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Tom Friedman’s War on Humanity

The Spring 2012 issue of Jacobin Magazine has just been released and I’m honored to have a featured essay: “Tom Friedman’s War on Humanity”. The following is an excerpt. Click here to subscribe to the magazine’s print edition for a modest sum.

Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist for theNew York Timesonce offered the following insight into his modus operandi: “I often begin writing columns by interviewing myself.”

Some might see this as an unsurprising revelation in light of Edward Said’s appraisal: “It’s as if … what scholars, poets, historians, fighters, and statesmen have done is not as important or as central as what Friedman himself thinks.”

According to Friedman, the purpose of the auto-interviews is merely to analyze his feelings on certain issues. Given that his feelings tend to undergo drastic inter- and sometimes intra-columnar modifications, one potentially convenient byproduct of such an approach to journalism is the impression that Friedman interviews many more people than he actually does.

For example, while one of Friedman’s alter-egos considered blasphemous the “Saddamist” notion that the Iraq war had anything to do with oil, another was of the opinion that the war was “partly about oil,” and another appeared to be under the impression that it was entirely about oil, assigning the blame for U.S. troop deaths in Fallujah to Hummer proprietors. Despite Friedman’s identification as “a liberal on every issue other than this war,” competing layers of his persona defined said conflict as “themost radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched” as well as part of a “neocon strategy.”

Other novel interviewing techniques employed by Friedman have meanwhile resulted in anthropological discoveries such as that “[t]he people of Sri Lanka” understand that it is “stupid” to oppose US-directed corporate globalization, which our columnist learns by chatting with the owner of a Victoria’s Secret factory in the village of Pannala in 1999. Friedman testifies that, “in terms of conditions, I would let my own daughters work in” the factory—an offer that is not revisited in 2012 when Friedman produces a glowing report on an Apple factory in China.

The gist of the report is that, because the factory reached a daily output level of over 10,000 iPhones simply by rousing 8,000 workers from their dormitories in the middle of the night and administering them each a biscuit and cup of tea, Americans must understand that “average is officially over.” Friedman’s exuberance at the above-average abilities of the Chinese factory workers is occasioned by a “terrific article in The Times by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher about why Apple does so much of its manufacturing in China.” The fact that the same Duhigg produces another co-authored article four days after the terrific one—in which other aspects of Apple factory life in China are discussed, such as explosions, exposure to poisonous chemicals, and worker internment in overcrowded dormitories surrounded by safety netting to impede suicides—raises questions about what sub-average American laborers will have to do to woo jobs back to the U.S.

This is not to imply that none of Friedman’s personalities harbors any potential sympathy for the concept of workers’ rights. In a 2001 column, for example, he acknowledges that “human beings simply are not designed to be like computer servers. For one thing, they are designed to sleep eight hours a night.” (In the same column, his own above-average qualifications in fields like journalism, technology, and logic are cast into doubt with his reasoning: “I still can’t program my VCR; how am I going to program my toaster?”)

Click here to continue reading at Jacobin.

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