Monday, October 28, 2013

Yasha Levine reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath as propaganda

It goes well:
"David and Goliath" is the right book for our times. America is in the grips of historic economic inequality, unemployment and misery; it’s being looted and trashed by finance hucksters and extraction industry oligarchs, while its citizens are disengaged and distracted and too tired and overworked to really do much about it.

Gladwell offers to soothe this swirling world of shit, misery, exploitation and corruption with a simple counterintuitive message: People who live paycheck to paycheck or dig in the trash, well, they're not as disadvantaged as popular wisdom would have us believe. The truly disadvantaged are the rich. Because wealth, power, mansions, Porsches, private jets, servants, elite private schools, influence and access — all those great things — are barriers preventing them from realizing their true potential and achieving success. In short: Wealth holds you back.

…You…get to visit the home of pioneering oncologist Jay Freireich, who helped develop the first treatment of leukemia because he grew up in a poor Hungarian immigrant community during the Great Depression, had his father abandon the family and watched his mother waste away in a sweatshop:
"Freireich had the courage to think the unthinkable. He experimented on children. He took them through pain no human being should ever have to go through. And he did it in no small part because he understood from his own childhood experience that it is possible to emerge from even the darkest hell healed and restored.”
Hallelujah! What an uplifting story! Just think of all the future pioneering doctors and scientists that will be forged in today's economic depression! There are an estimated three million children in the US living in third-world-level "extreme poverty" subsisting on "$2 or less, per person, per day." Who knew that all that squalor and hardship was really an investment into their future! It would be criminal to allow the government to help these kids — these future inventors and finance tycoons — with "beneficial" programs like food stamps, healthcare or better education. If we were to help them now, we'd be robbing these poor kids of their last valuable possession: the democratic opportunity to strive and struggle and scrape to success!

…In one of the weirder and more disturbing segments of the book, Gladwell tells the story of how the civil rights movement triumphed against the cops of Birmingham, Alabama, and won the hearts and minds of the American public. But in his neoliberal retelling, Martin Luther King and top civil rights organizers are transformed from moral and political activists into a bunch of scrappy PR guys who won because they ran a guerrilla marketing campaign that was better and smarter than that of their segregationist opponents.

…It's a very strange revisionist history that strips all the moral and political elements of the civil rights movement out of the story, reducing it to marketing strategy and tactics. But it's also something potentially much more sinister: it promotes the idea that race relations in the South were not as bad as people believe, and that the civil rights movement was some sort of hoax.

…Now, if you're asking yourself why Malcolm Gladwell, a celebrity journalist for the New Yorker magazine, is spiking his book with libertarian ideology, anti-union propaganda and weird borderline neo-confederate revisionism…well, then you clearly don't know much about Malcolm Gladwell….
(Unfortunately, it appears the full review of the book by “America’s most successful propagandist” will only be freely available for a matter of hours.)

As I’ve argued and will be discussing in some depth in future posts, I do believe that systems of oppression and inequality, in addition to the devastation they inflict on the oppressed, also harm their apparent beneficiaries and prevent them from fulfilling their real needs or “realizing their true potential” as human beings. This is, however, worlds away from Gladwell’s neoliberal apologetics.

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