Monday, March 29, 2010

You must read this. . . Non fiction edition

I just finished an amazing book. No, it wasn't a new Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Thriller. It was, for me, an unusual read. Non-fiction. And a non-fiction that is not related in any way, shape, or form to writing or craft. No, this book is "Life, Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back," by Douglas Rushkoff.

If you are at all concerned with the economy, politics, and the problems of the corporate-ization of the world, you must read this book. Rushkoff makes a compelling argument, going back to what we call the "dark ages" in European history to trace the rise of the corporate charter and centralized money, to illuminate the problems in present society from ceding our local authority and community to branding.

It's a chilling read and I wish I could say it was Science Fiction, or speculative at all.

No, it is all too real and puts our current economic condition into a frightening context.

From the rise in chartered corporations in what historians call the Renaissance to the modern multinational, Rushkoff takes his reader on a harrowing journey of the loss of real prosperity and real community connection that began centuries ago in an effort by European monarchs to retain power over local economies.

My only problem with this book is that after 8 chapters, each of which threatened my blood pressure or a massive decline into depression, it is only with chapter 9 that Rushkoff shows us any recommendations to reconnect in real terms with our local communities. My take on his recommendations is that we must make a commitment to our communities in three areas: civic engagement, social engagement, and financial engagement. I only wish he had included more positive examples of this kind of engagement and its outcome.

Rushkoff argues that only by this bottom up relatedness, can we rebuild true sustainable and prosperous communities that aren't mediated by one corporation or another. He talks about the CSA (community supported agriculture) movement as a step in the right direction. Another example is in bartering volunteer services for social capital--improvement in neighborhoods, schools, etc. Or babysitting coops and local currencies. I have participated in all these methods of local engagement, with the exception of a local currency, and whether I feel more connected to where I live because of these activities, or I engage in these activities because I feel connected with where I live, I cannot say. I can say that having a stake in my neighborhood, my local schools, my local government, is the only way I feel I can have any impact on the world.

Life, Inc is an expanded love letter to the "think globally, act locally" bumper sticker of the 1960s. Maybe this strongly written book will help bring that abstract slogan to life.

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