RUSHKOFF: Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book

Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book
by Douglas Rushkoff

I’m getting more questions about my latest book than about any other I’ve written. And this is before the book is even out—before anyone has even read the galleys.

That’s because the questions aren’t about what I wrote, but about how I ended up publishing it: with an independent publisher, for very little money, and through a distribution model that makes it available on only one website. Could I be doing this of sound mind and my own volition? Why would a bestselling author, capable of garnering a six-figure advance on a book, forgo the money, the media, and the mojo associated with a big publishing house?

Because it would make my book twice as expensive for you, half as profitable for me, less purposefully written, and unavailable until about two years from now. In short, the traditional publishing system is nearly dead. And publishing a book under its rules can mean the death of ideas within it, as well. Until it utterly reworks its method, gets rid of a majority of its corporate dead weight, releases its publishing houses from the conglomerates that own them, and embraces direct selling models, the publishing industry will remain rather useless to readers and writers alike.

Authors and readers no longer need Big Publishing to find and engage one another. The sooner we all realize this, the better off we’ll all be.

Think of it from the author’s perspective. Continue reading

AN END TO MOVEMENTS by Douglas Rushkoff

An End to Movements
by Douglas Rushkoff

The national healthcare movement was doomed from the start. TV clips of shouting matches at town halls and fear-mongering by cynical politicians may be lamentable, but we are witnessing something more profound than the collapse of civic discourse. The failure of a movement that could rightly claim over 70 percent public acceptance just a month ago, exposes the inherent failure of movements of any kind to effectively address our society’s ills.

That’s right. Mass organization may just have been a twentieth century thing: collective actions of all sorts—good and bad—were responses to the corporatization of government and industy. As such, they took the form of the entities with whom they sought to do battle. But—like the top-heavy, highly abstracted creatures they were created to counter —they are proving utterly incapable of providing an alternative to what they would replace.

They did work for a time. When a corporation had the power to hire a police force to crush labor unrest, labor created its own collective, virtual structure to fight back: the union. When disenfranchised blacks faced Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement gave them a tent under which to organize, a charismatic leadership to follow, and a clearly articulated cause to promote. It was branded. Marches could be scheduled, buttons could be worn. And it worked.

Between the 1960s and today, however, the mediaspace through which these causes disseminated ideas and gained momentum has changed. The best techniques for galvanizing a movement have long been co-opted and surpassed by public relations and advertising firms. Whether a movement is real or Astroturf has become almost impossible for even discerning viewers to figure out. The question often becomes the new content of the Sunday morning news panel, taking the place of whatever real issue might have been addressed.

But the problem is not simply that we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between real movements and cynically concocted fake ones. It’s that they are functionally indistinguishable. They may as well be the same thing.

In our current position, when disconnection from the real world is itself a cause for concern, movements only serve to disconnect us further from the actionable. They give us content for websites, language for our bumper stickers, and faces to put on our ideals. But they distract us from the matter at hand, and worse, turn our attention upward toward brand mythologies instead of immediately before us to the people and problems that need our time and energy. In the place of real connections to other people, we get the highly charged but ultimately fake connection to an image.

This is why progressives are so disillusioned by President Obama. He was never anything other than a centrist Democrat. But “brand Obama” gave his supporters—a movement in the fullest sense of the word—an abstracted ideal on which to focus. At least until his election. Meanwhile, the real requirements of progressive activists to contribute to their neighborhoods, promote local business and agriculture, invigorate failing public schools, were again left to someone else. This is not the failure of a president, but the flawed functionality of movements themselves.

For while civil rights, suffrage, and many other causes were largely won through traditionally organized, long-fought, top-down movements, the scale on which these great battles were waged is one no longer appropriate to the tasks at hand. In fact, it is the scale itself on which we have been attempting to orchestrate human affairs that is suspect.

Activists would do more to fight Big Agra simply by subscribing to their local Community Supported Agriculture groups. We’d more effectively pull the rug out from under a corrupt financial sector by simply investing in one another’s businesses—our own town restaurants and drug stores—instead of outsourcing our retirement savings to Wall Street. We could more easily re-invent public schools by volunteering our time to them directly, instead of sending our kids to private schools while we sign petitions for government to re-prioritize. And even in health care, we’d end up cutting everyone’s costs by commuting less, smoking less, landscaping less, and, yes, hating less. For each of these actions triggers different responses, undermines industries, requires new legal structures, and so on. It’s tiny, but it’s almost fractal in its impact.

For as the alternative is now teaching us, one size does not fit all. Americans, in particular, have been living under the premise that there’s something to buy, vote for, or believe in that will simply change everything. And it’s certainly still possible that government could develop the single payer system that pretty much everybody knows deep down would bring the best of industrial health care to the most people.

But just as we are learning that industrially produced food is not ultimately nutritious, a top-down, passionately executed, and highly branded movement is not ultimately effective.

In fact, by creating and branding a movement, even the most well-meaning activitsts are disconnecting from terra firma, and instead entering the world of marketing, public opinion, and language selection. Potential participants, meanwhile, are distracted from whatever on-the-ground, constructive and purposeful activity they might do. They get to join an abstracted movement, and participate by belonging instead of doing, or blogging instead of acting.

Douglas Rushkoff is the author, most recently, of Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

Harvey Pekar guests on Douglas Rushkoff's "Media Squat" radio show this evening

the-beats-a-graphic-history
Tonight Arthur columnist Douglas Rushkoff will interview legendary file-clerk and comic book writer Harvey Pekar on his weekly radio show Media Squat. Topics to be discussed include Pekar’s new graphic novel on the history of the Beats (which you can, frustratingly enough, read without images on Google Books), Rushkoff’s new book, and Pekar’s famous on-air conflict on Late Night where he called Letterman a scab and shill for GE.

Media-Squat Radio airs every Monday at 7pm EDT
Listen on WFMU, iTunes, or Media Squat
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBr4NxujLvw

Excerpts, movie for Rushkoff's forthcoming book LIFE, INC

From http://lifeincorporated.net/:

This didn’t just happen.

In Life Inc., award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker, and scholar Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations went from a convenient legal fiction to the dominant fact of contemporary life. Indeed as Rushkoff shows, most Americans have so willingly adopted the values of corporations that they’re no longer even aware of it.

This fascinating journey reveals the roots of our debacle, from the late Middle Ages to today. From the founding of the chartered monopoly to the branding of the self; from the invention of central currency to the privatization of banking; from the birth of the modern, self-interested individual to his exploitation through the false ideal of the single-family home; from the Victorian Great Exhibition to the solipsism of MySpace; the corporation has infiltrated all aspects of our daily lives. Life Inc. exposes why we see our homes as investments rather than places to live, our 401k plans as the ultimate measure of success, and the Internet as just another place to do business.

Most of all, Life Inc. shows how the current financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reverse this 600-year-old trend, and to begin to create, invest and transact directly rather than outsourcing all this activity to institutions that exist solely for their own sakes.

Corporatism didn’t evolve naturally. The landscape on which we are living – the operating system on which we are now running our social software – was invented by people, sold to us as a better way of life, supported by myths, and ultimately allowed to develop into a self-sustaining reality. It is a map that has replaced the territory.

Rushkoff illuminates both how we’ve become disconnected from our world, and how we can reconnect to our towns, to the value we can create, and mostly, to one another. As the speculative economy collapses under its own weight, Life Inc. shows us how to build a real and human-scaled society to take its place.

In Life Inc, Douglas Rushkoff presents the unnerving, unbelievable, but ultimately undeniable proof that our world has been overtaken by an absolutely artificial economy.

He shows how our most fundamental assumptions about money and commerce are actually false ones – artifacts of a 400-year-old plan by a waning aristocracy to maintain control of Western Europe. Although the architects of this corporatism have long since passed on, we still live in a landscape defined by their plans and have internalized their values as our own.

Taking on some of the biggest assumptions of our age, this is a book filled with dangerous ideas and rather unspeakable heresies:
# Money is not a part of nature, to be studied by a science like economics, but an invention with a specific purpose.
# Centralized currency is just one kind of money – one not intended to promote transactions but to promote the accumulation of capital by the wealthy.
# Banking is our society’s biggest industry, and debt is our biggest product.
# Corporations were never intended to promote commerce, but to prevent it.
# The development of chartered corporations and centralized currency caused the plague; the economic devastation ended Europe’s most prosperous centuries, and led to the deaths of half of its population.
# The more money we make, the more debt we have actually created.

Most importantly, Rushkoff shows how this moment of financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reinstate commerce and communities based in creating value for one another, rather than continuing to extract it for the benefit of institutions that no longer exist.

“Life Inc”‘s Introduction and Chapter One are online at:
http://lifeincorporated.net/