THE BOOK REPORT: Douglas Rushkoff

Written by Brian Heater on . Posted in Books, Posts.

The subtitle of your book is “How the World Became A Corporation and How to Take It Back.” It seems like a lot of people are discussing the former, but no one seems to have a clear idea of the latter.
I don’t think too many people are even suggesting how we got into this. The New York Times Magazine last weekend was filled with pieces by people willing to make excuses for themselves for the decisions that led them into personal debt and the banks and companies that took the country to near-bankruptcy; but they seem to be admitting that a little bit of greed will help us get through this momentary aberration of properly functioning markets. And almost no one except real loonies is willing to look at whether or not this crisis is a function of a debt-based economy.

If the problems are, in fact, systemic, do you think these tiny steps can make a difference?
It’s because the problems are systemic that our tiny steps make such a difference. The only solution is for the human beings in that system to begin behaving like human beings, instead of the iron filings flying back and forth between two magnets. Restoring some tiny amount of human agency and human intention totally fucks up the whole system.

What will it take for those on top to come around to this proposed shift?
On a personal level, it will happen because they will come to realize that it takes more of their resources to insulate themselves from the real world than it would to actually improve the real world enough for it to become something they would want to take part in. The equation stops making sense. That’s sort of what you see happening in a lot of neighborhoods. That’s the Bloomberg New York question. Can he erect a kind of billionaire bubble around Manhattan that can protect the rich folk that are all moving into the fine neighborhoods from the poor folk who are being pushed into the outer boroughs?

In the book you map the current economic situation as having essentially begun in the Renaissance period. Do you feel like the shift back in the other direction will necessarily take that much time, or is it something that can occur relatively rapidly?
I look at it as hundreds of years in the making. It’s certainly happened before. There was a central currency in Egypt, which the Egyptian empire instituted. A centralized currency is a great way of paying for expansion during a time of war. That’s really what they talked about in the Bible, with Joseph and indebtedness and seven years of feast and seven years of famine and all that. That’s all about shifting the Egyptian empire from an abundance-based economy to a debt-based economy. So that happened, and eventually it failed them. And then the Romans did it, and it worked for a while; but eventually they got so decentralized that it failed them. And then they tried it again with establishment of the nation-state in late middle ages Europe, which gave us the Renaissance; and the Renaissance gave us the Industrial Age. We’re at the end of the Industrial Age cycle now.