Monday, March 15, 2010

IN THE YEAR 2000... (Precis: "*The Long Boom*)

Eamon O'Connor
SID: 18467768

As I understand it, *The Long Boom* is a dubious species of text. On the one hand, it claims that the global community is primed for a kind of post-ideology, an agile and fluid pragmatism that that is unencumbered by inconvenient political, religious, or shadowy cultural commitments. On the other hand, it is not at all clear that the mere disavowal of ideology actually purges the text of the ideological odor that lingers about it - not only does it seem to advocate for a fairly specific set of policy measures, but it proposes a more or less comprehensive set of principles in which these policy recommendations are grounded ("Go global," "Open Up," "Let Go," etc.) In one sense it wants to argue for a global sense of inclusiveness that would erode away the necessity for national borders or strong class distinctions. At the same time, however, the authors seem fairly comfortable asserting the necessity for the United States to take the reigns as a global leader, bringing other regions into the fold because it makes good business sense, untroubled by the possibility that other nations and cultures could have different priorities moving ahead to THE YEAR 2000 (AND BEYOND).

These sorts of discrepancies recur throughout the book, undermining the author's insistent (and, in retrospect, comical) optimism at nearly every stage, although never entirely invalidating it either. I would argue that the somewhat uneasy cavalier-ness that pervades the book is in part the result of the bizarre vantage that the authors assume in producing a history of the present (and future) from the perspective of the future, and in part the result of our own historical position as an audience for whom *The Long Boom*'s futurism now reads as naive and dated (as futuristic projects such as this one become almost instantly.)

The first question I want to ask of this text is: "What's up with that stupid font?" which is really another way of asking, "1) Why does this book need to move us into the future if it really wants to be a protreptic about the present? 2) Why do it in such a corny, facile way?" These two questions are linked, and can be answered firstly with respect to the book's target audience. The authors clearly want to make their book accessible to as large an audience as possible (as evinced by the informal tone and basic vocabulary with which the entire book is written), and the thread of the fake documentary, cheap typographical flourishes and all, help to remind the casual reader that what is at stake in this book is not so much the present as the future. But more than just a populist ploy, this device of moving the discussion into the future in order to talk about the present allows the authors to condense an immensely complex set of exchanges, mutations, and transitions into a digestible historical narrative (in this case one that actually tries to account for the complexity of the present by showing how it is handled by future-us.) This is the same kind of move that almost every text we have read so far has made, viz. reconstructing history before making a case for this or that economic structure, except that this book takes this trope to new heights. If earlier texts were making ethos moves that appealed to our vanity insofar as we can relate our present to our past, this text is making the radically more narcissistic appeal of relating our future to our own conception of ourselves in the present.

In truth, there is very little sense in which this book is about the future at all - it is an artifact of its time as much as anything else. As such it is a rich example of one of the remarkable things that history shares with economic discourse: its need to be sensitive to certain textures that are in constant flux and never become entirely clear or entirely complete. We may find some of the predictions that *The Long Boom* makes to be silly, or factually inaccurate, but it is worth noting that at least in this case, our awareness of history no more exempts us from history's whims than our awareness of ideology exempts us ideology's compromises.

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