Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heard on the Interwebs

Comments to this article on the New York Times

I'm about to scream the next time some middle-aged humanities major talks about Facebook as if it's the greatest thing in mankind and can be used to feed and shelter 7 billion people on this planet. Facebook is nothing more than a picture album and an interactive alumni newsletter that relies on advertising revenue. Nothing else has changed. Facebook cannot create jobs when there is no demand, it doesn't bring our manufacturing jobs back from China. Facebook is frankly part of the problem, because it facilitates this myth that our country of 300 million can subsist in the virtual world of gossip, vanity and braindead correspondence.

This column is one of the most depressing views of the future I've seen. It is depressing because of the lack of understanding of basic human needs that underlies its assumptions - that the world is open for everyone to become a freelancer, an entrepreneur, a business start up, that we can move at will or would want to in order to be "employed." But the truth is that the vast majority of people are not cut out for that kind of competitive world and there is no training or education that will prepare them for it. That is because what people - human beings - really want is home, security, family, and community. The vision laid out here is the antithesis of what builds human communities. It's not that people don't want to be part of the world, travel, grow, or expand, that is not it. It is rather that the vision laid out here will actually produce the opposite effect than described here. How do I know this? Because we already have more than enough evidence from globalization and "outsourcing" to know this is true. The destruction of community and cultures is going ahead at a frightening pace. Corporations now have far more power than any one government. The small reed of hope we have is to actually push back against the hyper connectedness described and instead push for interconnectedness beginning with our communities and building upon that. The future described is not an advance, but rather a great lost of community, diversity, and spirit.

So, basically, what you are saying is that unless we are in the top .01%, we are completely TOAST? If the "average" person has no chance of survival in post-industrial America, we will either need to build a massive social safety or learn to embrace that the new dark ages are upon us, as 99.9% of the population starves, while the wealth build ever-larger gated estates....

I know this is your dream world, Mr. Friedman--everyone an entrepeneur, everyone working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, madly competing with everyone else in the world to be the best, continually coming up with new innovations, frenetically producing, producing, producing. But while I don't deny that this describes the reality of some people, the truth is that your picture has nothing to do with my life or the life of anyone I know. And I deeply hope that I never live to see the day when it does.

It's funny how, when talking money for the monied, the earth is flat and it's a new day and things like fair trade policies and protective tariffs are so ‘yesterday,’ but when talking fair and equitable tax rates, livable wages, and regulated capitalism, why, 19th century policies are just fine.

What you describe is a "Road Warrior" world absent the nuclear holocaust - which comes instead in a financial version. This does not demand a change in perception or preparation. It instead demands a change in the way the world is manipulated by the concentrated rich to squeeze ever more out of the world's expanding poor. It demands a revolution.

In his essay "Why I Became a Socialist" Jack London wrote that when he was young and strong, he had no doubt that he could provide for himself. He needed no help from anyone, and could compete in any market.

Then he saw the miserable state in which many lived. Some had been just as strong and able as he, but had grown old, or been injured, and could no longer compete. This, he saw, was the inevitable eventual fate of all who did not amass so much more capital than those around them that they could support themselves even when they could not compete. In the end, London decided that we either have to share the burden and take care of one another, or we all eventually get ground up in the machine.

Sometimes I think that the definition of a conservative is a person so certain that, in a completely free market, he will flourish, that he sneers at the idea of a "social safety net" and truly believes that "losers" deserve to lose. A liberal is someone who does not have this conceit. He wants the safety net because he can actually imagine himself in need of it one day.

Hypercompetative societies provide great opportunity and success for the few, and failure and misery for the many. And justice for none.

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