Life Incorporated: The Course

I’m teaching an online course, Life Incorporated, through the MaybeLogic Academy beginning January 12, for six weeks.

“Students” will get a working draft of the book (to be published in June) as well as six weeks of discussion and interrogation of the issues within and beyond it. I’ll be doing some live video lectures, as well, and inviting participants to help devise ways of restoring bottom-up commerce and social exchange to a world that seems incapable of abandoning its faulty, top-down, disconnected way of extracting value from people.

But the bulk of the exploration will be history, economics and social theory: How did corporatism become the dominant cultural ideology and operating system, who did it benefit, how did we internalize it, and what keeps it running?

Here’s a description from the catalog. If you are interested in taking the course but just don’t have any money, let me know and I’ll see if I can subsidize your participation.

Something has gone terribly wrong.

Unquestionably but seemingly inexplicably, we have come to live in a world where the market has insinuated itself into every area of our lives. From erection to conception, school admission to finding a spouse, there are products and professionals to fill in where family and community have failed us. Commercials entreat us to think and care for ourselves, but to do so by choosing a corporation through which to exercise all this autonomy.

Born in the Renaissance, necessitated by the Industrial Age, powered by workers, paid for by consumers and eventually sold back to us as shareholders, today’s faceless fascism – what Mussolini called “corporatism” – is a closed system that conquers not through exclusion but total inclusion. Everything, even dissidence, is assimilated. And in the process, life itself is reduced in its complexity, unpredictability, and intrinsic value.

Instead of depending on a parental dictator or nationalist ideology, the system of control to which we have succumbed depends on a society cultivated to see the corporation as central to its welfare, value, and very identity.

This course will explore how we got here, and what to do about it. We will begin with the first chartered corporations, and explore how their mandate to extract resources from distant colonies still lives on in the unbalanced relationship between today’s corporations and the communities they exploit. We will study how the invention of centralized currency, the division of the realms, and the notion of the “individual” all served to enhance the power of central authority by institutionalizing competition and artificial scarcity.

We will chronicle a project that began in earnest in the 1900’s, as early American industrialists sought to maximize the efficiency, enthusiasm and compliance of their work force; under the guise of philanthropy, they funded public schools designed to keep men “malleable,” and supported public servants who would keep them quiet.

Finally, we look at today’s perpetuators of the corporatist society, as well as their utter ignorance of the underlying biases of the marketing, media, and technology they are using. The corporatists themselves have left the building; we are in the thrall of an operating system we are now mistaking for reality. For given circumstances.

Participants in these lively, no-holds-barred discussions will receive free preview versions of Rushkoff’s book in progress, “Life Incorporated: How our world became a corporation and how to take it back,” to be published by RandomHouse in June 2009. They will also have exclusive access to new video/podcast lectures and live iChat/AV discussions. They will also witness and, if they choose, participate in the assembly of a documentary on the same subject. Each week, supplementary texts will be suggested or supplied.