Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Giant Ice-Cream Sundae That Is More Beef Than Sizzle

Taibbi's evisceration of Friedman is here. A sample:

On an ideological level, Friedman's new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we're not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we're not in Kansas anymore.) That's the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that's all there is.

It's impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It's not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called "the most important columnist in America today." That it's Friedman's own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman's own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he's in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country's most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

For what it's worth, Taibbi's reference to the "culture of emboldened stupidity" is just how I've thought of Friedman for a while now, but haven't been able to devise the proper phrase to describe.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

In case anyone else is still here, there's a more in-depth review of The World Is Flat at The Washington Monthly:

There are broader downsides to globalization too, but although Friedman managed to write tellingly about them in Lexus, they are addressed only briefly and with little passion in World. In fact, he reprises one of his pet theories from Lexus, the “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” which states that no two countries that both have a McDonald's will ever go to war with each other. In World, it becomes the “Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention”: No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain like Dell's will ever fight a war against each other.

What's startling about this isn't the theory itself, but Friedman's admission that he didn't even start thinking about it until the late 1990s. After all, this is an idea with a long pedigree. Scholars have noted for decades that liberal democracies almost never go to war with each other, and as far back as 1910 Norman Angell famously—and with famously poor timing—wrote that the spread of mercantile interconnections had made conflict so irrational that large-scale war was henceforth futile. He had logic on his side, but that didn't stop large-scale war.