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.

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.