Thursday, March 18, 2010

Precis on The Long Boom

Masih Ebrahimi

How They Make Bullshit Compelling

Unlike most other free-marketers, the authors of The Long Boom offer a
clear picture of the world they advertise for. They refrain from arguing
abstract concepts and instead depict a peaceful, prosperous and simply
“perfect” world of 2050 which is supposedly only possible if their agendas are
materialized. They attempt to tempt and persuade their broad audience with
the promise of an imaginary Long Boom, while persistently reminding them
that “The Long Boom is not a prediction” (9); that “the Long Book isn’t
inevitable. We have to make it happen.” (281)

Whether the authors’ “Long Boom” is realistic or even appealing is of
course open to debate. What interest me however, are the techniques that
compel the reader that the authors’ political ideologies actually do lead
to prosperity and “The Long Boom” and must be therefore followed. More
specifically this précis concerns itself with the rhetorical role that
the fictional letters play in emphasizing that the recommendations of the
authors, once followed, will lead to “The Long Boom” and its

The salesmanship techniques used by the authors to sell their ideas are
remarkable. The book is sneakily composed of three strands, two of which
are admittedly science-fictional strands which play a major role in
giving tangibility and allure to the otherwise-abstract and implausible
arguments of the third (nonfictional) strand: The documentary which is
broadcast in a supposedly-ideal world of 2050, shows how despite the
difficulties and oppositions that carrying out each of the authors’
recommendations faced, they eventually materialized and precisely in
their materialization made possible the “Long Boom” and the problem-free
year of 2050. The documentary series espoused by the letters of the
ambivalent fictional character who writes in 10 year increments
throughout “The Long Boom” convey the message that despite all
ambivalences, if everything goes as the authors have planned(!), the
bright promises of “the Long Boom” awaits the reader.

The fictional character starts his letter series in 1980 amidst the
pessimism and confusions surrounding that year and writes one letter every
10 years until the end of “The Long Boom”, 2020. In 2020 there is no sign
of the bleakness that filled his letter in 1980. In 1980 he writes of the
British people: “These people look so worn out, so beaten down…their eyes
are worried, and worried for good reason. (38) While the people of 2020
are described as optimistic, and confident. He writes of his daughter,
Amy’s generation with a completely different language: “She’s [Amy] much
better prepared than we were…We are all better off because these kids are
going to run things right.” (254) Of the pollution of London in 1980 he
writes: “The City is shrouded in heavy clouds that make noon seem like
dusk… You step outside the pub and there’s garbage piled in the street”
(38) while he describes the cleanness of Capetown in 2020 as follows: “I’m
breathing in this fresh ocean air and thinking how alive I feel” (253) The
comparison is not just limited to a few changes. He writes for example, of
the amelioration of world’s political situation in his 2020 letter: “In
1980, Iran held U.S hostages, and Israel was fighting Palestinians who had
taken over southern Lebanon. But today those warring, hate-filled
relations have been left behind.” (252)

The letters between 1980 and 2020, witness the progress of the world as
the authors describe and predict it. The character writes of the obstacles
that threaten the course of “The Long Boom”. He writes how the Asian
economy that was booming at the time of the 1990’s letter is devastated
ten years later: “The whole economy in Asia imploded. That’s the same Asia
I was talking about ten years ago. They were taking over the world, the
future was there. And now they are face down on the mat.” (144) He writes
of the pervasive anxiousness of Y2k: “I am anxious about everything. And
I’m not alone. Everyone in the world seems anxious about everything.
Everything in the world appears anxiety-provoking right now. The computers
are doing it.” (143) He writes of the worries surrounding environmental
problem and also of the fictional “Caspian Sea Crisis” (!) even in the
bright year of 2010: “Not that the world is free from all problems. The
environment in the past decade has been slowly (!) getting worse…And we’ve
got the Caspian Sea Crisis going on. Who knows what’s gonna happen there?”

However, despite all the worries in the pre-2020 letters, precisely since
the world goes on the way the authors prescribe it should, year 2020 comes
saturated with the beauties of “the Long Boom”. It is no coincident, that
the authors expand on their “ten commandments” (briefly introduced as “ten
guiding principles” on page 8), in a chapter that immediately follows the
letter of 2020 starting at page 255. What they want readers to take as
“core values that should be embraced, attitudes to be adopted.”(8) are
after all what have lead to the materialization of “The Long Boom” and
hence the great world as depicted in the 2020 letter. It is right after
the readers read about the glorious 2020 in the fictional character’s
letter, that they are presented with the details of how to fulfill the
“ten commandments”—the ten principles that are prerequisite to the
materialization of the authors’ imaginary world. It is in that critical
moment that those who are compelled by the story that the authors recount,
find out about what they need to do, for the story to actually go the way
it is told. The first line that follows the 2020 letter (which is the
begging line of the next chapter) reads: “With so much change taking place
around us, everyone faces the question: what can I do to build a better
future?”(255) a question to which the answer is “obvious” and immediately
provided: “we offer ten core principles that have worked in almost all
situations over the last couple decades of the Long Boom. We suggest that
they inform all our choices in the years ahead. They will sustain the Long
Boom and help everyone thrive.” (255)

What immediately follows the section on the ten principles is the last
letter, the one written in 2050. The sandwiching of the guidelines between
the letters of 2020 and 2050 is a significant rhetorical move. The 2050
letter reminds the reader that even though 2050, as described by the
letter, seems too unimaginable, if the reader follows the “ten
commandments”, it is indeed attainable! We read in the letter:
When I think back on my life, it’s really astonishing how much the world
has changed. It’s equally astonishing how little we understood about what
really was happening around us until just after the turn of the century.
None of us really had a clue back in the 1980s and 1990s. We Boomers
should have recognized the early signs of what was to come, but we
completely missed them. We really were trapped in our time. But now, in
the year 2050, it’s crystal clear. (278)

What comes after the letter of 2050, is the last chapter. It is not hard
to predict what it is called: “The Choice”…

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