BOOKCASE: Life Inc.


• Douglas Rushkoff
• Random House
• RRP $45.00

Getting mugged on your Brooklyn back doorstep on Christmas Eve could provoke bunch of reactions – for Douglas Rushkoff it became the impetus for writing book that explores how human values and local community interest somehow got subsumed by financial values and corporate self-interest.
Why? Because when he posted his mugging experience on local website, the first responses were from neighbours angry that highlighting it would have negative impact on local property values. So just why, Rushkoff wondered, was he preparing to mortgage his long-term future to buy into an area where property was put ahead of people? And – the larger question – how did we all get to the point where that could happen?
It’s an enquiry that involves an intelligent and fascinating troll though history and religion. Rushkoff takes readers back to Renaissance Europe when the first corporations were born out of desire by vested powers to buy into the increasing activity of new class of entrepreneurial traders both on and offshore. From the American revolution through Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to the fading mirage of new internet-based democracy of interest, he explores the power of corporatism to champion markets ahead of communities and self-interest ahead of shared values.
The problem, he concludes, is corporatism itself – “a logic we have internalised into our very being – lens through which we view the world around us and an ethos with which we justify our behaviours”.
So ingrained is it that even those who try fighting corporatism’s power to dehumanise find themselves fighting on its terms with its own weapons – generating kind of battle of the brands rather than any fundamental change to the market structures that rule most human activity.
Rushkoff’s book is one of growing number of recent releases that prompt us to take thoughtful look at the underlying causes of the recent financial meltdown – which he suggests is “at least in part the result of our widespread obsession with financial value over values of any other sort”.
What to do? Well – you could start by re-engaging with community initiatives funded when practicable by locally generated currency (Rushkoff references several schemes previously highlighted in economist Bernard Lietaer’s The Future of Money).
And the best reason to begin reconnecting with real people, places and value, says Rushkoff, is that it feels good. “This local, day-to-day, mundane pleasure is what makes us humans in the first place.” • Vicki Jayne

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