Notes From Daniel Brook’s Book “The Trap”

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Author Daniel Brook

In my post from July 29th, 2010, I announced that Daniel Brook will be kicking off the Foundation’s Roll Your Own Lecture (RYOL) Series. For more on the RYOL Lecture Series, click on the button above. In my earlier post I talked briefly about Daniel’s book The Trap—Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America. For those of you who would like to know a bit more about Daniel’s book before deciding whether to register for his talk on September 10th, 2010, here are a few bullet points from the notes that I took as I read through Daniel’s book:

  • Analog creativity—teaching, art, writing, social work, counseling, non-profit work, etc.—no longer buys a good life because digital creativity, as talked about in Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class, is ascending.
  • There is a huge retreat from public life as the analog creative class is funneled into a reduced range of career choices that still have the potential to buy something approaching a good life (or a “good enough” life).
  • Brook tells us that the New Deal revolution failed because, starting thirty years ago, conservatives setout to make sure that it would fail. Sadly, liberals are going along with this failure process in some twisted version of Stockholm Syndrome. Again, this is a pattern that most do not see. It hit me upside the head after I read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine.  I think Daniel delivers the same message but in a way that is approachable. Klein’s book is not for the faint of heart.
  • Brook talks about how education foundations are now forced to fund “extras“ like art, dance, PE, music, etc. Our Foundation receives many grant requests that fit this mold. Funding these requests would certainly be a form of “body pulling,” that is to say, “pulling bodies out of a river” metaphorically speaking, but I wish non-profit groups would “go up river” (e.g., do some research) to take a look at why art, dance, PE, music, etc., are no longer a part of a normal public school curriculum. Don’t retreat just because the New Deal revolution has failed. By retreating back to the self or the home, we normalize a failed revolution. This may in part explain why we receive so many requests where one of the goals is “increase self-esteem.” Increasing self-esteem could be looked at as “blowback” from a failed New Deal revolution.
  • Daniel talks about how the new income disparity is undoing the gender equality gained back in the 1970s and 80s. I do think Daniel is right when he suggests that when you can’t find fulfillment in the public sphere, you begin to search for it in the domestic sphere. (Recall that the movie Fight Club starts out with the Ed Norton’s character talking about all of his matching IKEA furniture.) I hate to say it but the above may explain why we receive so many requests for “home visitation” programs designed to work with new moms. We looked at two such requests at our last board meeting (on 07.27.10).
  • This point by Brook is often mentioned at non-profit conferences or workshops, but it needs to be hammered: under President Reagan, funding to non-profit social service programs went down. This was deliberate. As Daniel points out, it was done so analog creative types could not find jobs there. That’s one big reason why the New Deal revolution was squelched. Key point: All political money drags Democrats to the right.
  • Key point: The left, starting at about the time President Clinton entered the White House, stopped fighting for an egalitarian society. Instead, they are fighting for an “inclusive elite.” Why did this happen? How did this happen? Many are upset with the Obama administration because it does seem as if it’s all about creating an inclusive elite without questioning elitism in the first place, which ties to the next bullet point.
  • Brook tells us that the Ford Foundation focuses on giving minority youth a better shot at joining the corporate elite while never questioning the role of corporate power. Klein goes into this in great detail in The Shock Doctrine. Many do not know that there’s a dark side to philanthropy. According to Klein’s research, foundations like The Ford Foundation give money to human rights groups in places like South America because their evil twins (e.g., their corporate entities) are the ones engaging in human rights violations. I guess being duplicitous in this way assuages guilt somehow. Very schizoid. Look at BP’s current efforts designed to buy a “compassionate image” by giving to green groups as oil continues to spew into the ocean. Does BP think we’re that gullible (don’t answer that).
  • Key point by Brook: In a global economy, there will be a very limited number of “lottery winners.” Liberals are promoting this idea of “lottery liberalism.” But as Daniel correctly points out, giving out more college degree “lottery tickets” only means that there will increasingly be more disappointed lottery game losers. Our Foundation receives a number of requests from groups who promote getting a four-year college degree as a path toward success. I can’t help but think that we are setting a lot of people up for disappointment. On the other hand, if you never buy a lottery ticket, you will never win the lottery.
  • Here’s a rather provocative idea by Brook: selling your mind to a high tech corporation is a new form of “sex work.” You’re basically moving from analog (body based) sex to digital (mind based) sex. The media—from Jay Leno to cell phone commercials—ridicules nerds (as talked about in David Anderegg’s book Nerds—Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them) as being asexual. As Anderegg points out, this type of cultural oppression covers over the fact that the public is slow to grasp that many nerds have moved over to a digital form of sex and a digital form of selling one’s self. It’s like the SETI@home project (where SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). This is a distributed computing project where you can add your home computer to a distributed computing network. The network will then use any unused computing power that exists on your home computer. In essence, you sell your unused computing power to the network. Problem is, you have absolutely no say in how or for what purpose that aggregated computing power is used. Believe it or not, cell phones create a similar type of distributed computing network that only a very few elite can control. We think that home computers and cell phones give us power. But that individual power is a grain of sand compared to the overall distributed computing power that the network can generate. So, the New Deal revolution fails; we all go to our homes and our IKEA furniture; we buy our computers and cell phones for entertainment and “digital connection;” and in the process the distributed network is fed and grows. Scary stuff. Sorry for the “Matrix-esque” digression.
  • Good friend Ken Corvo, a social work professor at Syracuse University whose work is supported by our Foundation, tells me this one all the time (quoting Brook now): “Today students are merely customers and professors merely workers—and both are treated accordingly.” I’m not sure teachers and professors fully get why this is. Daniel is spot on when he talks about the closing of philosophy and sociology departments because they are viewed as “too left.” I’m a geologist and geology departments are closing because, in part, geology has close ties to a very leftist theory—evolution. The University of Connecticut (my old alma matter) closed theirs about four years ago because, again, geology tends to espouse a left or systems view of the world.
  • Brook tells us that conservative foundations out spend liberal ones by a factor of ten. Huge problem. George Lakoff has talked about this problem extensively in his political commentary work. This quote by Brook is a showstopper: “For those who do not think the right thoughts—pun very much intended—the life of the mind is very nearly impossible to sustain.” I find this to be very true, especially here in New Mexico where disaster capitalism and lottery liberalism are the norm.
  • Brook suggests that current models of 501(c)(3) activism won’t work. I agree. So, what’s the alternative?
  • Key point by Brook: Current method of instruction—especially with social workers and counselors—is tantamount to a moral lobotomy. Huge one. In counseling school, we were never taught to question methods or techniques. I hate to say it but many counseling techniques—like cognitive behavioral therapy mixed with psychopharmacology—support a conservative world view. Ernest Keen, in his book Chemicals for the Mind, calls the widespread use of behavioral drugs (especially with young kids) “the second coming of lobotomy.” But to see these new forms of lobotomy you’d have to “go upstream” by doing some research (like reading Brook’s book).
  • This is a “great” closing statement by Daniel (on page 227): “Today, as we compete ever more fiercely to buy our human rights [as talked about in detail in Jeremy Rifkin’s book Age of Access]—good education, decent housing, and adequate health care—at the ever higher prices demanded by the market, only those who stifle their altruistic urges can claim these things; those who do not must forfeit them.”

If you have any questions concerning the above summary bullet points, feel free to use the CONTACT US button above. Equally, feel free to post a comment. If the above summary points have piqued your interest, consider hearing Daniel talk on September 10th, 2010. Click on the REGISTER NOW button in the right sidebar for more information on Daniel’s talk.