Thomas Friedman: Still an Idiot

I’ve written about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s asininity before. That he puts it all down for others to read just proves what a moron he is. And I’m not the only who thinks so.

David Henkin, a history professor at UC-Berkeley, takes Friedman and his new book to task in The Washington Post:

As in his earlier work, Friedman promotes technological determinism (the view that technical innovations rather than other agents, events or forces drive historical change), but even this doesn’t quite add up to a coherent and consistent connection among the book’s many subjects and arguments. It is not always evident how Friedman defines technology or why he accords it such importance. “We certainly learned on 9/11,” he writes, “how nineteen angry men, super-empowered by technology, could change the whole direction of . . . world history.” Which new technologies does Friedman have in mind? Aeronautics? Skyscraper construction? Cellphones? He moves breezily along to the next example or topic, as if the 2001 terrorist attacks call our attention to technical innovation rather than to religion, geopolitics or the culture of air travel. From his confident, omnivorous perspective, every story confirms the power of digital technology and the novelty of social conditions, even when his facts and informants suggest other explanations. When he cites a study linking gross domestic product to rates of Internet penetration, for example, he can imagine the correlation only in one direction. . . .

In a characteristic vignette, “Thank You for Being Late” relates the story of a shared Lyft ride in San Francisco in which some passengers vote a fellow rider out of the car for expressing homophobic views. Friedman’s source, a researcher at something called the Institute for the Future, observes that “intolerance does not jibe with an economy built on platforms that value participation,” and Friedman audibly beams. But the Lyft driver’s take on the same event is different, focusing more on local, tribal norms than on the logic of the sharing economy: “You won’t get a ride in San Francisco with those values — you are in the wrong city.” The conflict between the two interpretations is exactly the kind of thing that Friedman tends to overlook. Those who revisit the relationship between technology and social values in the Trump era might approach the subject more cautiously.

I’ve written about technological solutionism and determinism previously. It subtracts humans and human interactions and relations from the equation of life and asserts that technology is the driving force behind major social changes — disruptions, if you will — and advances. It’s the same reason they flagrantly break laws (see Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, et al.) rather that engage in the messy, human political and policy-making processes.

In fact, Trump may have a better grasp on what’s going on than Friedman or many other coastal elites. For instance, The New York Review of Books includes a piece by Mark Danner on Trump’s election. In continuing with liberals’ pre- and post-election line of attack against Trump and his supporters (calling them names), the author slips into support of neoliberalism.

Donald Trump is very open to attack. Wide-open, in fact. But when he speaks the truth — however rarely that may be — we should admit it. And in this quote, which is criticized by Danner , he states truth:

Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors . . .

This election will determine if we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system, and our system is rigged. Our corrupt political establishment, that is the greatest power behind the efforts at radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people. Their financial resources are virtually unlimited, their political resources are unlimited, their media resources are unmatched.”

I’m sure in any other situation Danner would oppose neoliberalism and agree that globalization rejects national sovereignty in the name of trade and capital flows to the detriment of the majority of Americans (and, indeed, humans). But if Donald says it, it must be racist, nationalist, populist, fascist, alt-right, whatever you want to call it.

We run away from the fundamental problem with American society. We still refuse to confront the cracked foundation Bill, Hillary and George have helped to poor. Until we do that, all the furor will be banging our bare hands against concrete walls when we need to be jackhammering the floor.

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