It’s on everyone’s mind today. From John Oliver’s barber shop quartet lampooning the divided nature of the debate to the tune of Ode to Joy to Andrew Nikiforuk in the Tyee, reminding us that bigness always leads to badness. Both are right, but wait, that can’t be because they are arguing opposing positions. I have a third stance in mind, and it comes thanks to Douglas Rushkoff and his latest effort to analyze what the hell is going on (to quote Trump) with his latest book, Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus.
It’s brilliant, marked by its tone of reasonableness while showing us the roots of the demented world we find ourselves in. The take away message is remarkable in its simplicity: to wit, we are living in a corporate nightmare of ever expanding bigness and badness and diminishing returns because we have forgotten something important: The ‘operating system’ or set of rules that corporations are duty bound to fulfill were invented to keep the peasants of the late Middle Ages down. They had, all by themselves, created a peer to peer network of thriving, small enterprises that threatened the position of the aristocracy. Not stupid, the aristos got busy and with the help of some clever financiers from the East, invented the corporation, then the royal charter to grant monopolies to them, and voila, we have the framework for the industrial revolution, colonialism, rampant inequality, nature on the verge of disaster and so on. And we’re still running that basic program which is based on furious extraction of value from people and resources and the concentration of wealth in a few hands at the expense of everyone else. Except now we’re running it with digital tools, and in doing that we have pushed the entire system so hard that it’s seizing up.
Rushkoff says he has met plenty of CEO’s who know there’s a problem they cannot solve because the ‘operating system’, that is the corporate set of rules, is in itself utterly dysfunctional and destructive. Algorithms and casino financial systems are divorced from value, whether human or natural. The rule of grow or die is destroying them. We’re overdue for a major reboot of our thinking and our doing.
And that is what the dispute in Britain re the European Union is all about. We’re at a major watershed here, but we need to think more deeply about what is ailing us. It’s not bigness in itself, it’s the rule that says, corporations must grow or else. This growth trap is one we all find ourselves in, and it is financed by ever bigger debt bubbles, housing bubbles, and a dreadful sense that everything is about to go terribly wrong.
Rushkoff likens the current moment to an agonizingly slow birth, one that is so slow that it could kill its mother. The infant that is so slow in being born is a truly new, peer to peer, networked economy that is free from the 13th century corporate operating system we’re still running. The beginnings are already in place, but the vested interests, the Walmarts, the Banks, the libertarian ideas that permeate everything, are fighting back with everything they’ve got.
It’s up to everyone one of us to get with a new program. Begin small, like stop shopping at Walmart. Get informed. Talk to your friends. Do not assume that we’re going to survive as a species. We may not. We’re all in this together, as some British MP is always saying. That’s true.
And there is not much time.