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Comedy Central: Douglas Rushkoff talks corporations with Stephen Colbert

Posted on July 23 2009 5:55 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Douglas Rushkoff
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Author Douglas Rushkoff recently spoke with with political satirist Stephen Colbert about his new book Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. See my FrontPage review of Rushkoff’s book here.

Listen to Rushkoff’s ideas and his rhetoric, and it becomes clear quickly that he’s not exactly what we’d consider a leftist. He might be critiquing the corporation but he’s certainly not an anti-capitalist, America-hating activist like Naomi Klein. But he’s far from a “conservative” also, even though his ideas might be compatible with those on the Right.

What is Rushkoff then?

He’s a counterculturalist. Since the beginning of his career Rushkoff has been a counterculture intellectual. He’s written about early Internet culture, liberal Judaism, and viral media. He also wrote a fantastic comic book called Testament which juxtaposed biblical stories with a dystopian science-fiction narrative. Testament in particular is an embodiment of the countercultural zeitgeist. He’s also been a fixture of the Disinformation publishing company, the all-but-official media center for 21st century counterculture.

“Wait a second,” some people must be thinking. “Isn’t the counterculture the same as the Left?”

Sort of. Not really. No. The Left as defined by Discover the Networks and the Freedom Center is a political movement. The “counterculture” is a cultural movement. The two frequently overlap (they certainly did in the ’60s when both had their heyday), and countercultural thinkers and leftist thinkers are often friendly. (Hence, Rushkoff frequently recruits feminist author Naomi Wolf to write blurbs for his books.) Counterculturalists are more about shifting the culture, not the political system. They promote their art, music, film, drugs, sexuality, spirituality, and philosophical ideas while often passing on the political sphere.

A good example of the difference is in the person of David Horowitz. In the ’60s he was a leftist, not a counterculturalist. He argued for a Marxist political system while basically adopting the cultural norms (nuclear family, no dope smoking) of American society.

On the flip side of this:  just because one’s a counterculturalist doesn’t mean one’s a leftist. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of Rushkoff’s key influences in his thinking is also one in mine: countercultural author and icon Robert Anton Wilson. As I spoke about in my FrontPage interview, Wilson taught a philosophy of agnosticism. He tried to get people to question everything and to be careful when making assumptions.

An intellectual approach of this nature will not allow someone to stay in the Left for long. It certainly didn’t for me. And it has a pretty obvious political expression: libertarianism. If one wants to free one’s mind to question and explore as much intellectual territory as possible, then it only stands to reason that one would adopt a political philosophy that would promote a form of government that protects such a society.

That’s what Wilson did. He became a libertarian politically and developed a deep appreciation for the founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson.

Rushkoff emerges from this tradition of libertarian counterculturalism — an approach that’s entirely friendly to America, capitalism, and freedom. And once conservatives understand that, they can approach his fascinating new book with more open minds. They can see how Rushkoff’s ideas for shifting the culture might make their own lives happier and more fulfilling.

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