Not ready to cede a century

September 16 2008

He’s read by consultants in Delhi, managers in Düsseldorf, old ladies who want to stay in the loop in Delaware. He writes about globalisation, but isn’t an economist. On aspects of the middle east, he self-censors or is willingly censored, like all journalists in mainstream American news media. Many people gave up on him in 2003, when he supported the invasion of Iraq.

Friedman-bashing has become a sport. Bill Bonner: “The man has a plan for everything. That is what makes reading him so funny. He cannot seem to appreciate that the world is a product of many thousands of generations’ worth of evolutionary adjustments, compromises, and innovations that he could not possibly hope to know about … nor can he imagine that there is any situation – no matter how remote or complex – that his own little mind cannot improve.” (He has a genius for neat phrases, verbal symmetries.)

He thinks America has lost its way and worries about his children’s future. He travels around the world, observes modern hypercapitalism, and sees twenty-first century infrastructure, and when he gets home, out it all tumbles. But he does often hit the nail on the head. Those who detect an anti-Arab bias aren’t wrong: he’s an American and speaks for the establishment. But there are things in the Arab world he does understand. He believes in the basic decency of people. He has moved on on Iraq. He’s fresh, sane and right on many matters. He despairs of an America whose national purpose is to prepare for Al-Qaeda.

Now he’s got religion in a big way in the matter of energy and getting off oil, but we need some passionate simplifiers here. He hopes his book will influence the election debate. He looks forward to a smarter and happier presidency.

“Never cede a century to a country that censors Google.” Tom Friedman at MIT, November 28 2007. Longer version here.

New York Times column.

4 Responses to “Not ready to cede a century”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Lance Knobel writes by email:

    He was so spectacularly wrong on Iraq, and then persisted in being wrong (the Friedman Unit) that it’s hard to overlook his record. On many other things, no he’s not necessarily wrong. He’s a highly skilled codifier of Conventional Wisdom, and as a result the purveyors of CW — notably the Davos crowd — sing his praises to the high rafters. Wherever there are greys, Tom finds black and white. Very digestible.

    That said, he’s largely on the side of the angels in his latest, green incarnation. So I’m glad at the moment that he is influential. I didn’t feel that way about Iraq or about his cheerleading for a very naive, American version of globalization.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    First-rate minds usually see foreground complexity clearly (that is where their energy keeps them busy) and are suspicious of lesser ones, like Friedman’s, which only see the big picture, even when they get it right.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Anyone who hasn’t noticed Friedman’s anti-arabism (can there be anyone?) needs to read Belén Fernández’s The Imperial Messenger, in a series called Counterblasts, published by Verso. It isn’t that good as polemic, by the way, though many of its points are true. There are other titles on B-H Lévy and on Michael Ignatieff.

    Friedman has a view of the world shared by many Americans: “If they only had a bit more money and freedom, they’d be just like us.”


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