Your Money or Your “Life Inc.”

Armed assault, then blog leads to powerful book

After author Douglas Rushkoff was mugged at gunpoint outside his home in Brooklyn, he detailed the experience on an Internet community list for families in the borough’s Park Slope neighborhood.

To his surprise, the overwhelming response wasn’t sympathy or support, but outrage that his publicizing the event could adversely affect the neighborhood’s property values.

He blogged about his neighbors reactions "in the midst of an irrational real-estate craze," which, then lead to a wider series of iterations on the matter. Soon after, other blogs, and even NPR and New York magazine spun out the topic ‘Are Writers Leaving Brooklyn?’

Subsequently, Rushkoff began to question "if the community of Park Slope first thought to protect its brand instead of its people." Furthering with the notion that "instead of collaborating with each other to ensure the best prospects of all, we pursue short-term advantages over seemingly fixed resources through which we can compete more effectively against one another."

This might sound similar to the 2003 Canadian documentary, "The Corporation," where something of the opposite was presented. The film made a case for how corporations can take on psychopathic human behavior in business practices.

Rushkoff’s experience with his neighbors "thinking like a corporation" is the jumping off point for his latest book, Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

The book offers a detailed history on how the concept of a corporation, first chartered by European monarchs, became an American institution and thought-process, with a grip on our economy, government and culture.

Whereas most anti-corporate books and documentaries are mired in dystopia, Life Inc. offers an optimistic view for how the nation’s economic implosion is an opportunity for citizens to become reconnected to local communities.

Rushkoff’s work as an author has ranged from topics such as how to get high without illegal drugs, pop cultural memes, reinventing Judaism and coercive tactics in commerce, which won him the Marshall McLuhan Award for best media book of 2002.

He has written and hosted two PBS Frontline docs, "The Merchants of Cool" and "The Persuaders." His bio says he’s also been a keyboardist for PsychicTV, an industrial band formed by Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge. He teaches media studies at the New School in New York City where he also hosts a radio show, “The Media Squat” on WFMU-FM.

Perhaps, the sum of all of these experiences, and the fact that Life Inc. is a well-researched book, is why his unique take on the topic of corporate control is more compelling than if presented by an economist.

The book has moments of mild redundancy and is in no way as breezy a non-fiction read as something by Malcolm Gladwell for instance, but it is a serious work of literary journalism and comes at an important time.

With so much economic uncertainty, most of us are looking for ways to feel enfranchised. The forward thinking ethos that Life Inc. offers is especially important right now. We must stop the outsourcing and think about how to put our local economies first.

Laurence Scott first read Rushkoff after the release of his book Media Virus in 1996. For a video on Life Inc. featuring the author, check out  

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