Wanker of the Decade

I was going to save this for the links page, but the truth is that it deserves its own post. It’s just too damn amusing. Atrios spent the past couple weeks counting down the top ten “wankers” of the decade, and it has been good stuff all around. Sure, I can pick a nit here and there–it’s hard to justify having Megan McArdle lower than, say, Andrew Sullivan (or any sentient being, really)–but for the most part the list is fantastic. And I can’t help but agree completely with the selection of the biggest wanker of them all.

There have been numerous deconstructions of Tom Friedman’s embarrassing career as the nation’s most “preeminent” foreign policy pundit, most of them funny and all of them, in some way or another, horrifying. Greenwald’s is among the best. But perhaps my favorite–and this may well qualify as one of my favorite pieces written over the past decade–is Matt Taibbi’s 2005 review of The World is Flat, a book so remarkably offensive to the purveyors of English letters and intellectual inquiry that both language and logic only barely survived the assault:

Predictably, Friedman spends the rest of his huge book piling one insane image on top of the other, so that by the end — and I’m not joking here — we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce. Moreover, Friedman’s book is the first I have encountered, anywhere, in which the reader literally needs a calculator to figure the value of the author’s metaphors.

God strike me dead if I am joking about this. Judge for yourself. After the initial passages of the book, after Nilekani has forgotten Friedman and gone back to interacting with the sane, Friedman begins constructing a monstrous mathematical model of flatness. The baseline argument begins with a lengthy description of the “ten great flatteners,” which is basically a highlight reel of globalization tomahawk dunks from the past two decades: the collapse of the Berlin wall, the Netscape IPO, the pre-Y2K outsourcing craze, and so on. Everything that would give an IBM human resources director a boner, that’s a flattener. Now, the catch here is that Flattener #10 is new communications technology: “Digital, Mobile, Personal, and Virtual.” These technologies Friedman calls “steroids” because they are “amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners.”

According to the mathematics of the book, in other words, if you add an IPac to your offshoring, you go from running to sprinting with gazelles and from eating with lions to devouring with them. Anyway, moving on: although these ten flatteners existed already by the time Friedman wroteThe Lexus and the Olive Tree — a period of time referred to in the book as Globalization 2.0, with Globalization 1.0 beginning with Columbus — they did not come together to bring about Globalization 3.0, the flat world, until the ten flatteners had, with the help of the steroids, gone through their “Triple Convergence.” The first convergence is the merging of software and hardware to the degree that makes, say, the Konica Minolta Bizhub (the product featured in Friedman’s favorite television commercial) possible. The second convergence came when new technologies combined with new ways of doing business. The third convergence came when the people of certain low-wage industrial countries — India, Russia, China, among others — walked onto the playing field. Thanks to steroids, incidentally, they occasionally are “not just walking” but “jogging and even sprinting” onto the playing field.

Seriously, read the whole thing. We are living in Tom Friedman’s world right now. He is deemed by Serious People to be among the upper echelons, the inner circle, of the absolutely-most-especially-Serious People around. And yet nobody knows what the fuck he is talking about, ever–and I mean literally ever. He is the perfect emblem for our fucked up times. He is us, and it is no illusion.

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