Thomas L. Friedman Begins to See Lies in Things we Most Want to Believe

His Newest Book Sees Manufactured Hatreds

Thomas L. Friedman’s newest book, Longitudes and Attitudes, turns on regimes in the Middle East stewing in cycles of corruption and privilege.  Friedman seethes at how such regimes deflect attention from themselves by funding a growth industry of mosques, madrasas, and schools that redirect people’s frustration onto hatred for the West, and on that local Western outpost, Israel.

Its 379 pages burn with the question:  “How could they do this to us?EEnot only kill the 3,000 of 9-11, but also hate us so, as if our culture were materialist, and we in it all humanly empty.

Friedman feels personally challenged because prior to 9-11 many of his Ehappier ENew York Times columns celebrated how the engines of our material progress also carry an enlarging humanity with openness to change, tolerance for differences, and mixing of race, ethnicity, and religion.  His 1999 The Lexus and the Olive Tree argued for globalism as if our institutions of business, government, and education all vitally furthered this openness, progress, and democracy.

Tarnish in Globalism’s Shining Luster

Friedman has long acknowledged many peoples around the world balking at our globalism, and disliking us, and he has always explained this by how our government has made its many pacts of convenience with dictatorships.  But, except for this generalized and recurring admission, he has never gotten specific about our propping up of evil regimes, especially in the oil-dependent Middle East.  Even in his new book he never mentions the Carlyle Group, for instance:  that transnational, hydra-headed investment portfolio underlying the fortunes of both the Bush and bin Laden families.

More than Enron, World Com, Anderson Accounting, or Jack Welch’s golden parachute from GE, this Carlyle Group belies globalism’s underside.  Dictatorships don’t just accidentally get our aid.  The worst regimes in the world have long gotten massive U.S. financial credits and military aid to prop up their privileges and suppress their people Enbsp; as strategic part of our government serving the interests of our most powerful multinational corporations.

The dictatorships get supported.  The rich get richer EBushes and bin Ladens together.  By the logic that buoying their boats lets ours rise, too, our government and corporate America keep revolving doors open.  All our biggest agribusiness, oil, arms, insurance, construction, drug, media, and aviation firms keep their lobbyists, lawyers, and CEOs routinely rotating between public office and private enrichment.  But something else has been happening as the corporate interests have cozied our regulatory agencies.  Millions of Americans formerly in the middle class have found themselves dead-ended into a part-time, minimum wage economy.  And democracy?  Friedman deals with it no more than he does the Carlyle Group, but fewer Americans vote.  With millions cut from health insurance, public services reduced, and environmental rules gutted, our homelessness, drugs, obesity, road rage, and prison populations increase.

Why Do the Educated so Trust their Scenarios?

Even if he doesn’t go into details of the dictatorships in bed with our corporate elites, or how fealty to the wealthy affects the rest of us, Friedman in Longitudes and Attitudes does begin to see how globalism may lack some of the magic its hucksters ascribe to it.  The internet, he notes, yes, speedily bridges people everywhere.  But too often this wonderful communication highway changes nothing, he admits; too easily it allows too many but to perpetuate originating prejudices.

If Friedman would go on in noticing false advertising, he could note similar mythologies and exaggerated promises in our higher education system.  Like the internet, it seems magical, as our universities draw all the best internationally to them. Like corporate elites, they seem genteel, suave, sophisticated, as their many specializations impress with technological and other eruditions.  But if he looked further, Friedman would see funnier, stronger, more-hidden values also at work.

As in the obvious business side of corporate America, our higher education system divides itself by departments.  All keep strictly separate from each other.  From within any one of them, virtually no one links to fields outside.  Higher math, chaos and complex system physicists may reference widely Ebut most all other academics get tenure and promotions by staying verbally, imaginatively, and methodically in specialization.  Richard Rorty calls these “ascetic priestEconceits, where social scientists and so-called humanists pose neutrality while reducing themselves to narrowest frames of reference.  All perform as if no one were involved personally in anything, as if life, like their textbooks, accrued in neat units. 

The Lies that Promise Empowerment

Good and evil reside in each of us, as in the preacher in Night of the Hunter with “HATEEand “LOVEEtattooed on his knuckles.  Our authorities, however, like to imagine themselves neater. They can believe their systems deliver empowerment, as Eve and Adam believed, too, in the beguiling embrace of closure.  We fall for lies that easily:  lies from corporate America, from politicians, Hollywood, advertising, the new information highway, and our schools.

Sometimes we enter packaged promise systems briefly Elike going to a film or reading a book.  When we know it’s brief, we know we’re testing performances.  Much of Thomas L. Friedman’s urgency in Longitudes and Attitudes comes from the play of his learning or not learning how much the gods have lied.  Globalism?  Politicians serving it?  Regionalists or nationalists resisting it?

“You can’t download understanding,Esays Friedman of what he’s learned in Longitudes and Attitudes:  “You have to upload it, the old-fashioned way Ewith exchange programs, outreach, diplomacy, real communication, and one-on-one education.Enbsp; He could specify another old-fashioned way:  literacy itself.  Essaying Differences takes literacy one notch further, where we admit we inhabit mixed bags Eour cultures.  As we all perform in them, we can see ourselves against “othersEadmitting to urgencies, pains, joys, and questions as Friedman displays.


Philip Balla, Essaying Differences Proprietor, June 2003

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