31st: Comp Currency panel, 1-5PM St. Marks Church 2nd Ave & 10th St 

Boston: June 2. Boston Public Library, book reading, 6pm 700 Boylston St.

NY: June 7th: Life Inc. Book Party, open to public Comfort Restaurant 583 Warburton Ave, Hasting-on-Hudson, NY 10706 

SF: June 9th: Booksmith, reading and signing, 7pm - 8pm PST 1644 Haight St,

Seattle, June 10th: HL2.com, Seattle talk and signing, 7pm PST www.hl2.com/ 

Redmond: June 11th: Lecture at Microsoft, 10:30 am - 11:30 am PST 

NY: June 16th McNally Jackson Books, book reading and signing, 7pm - 8pm 52 Prince Street, 

NY: June 18th: Blue Stockings, book party and talk, 7pm 172 Allen St

NY: June 29th: Personal Democracy Forum www.personaldemocracy.com/

Books about (or at least by) weird but interesting people

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

I just raced through two novels - not because I had to finish them quickly, but because they moved so quickly.

The first, by my best friend from college Walter Kirn, is an entertaining but (for me, anyway) nightmarish reminiscence on trying to make it through Princeton called Lost in the Meritocracy, based on this essay Kirn wrote for The Atlantic. Not the academics, but the culture itself. What self-conscious public school kids like Walter and me learned at Princeton was that there really super wealthy people who control a heck of a lot of the world, and that they have institutions like Princeton to help their kids find one another and then inherit their daddies' places. Yes, I know most of you already know that - but we didn't. It was a more innocent era, and these kind of things came as big, adolescent, crises of disillusionment that required ample self-medication. And Kirn's writing, if you haven't gotten to experience it before, is the most effortlessly engaging literary literature being written today.

The second is a book by novelist Jonathan Lethem, who wrote the acclaimed Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, then went ahead and won a MacArthur genius grant which made the rest of us really jealous. It's hard to be too jealous, though, because Jonathan is a totally sweet guy and he actually is the sort of genius writer for whom such prizes were created. And, most of all, he used the time and money to create his first true work of genius, Chronic City, which - like Kirn's novel - deconstructs the hyper-competitive social landscape of eastern urbanites in a fair but viciously accurate near-future parody of manners and hermeneutics.

Personal Democracy Forum

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Although I begged them (and they agreed at the time) to change their name from Personal Democracy Forum to Participatory Democracy Forum, the name remains the same. But the purpose remains the same, too, so I'm glad I got invited to participate in the Forum's conference again this year in New York City on June 29 and 30.

The one thing that has changed, however, was my ability to negotiate a short-term discount of $100 for BoingBoing readers who want to go, by using the discount code "boingboingpdf". That's only going to work for the next 24 hours, but that's better than nothing. (They are pretty good about finding roles for interns, too, so try for that if the entry fee is still too high.)

On the brightest side, this year's confirmed participants include Danah Boyd, Clay Shirky, Frank Rich, Dan Gillmor, Jack Dorsey, Dave Troy, Baratune Thurston, Ana Marie Cox, Vivek Kundra, Amanda Rose, Tara Hunt, Nate Silver, Craig Newmark, Gina Bianchini, Beth Noveck, Jeff Jarvis, Scott Simon, Michael Wesch, Joe Rospars, David Weinberger, and Mark Pesce. And unlike a lot of conferences, these folks actually participate in the whole thing.

(Micah Sifry of PDF informs me that they tried to change the name to Participatory Democracy, but couldn't find an unused url for it.)

Personal Freedom, by State

ideolpf.png

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

The "Index of Freedom," maintained by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, is the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. By measuring across a wide variety of policies and activities, the study concluded that New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota are the most free, while my own New York is - by significant margin - the least (due in part, no doubt, to the famously draconian drug laws implemented during the Rockefeller era and still not repealed). (Then again, as we look at the Mercatus Center funding, another picture emerges.)

State Policy Index

Vida Inc: La Pelicula

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

This is what I love about the Internet. Two days after we posted Janine Saunders' Life Inc: The Movie, Carlos Boyle - author of De Revolutionibus Orbium Argentum - has created a subtitled version on his website for the Spanish speaking (and reading) audience.

Reflexiones Siesteras - Life Inc subtitulada en español

Ben Franklin's DEATH RAY

ben-franklin-death-ray.jpg

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Nate Dimeo, an NPR reporter, has been creating some fascinating audio at a site he called The Memory Palace. These are highly textured historical narratives about stuff we might not know or remember.

My favorite is a piece on a widespread fear among the British that Franklin had invented a lightning-bolt gun - and such rumors led many to shun lightning rods on their homes, in turn leading to countless unnecessary fires.

The Memory Palace

Retrotech: I want my vinyl back, too

13pullcord2_600.JPG

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

The New York Times reports that MTA city buses are losing the yellow rubber electronic strip in favor of the good ol' pull string connected to a bell. The electronic strip technology costs more to make and to maintain.

For those of us who are old enough to remember the cord-pull system, it's a welcome return of a technology with more depth, character and dependability than the rubber strip. Perhaps the best thing about the pull wire is that you can really yank on it when you're mad or frustrated - as if to ring the bell louder - even though, for the driver, the bell has the same sound. So you get to express frustration in a fully gestural way, without actually annoying anyone, or spreading the anxiety any further.

The New York Times

The New RAW website

RAWLogo.png

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Robert Anton Wilson is back! On the web, anyway. Congratulations to his crew for getting the new RAW website together even though Bob is no longer around to give his inimitable positive reinforcement. Maybe that's as much his legacy as anything.

Whiskey Rebellion Anniversary

whiskeyrebellion_fr.jpg
Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

In 1791, Alexander Hamilton imposed a new tax on Americans - both as a way of paying down the national debt and, in his words, "more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue." The taxes led to widespread organizing, protests, and ultimately insurrection. The first shots were fired in the town now known as South park (not Colorado, but Pennsylvania, but it always made me wonder what Trey Parker had in mind).

By May, 1794, Americans in most states were raising liberty poles, the symbol of revolutionary American resistance to tyranny. Although dismissed by Hamilton as a "whiskey rebellion" in order to make it sound like a bunch of drunks dissing government authority, the movement was a widespread challenge to the federalist model that - perhaps ironically - led to the raising of an American army as big as the one raised for the Revolutionary War, and ultimately a vast increase in centralized control over the American economy, and society. (In the form of corporatism.)

May 13 is also the anniversary of the "May 13 Incident," when Sino-Malay race riots in Kuala Lumpur led to a suspension of Parliament and at least a couple of thousand people killed by police and Malaysian Army rangers.

Inventing American History

026201288X-f30.jpg
Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

William Hogeland, author of The Whiskey Rebellion, is out with a new one from MIT Press called Inventing American History. Given the interest and knowledge of American history revealed by some of the comments sections I've been reading here this week, I thought you might get a kick out of Hogeland's premise and conclusions - as well as some of the gems I've pulled from the text itself.

Hogeland makes the case that our historians tend to get history wrong, and for very specific reasons. He's most annoyed (and intrigued) by our deification of people when they die, or when their historical personae are resurrected.

It's good stuff, and readily applicable whenever a Reagan funeral or something like it comes along.

Neo-Hamiltonians have been chopping up the past to make it conform to their political aims. Alexander Hamilton's national vision and founding economics are far more troubling--so more compelling--than his promoters acknowledge ... Hamilton is routinely credited for favoring a strong executive branch. What he really favored was an executive branch run by him, strong enough to do anything it deemed in the national interest. For Hamilton, personal and military force, unrestrained by the slightest consideration of law, were joined ineluctably to American wealth, American unity, and America modernity. "

or

"William F. Buckley and Pete Seeger share -- along with fake-sounding accents and preppie backgrounds -- a problem that inspires forgetfulness, falsification, and denial in their supporters. Fired by opposed and equally fervent political passions, both men once took actions that their cultural progeny find untenable: Seeger's Stalinism, Buckley's racism. Yet these two men--their careers strangely linked in the hunt for communists, the struggle for equal rights, and the emerging 'culture wars' of the postwar era--are worthy of consideration without air-brushing."

It's All in the Widgets


Douglas Rushkoff - the author of Life Inc. - is a guest blogger.

GM made this short stop-motion animation in 1939 (long before Lego's little people who look like this were ever around), to promote the concept of Free Enterprise. "Round and Round" is a 'what-me-worry?' approach to economics, suitable for anyone who wants to know how it all works without ever finding out why it doesn't all work like that.

This is best visualization of what I imagined to be going through George W's mind when he talked about taxes and business.

See an explanation of this film at archive.org

Greed is an Excuse, Not an Instinct

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

I've been getting lots of great (and some angry-but-still-great) email from bb readers contesting and inquiring about a couple of the contentions I made in the Life Inc. movie posted on Monday. The two main areas of concern are:

1. My seemingly romantic, almost "noble savage" argument that human beings have been corrupted by our economic institutions. Why can't I just accept the fact that people are greedy, and that the economy is simply a reflection of this natural human state?

2. The general sense that I'm disagreeing with accepted economic theory, or contradicting what passes these days for Econ 101. Why can't I accept economics and its premise of 'utility maximization' as a science - an explanation of nature - rather than a crudely arbitrary stab at game theory?

So I thought I'd answer those repeating questions right here, with an argument from the book. Right before this section, I explore the work of RAND and Beautiful Mind subject John Nash, whose experiments attempting to prove core human selfishness all failed because the secretaries of the RAND corporation kept making cooperative choices instead of selfish ones.

Read the rest

The End of Money and the Looting of America

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

No, not an essay from me about the end of money, but a great new book from Thomas Greco called The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, out last month from Chelsea Green. It's a comprehensive look at the bias of centralized currency, as well as the history of other approaches to money and why some of these other models should be resurrected.

Of the many books approaching this subject matter (I read a ton of them; this one wasn't available yet) this is the most straightforward explanation I've yet seen of everything from usury to inflation, credit clearing to web-based trading, local self-determination to complementary exchanges.

Very few people realize that the nature of money has changed profoundly over the past three centuries, or--as has been clear with the latest global financial crisis--the extent to which it has become a political instrument used to centralize power, concentrate wealth, and subvert popular government. On top of that, the economic growth imperative inherent in the present global monetary system is a main driver of global warming and other environmental crises.

To me - as you can tell from my posts here - most of this should be common knowledge. Unfortunately, it is still considered as questionable by many as, say, the theory of evolution. But instead of "balancing" a description of economic reality with faith-based "facts" from the other side, our job as writers is to tell it like it is, and refuse to pretend that it's all a matter of interpretation. Greco rises to that challenge.

If you're more interested in the recent credit crisis, what really happened, and how we might best respond to the fraud and cynicism that characterized the last few years of banking and policy, check out another Chelsea Green title, Les Leopold's new book, The Looting of America; How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It. Here's Leopold in his introduction, explaining the growth of the finance industry:

The financial sector, up until the 2008 crash, was one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, generating approximately 20 percent of our gross domestic product. It also accounted for 27.4 percent of all corporate profits. Finance grew as manufacturing declined, thereby dominating the real economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1940 there were 7.1 manufacturing jobs for every job in the financial service industries. The ratio increased to 7.7 in 1950. Then the slide started, as you can see in chart 1 . By November 2008, there were only 1.6 manufacturing jobs per financial services job. Until the current meltdown, the financial industry produced almost 10 percent of all the wages and salaries in the country, up from 5 percent in 1975. In a few years, provided that the system doesn't collapse entirely, the finance sector is going to be larger than the manufacturing economy.

RFID for your Fried Chicken


65.gif 46.jpg

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

I've been obsessed with South Korea since visiting there earlier this year for a story on pro gamers.

Beyond or perhaps encouraging cultural/national stereotypes, South Koreans do make unique technological contributions, in uniquely South Korean ways. There's an intensity of thought and attention to production detail in some of their 'wonderful things' that demands admiration and even awe.

That's why I'm planning to make a quick tour through the KoreanNovation trade show this week in New York. Not only to see stuff like the high-temperature-resistant RFID tag, or the "mask for nasal insertion" (a surgical mask worn in the nose, which I assume works if you remember to keep your mouth closed...) but also to talk to the people who think of and then go make such things.

Thanks, Jeff, for the link.

Krassner: Stewart was right the first time

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Paul Krassner posted an interesting response to the attacks on Jon Stewart for having called Harry Truman a "war criminal" and then apologizing. 

I also feel compelled to disagree with Jon Stewart. I think that Harry Truman was indeed a war criminal. Actually, I believe that in most wars, both sides harbor top-level war criminals, but that the victor determines who they are. As Lenny Bruce said in 1962 at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, "If we would have lost the war, they would have strung Truman up by the balls...." Lenny was arrested for obscenity that night. One of the items in the police report complained: "When talking about the war he stated, 'If we would have lost the war, they would have strung Truman up by the balls.'"

Huffington Post

Read the rest

Life Inc: The Movie


Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

My friend and colleague Janine Saunders just finished this 9-minute video, Life Inc: The Movie, which previews and visualizes some of the core concepts of my upcoming book.

You can watch a medium-quality version by clicking on the embedded link above, or go to:
Archive.org for the highest quality stream/file (Quicktime), YouTube for another option, and the movie's home, LifeIncorporated.net, for a few more choices of playback, as well as some excerpts and information about the whole Life Inc. project.

Life Inc: Chapter One, part one


lifeincsquare.jpg

Douglas Rushkoff - author of the book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back - is a guest blogger.

I'll be posting an excerpt from my upcoming book, Life Inc., every Monday morning until the book publishes on June 2. Last week, I published the introduction. Today, the first half of Chapter One. I'll also be keeping the excerpts up as PDFs at LifeIncorporated.net.

CHAPTER ONE
ONCE REMOVED: THE CORPORATE LIFE- FORM

Charters and the Disconnect from Commerce

If You Can't Beat Them...

Commerce is good. It's the way people create and exchange value.

Corporatism is something else entirely. Though not completely distinct from commerce or the free market, the corporation is a very specific entity, first chartered by monarchs for reasons that have very little to do with helping people carry out transactions with one another. Its purpose, from the beginning, was to suppress lateral interactions between people or small companies and instead redirect any and all value they created to a select group of investors.

This agenda was so well embedded into the philosophy, structure, and practice of the earliest chartered corporations that it still characterizes the activity of both corporations and real people today. The only difference today is that most of us, corporate chiefs included, have no idea of these underlying biases, or how automatically we are compelled by them. That's why we have to go back to the birth of the corporation itself to understand how the tenets of corporatism established themselves as the default social principles of our age.

Read the rest

Martians Learn about the Free Market from the Oil Industry



Douglas Rushkoff - author of the book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back - is a guest blogger.


Here's another great cartoon we found on archive.org when we were researching corporatism propaganda for Life Inc. In Destination Earth, sponsored by the American Petroleum Industry in 1956, Martian dissidents learn that oil and competition are the two things that make America great.

In spite of its unfaltering market bias (or maybe because of it) the film is still quite an entertainingly assembled piece of work.

For more on the movie, check out the background info at archive.org

If the banks are so healthy, how come we're all still broke?

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

We're supposed to take heart in the fact that the Treasury Department's bank "stress tests" didn't come out worse. No, our biggest banks aren't insolvent, exactly. In fact, enough cash was printed to guarantee that they should be able to survive the rest of the recession. Worst case, with a little late-night printing and lending by the central bank, even the worst of them - like Citibank - should be able to hobble through. Our Treasury Department wants us to be reassured.

True enough, as long as banks are understood by many as fueling the economy, this should be good news. By this logic, banks disperse the capital that allows businesses to do their business. As so many have explained to me, it all starts with the banks. Banks lend businesses money, and then those businesses turn it into something real - like products, salaries, or innovation.

Sorry, but that's just not true. Labor might make money, but money doesn't make labor. (Or as I said to Rolling Stone's editor, music makes money - money doesn't make music). And while we can certainly point to the fact that assembly lines and mixing boards cost money, neither are required as the first step in creating a car company or a musical act. Yes, in a well-functioning economy, good production yields income, part of which goes to making production better. A great company dedicates part of its winnings to R&D.

But the notion that enterprise and production starts with banking is just another artifact of Renaissance-era currency monopolies. Back before the first central banks, production and yield actually created money. (That's what all this hoopla about complementary currency is about.) Money was not lent into existence by a bank. Instead, farmers brought their grain to town and received receipts for the grain. These receipts served as the local currency. Currency was worked into existence. There was as much money as there was grain.

The problem with this scheme was that people got too wealthy - especially in comparison with the feudal lords and fledgling monarchy, who had always been used to getting rich, well, by being rich. So they went and made all the grain-based currencies illegal, and forced everyone to use coin of the realm - central currency. While this coin was better for long distance trade and collecting taxes, it was lousy for local transactions. People lost their ability to live off the land, took jobs with early corporations, got poor, less fed, and eventually the economic downturn in Europe led to a plague that killed half the population. This isn't economic interpretation - it's just fact.

Eventually, with only half the population to deal with, Europe's new economic scheme proved basically sufficient to the task. And we got the rules that have - in one form or another - defined economics to this day: people don't make money, banks do. The chief function of money is for money to make money - not for it to be used for successful transactions.

But today we may be smart enough, information may travel around fast enough, for many of us to realize just how transparent a fraud we're witnessing unfold before us today - how the bailouts of AIG were really funding Goldman Sachs, how intimately involved are bankers - Rubin or Paulson, are with Treasury chiefs like, er, Paulson and Rubin. How government and banking are one and the same, both after the same centralization of authority, both inextricably linked with the biases of lending-based wealth schemes, and both utterly incapable of serving as the source of anything.

MediaSquat Radio Show

Douglas Rushkoff - author of the book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back - is a guest blogger.

I've started doing a rather free-form talk radio show on WFMU-FM and WFMU.ORG called The Media Squat, in which we explore bottom-up, open-source style solutions to some of the problems engendered by a relentlessly top-down, closed source society. We've had some great guests so far, from Richard Metzger and Paul Krassner to Joanna Harcourt-Smith and RU Sirius.

We also focus on "real people doing real things" - from people turning cement tracts in the projects into urban agriculture centers, and unemployed workers developing local currencies.

A month or so ago, a group from Indiana emailed asking if they could meet up with me in New York to get some advice and support for some bottom-up ventures they're initiating - and I figured it would be a great opportunity to take advantage of some of the community we've developed through the show. So they're coming on this Monday evening, May 11, at 7p EST.

I invite you all to tune in and help them figure out exactly how to proceed. Here's what they sent me so far:

The Bloomington Think Tank, aka the 'Culturvators,' are a group of young people in Bloomington, IN who are exploring and enacting hyper-local methods of creating, supporting, and improving permaculture practices, local economic initiatives, and community. They are promoters of and participants in organic agriculture, the art community, and local currency/bartering. They are engaged with local permaculture practitioners, and are earning food through a work-share CSA.

The Culturvators believe in the tribe, or small to medium social group, as the key component in improving their local community, and the world at large, in our present moment of crisis. Culturvation is the process of bridging the gaps of individuation that prevent us from creating and sustaining working relationships with our neighbors. Culturvators are those who break down barriers to form the social groups that produce change. In short, many hands make light work, and the Culturvators get those hands to shake so the work can get done.

RFIDs on the Brain


Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

Here's Patrick Dixon, of Siemens, advertising as features all the things about RFID tags that I always thought should bother people the most. The first time I watched this, I figured it was The Yes Men having one over on the Ascent Business Leadership Forum.

I mean - it's all there: implanted RFIDs with human brain tissue growing naturally over them, total surveillance, predictive marketing... I suppose it's possible I'm still seeing this out of context - and that the speaker is actually pointing out how scary and strange this stuff gets. But I don't think so.

My favorite bit may be the reaction shot of one of the businessmen, who seems to be actually considering whether he is now fully and irrevocably engaged with the dark side of the force.

(Thanks, Joe, for sending it my way.)

The Economist Gets Something Right

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.

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. Or, like today's fiscal stewards, they fail to understand finance as a game with fixed rules, and their interventions as unfair to those who have come in expecting the rules they signed up for to be enforced by government, rather than rewritten. In today's Economist, however, the editors correctly dissect what is so misguided about the Obama administration's tactics in funding the automakers, particularly GM. The people who bought GM bonds over the past few years were bailing out GM's health plan for very low returns - but a high level of security. Now, as government continues to bail out the auto giant, those consumer-grade debtors are being pushed to the back of the line. They'll not only pay for GM's bailout through their bond investments, but through their taxes as well. But, as the Economist puts it, the bigger risk is to the sanctity (if we can put it that way) of the instrument formerly known as the bond:
America's government, keen to protect workers, is providing taxpayers' cash to keep the lights on at both firms. But in its haste it has vilified creditors and ridden roughshod over their legitimate claims over the carmakers' assets. At a time when many businesses must raise new borrowing to survive, that is a big mistake. Bankruptcies involve dividing a shrunken pie. But not all claims are equal: some lenders provide cheaper funds to firms in return for a more secure claim over the assets should things go wrong. They rank above other stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. This principle is now being trashed.
The Economist

Tipjoy.com, a possible home for CraigBucks

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger. I spent a bit of time trying to convince Craig Newmark to develop an alternative currency with me for use, initially, on Craigslist called CraigBucks. Although he (perhaps wisely) has decided that it might be better for such a thing to arise independently of Craigslist proper, that hasn't stopped me from looking at how to take everything that works so well about transparent, local currencies (specifically, those of the LETS variety), and apply them to non-local communities with shared values.

The main trick is to have a currency that - unlike dollars, which are lent into existence by a bank - is instead worked into existence through an exchange. One person in the system is willing to be debited for what he gets from another. And everything stays completely transparent. Eventually (like in a file-sharing system) a person taking but not giving ends up in too much virtual debt to acquire more goods and services without finding something to do or trade with someone.

Coincidentally, then, I came across TipJoy, a pretty robust little system through which people can pay each other "tips" via the net, or even Twitter. Tie the TipJoy system to an alternative currency database instead of dollars, and the system should be able to work. The more transparent it is, the more people will be able to determine just what the unit of currency is worth to everyone else.

And as "Winston" suggested we call them over in a discussion at Rushkoff.com, why not call them NewMarks?

Debt is not a good product

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger. I just had a great hour-long phone conversation with an old friend, Will Dana (now editor of Rolling Stone), who has strongly encouraged me to come up with one-liners that tell the truth about the economic/banking fiasco - but that do it in almost zen-koan fashion. He thinks this might be the only way to penetrate ongoing confusion and resistance to moving beyond our falsely held assumptions about money and business. So, I figured I'd start with the generally unrecognized fact that finance is America's biggest industry - our biggest business sector. How does banking make its money? In short - over-simplified, yes, but ultimately true - interest. It sells debt. And, like I'm arguing in my book, this whole scheme was arranged by 14th Century monarchs as a way of making money by having money, rather than providing value. So "Debt is not a good product" helps encourage that line of thinking, sound-byte style. Another one - I came up with as a way of pitching this same concept to Rolling Stone itself, was to apply the same basic principle to their area of interest: music can make money, but money can't make music. Which is just another way of explaining that money itself cannot fuel an economy (no matter what Obama currently believes). Only activity and value creation can fuel an economy. Do people have other ideas for easy-to-grasp, almost bumper-sticker-length statements that can help instigate good conversations, or force the unpacking of larger concepts about the fictional economy? Ways of helping people see that money is not a part of nature, but an invention? So far, it's worked a lot better than trying to get people to consider, say, "the biases of centralized currency," or "what metrics such as the GNP leave out." We tend to do better with things like "cancer is good for the GNP."

ITP Thesis Week - Tweenbots


Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

It's thesis week at ITP, where you can go through Friday to watch students present the projects they've been working on - some of them for many years. One of my favorites, first launched by Kacie Kinzer in one of my classes and then expanded, is called Tweenbots.

The concept is pretty simple, and evident in the movie clip above. In Kinzer's words: "Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal."

Of course, the whole thing becomes a really interesting study in human cooperation, machine-human relationships, as well as how a piece of technology's cuteness is a big determining factor in whether it gets what it wants.

Digital Warriors - The next MK Ultra?


(Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.)
I've been working on a year-long PBS Frontline project called Digital Nation, which will culminate as a one-hour tv documentary next January. We're looking a whole lot of subjects, all from the perspective of how what it means to be human is changing as we migrate further into the digital realm (if that metaphor even holds). We're posting as much video as possible as we go.

The above piece about the "infantry immersion trainer" looks at the integration of virtual simulations into military training, as well as for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder after tours of duty. The weird part for me - well, the two weird parts - were that this training was also developed, in part, to "desensitize" soldiers to certain aspects of war. They say it is to lessen the effects and reduce post-traumatic stress. But all of the psychologists I've spoken with since then say it doesn't work like that - that the stress simulations just compound the total stress. And, second, that I had nightmares for a good week after all this - less from the shooting of civilians part than the little driving simulation, which reminded me of a fatal car crash back in 1985.

I guess the lesson for me was that the resolution of the simulation is a lot less important than the intention and mindset with which one approaches the experience. As with any hallucinatory experience, set and setting are everything.

Democracy Trying to Work

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger. )


Fascinating video from C-Span of the Senate Hearings on healthcare reform. Senator Max Baucus tries to quell a stream of protesters. As Personal Democracy Forum's Micah Sifry, who alerted me to this video explains, "At about 1:45 Baucus is laughing, calling for the police, as a half-dozen peaceful and very articulate citizens speak out, one by one, demanding a seat at the table (where 15 witnesses wait to testify, not one representing the single-payer option)."

The Geospatial Revolution

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.)

Just as in the original Renaissance, our world has gone map-crazy. But instead of simply marking off territory as national or corporate property, the maps of our era are as much about interrelationships and abstraction as place and territory. The Penn State GeoSpatial Revolution Project explores the way "the location of anything is becoming everything."

There are some great opportunities here for cyber-cartographers and others to share and explore technologies and applications, and to extend both mapping and what is thought of as mapping.

There's a great trailer on the site. If nothing else, this is a good way to introduce people to what it is we mean by "geospatial" or even "mapping" these days.

We live in the Global Location Age. “Where am I?” is being replaced by, “Where am I in relation to everything else?”

Penn State Public Broadcasting is developing the Geospatial Revolution Project, an integrated public media and outreach initiative about the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave, and interact.

The project will feature a web-based serial release of eight video episodes–each telling an intriguing geospatial story. Overarching themes woven throughout the episodes will tie them together, and the episodes will culminate in a 60-minute documentary. The project also will include an outreach initiative in collaboration with our educational partners, a chaptered program DVD, and downloadable outreach materials.