Pink is the New Brown

by Yule Heibel on May 30, 2005

I have a theory about why the deadly-dull, trite, hackneyed, and utterly predictable Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has been a far-too perennial best-seller. It goes something like this:

If you want to be a popular (read: successful) writer, pick a topic everyone thinks they know something about. Even if they’re not religious, everyone thinks they know something about religion. Everybody believes they have some special insight to religion. Along comes Dan Brown with a very badly written book (and look: I’m not a total snob, I read all kinds of middle-brow and even low-brow stuff, but this book is so badly written, anyone with half a brain can finish the dialogues, can finish the paragraphs or chapters, and can finish [predict] the ending(s) for each and every manufactured situation in this ultimate piece of drivel), but it’s a popular book because it flatters many people’s inner idiot. It flatters the inner idiot by proposing a fantastic scenario that goes down smoothly because it allows many people’s inner idiot to have this “ah-ha!” moment which feels so ooggy-boogggy-goo-oo-oood.

Frankly, it didn’t make me feel ooggy-booggy good, it just made me feel nauseous, but that’s only because I do have some standards.

Hanging out at Chapters for an hour yesterday, I came across Dan Pink’s latest (ahem) opus, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, and I’ve also seen a review here or there. All I can say is “pink is the new brown”:

Others argued that a synthesis of left-brain and right-brain qualities is the ideal, a point Pink readily conceded. Another employee freely scribbled elaborations of Pink’s thesis on the whiteboard, writing ”Value being a good provider” over one arrow and ”Value being a whole person” over the other. When senior industrial designer Roy Thompson talked of attending a wedding recently where the guests included lawyers and accountants who seemed to hate their jobs, and speculated it is because ”they’re not using their right brain, which is what makes them human,” Pink replied simply: ”Amen.” More…

Amen? C’mon. The bottom line is, How do these guys (Pink and Brown) do it, making a pile of money off these terrible talents and terrible ideas? The book should perhaps be called A Whole New Middle-Brow Mind, but give me a break with the talk of it containing any exciting breakthrough insights.

I speed-read (which I hate doing, but I didn’t want to spend the CDN $36) several chapters of John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism : And the Rebirth of Nationalism. Now, that’s an interesting book. I might even go to his reading at Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Hall on June 10. There’s a very good review synopsis of Saul’s book here (by the author himself), which includes this bit:

Globalisation had brilliant proponents – Margaret Thatcher first among them, and economists like Milton Friedman, but also growing waves of new-style managers and consultants. These people had a multiplicity of roles. They briefed public and private sector leaders, organised the structures that implement policies, and ran these structures on a day-to-day basis. And their basic theory was – is – that modern methodology is universal. What’s more, these methods are preferable to the untidy business of democratic argument and personal will, whether that is a matter of personal opinion or personal choice. In other words, they were engaged in the classic struggle to promote method over opinion; that is, form over content.

And so, as always happens when form is dominant, a variety of experiments were undertaken. Around the world, civil services were shrunk, public and private sectors deregulated, markets released, taxes cut, public budgets balanced. Corporations began growing in size by merging and remerging. This gigantism was considered necessary for success in the new world market. Trade grew by an astonishing multiple of 20. European economic integration accelerated. New Zealand, the original social democratic model state, did a complete flip in the mid-1980s and attempted to become the perfect Globalised nation state. The economies of Canada and the US were rapidly integrated after the signing of a free trade agreement in 1988, to which the integration of the Mexican economy was added with the signing of NAFTA.

Social reformers, for their part, restructured their own arguments until their basic assumptions were the same as those of their opponents. Social democrats and liberals almost everywhere became Globalists, but of a kindler, gentler sort. More…

In the end, however, the old religious harshness of punishment and hair-shirts turned out not to have been banished in this new, not-so-kind and not-so-gentle globalism:

… people began to notice other contradictions in the Global orthodoxy. How could the same ideology promise a planetary growth in democracy and yet a decline in the power of the nation state? Democracy exists only inside countries. Weaken the nation state and you weaken democracy.

Why did an unprecedented increase in money supply translate into a dearth of money for public services? And why did this growth in new moneys enrich mainly those who already had money? Why did it lead to a growth in the rich-versus-poor dichotomy and a squeezing of the middle class? Why did many privatisations of public utilities neither improve services nor lower costs for consumers but instead guarantee revenues to the new owners while leading to a collapse in infrastructure investment?

People noticed that the financial value of the great breakthroughs in female employment had somehow been inflated away. Abruptly, a middle class family required two incomes. They noticed that in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times. Elsewhere the numbers were similar.

And the savings from the cuts in civil servants were more than offset by the cost of new lobbyists and consultants.

There were three particularly obvious signs that Globalisation would not deliver on its promises. First, the leadership of a movement devoted to “real competition” was made up largely of tenured professors, consultants, and technocrats – private-sector bureaucrats – managing large joint-stock companies. Most of the changes they sought were aimed at reducing competition.

Second, the idea of transnationals as new virtual nation states missed the obvious. Natural resources are fixed in place, inside nation states. And consumers live on real land in real places. These are called countries. The managers and professors who waxed enthusiastic about the new virtual corporate nations were themselves resident citizens and consumers in old-fashioned nation states. It would be only a matter of time before elected leaders noticed that their governments were far stronger than the large corporations.

Finally, the new approach to debt – public versus private, First World versus Third World – revealed a fatal confusion. Those who preached Globalisation couldn’t tell the difference between ethics and morality. Ethics is the measurement of the public good. Morality is the weapon of religious and social righteousness. Political and economic ideologies often decline into religious-style morality towards the end. But Globalisation had shoved ethics to the side from the beginning and insisted upon a curious sort of moral righteousness that included maximum trade, unrestrained self-interest and governments alone respecting their debts. These notions were curiously paired with something often called family values, as well as an Old Testament view of good and evil.

It somehow followed that if countries were in financial trouble, they were moral transgressors. They had to discipline themselves. Wear hair shirts. Embrace denial and fasting.

This was the crucifixion theory of economics: you had to be killed economically and socially in order to be reborn clean and healthy. More…

So what does this have to do with Pink and Brown? Use your brain, you tell me. Maybe it’s that globalisation as Saul describes it is the new religion, and even the non-religious think they know a lot about religion, which is why Da Vinci Code proved enticing for so many, despite its turgid and hackneyed writing style. And as for Pink, well, he’s following in the same trite, predictable footsteps of the old-time religion (“Hey, Brother, have you heard the one about globalism yet …and how to survive with a new mid-, er, half-brain…? I can tell you all the [newest] secrets….!”)

Don’t bother with Pink or Brown, just read Saul’s book, or at least click through to this review article by Saul and read that.


brian moffatt June 6, 2005 at 7:36 am

Saul’s book/thesis appeals on an intuitive level, much as Brown’s might to some. The thing is we’re living through this globalism/neo-liberalism thing. If it takes a return to some form of nationalism I am with some reservation all for it. Though, thankfully, from what I’ve read – he damn book is not available till sept? – there’s little hype of its inevitability. Still, the analyis is so right for what we know and have experienced.

Yule Heibel June 7, 2005 at 2:56 pm

It’s the American edition of Saul’s book (which is the one I link to on Amazon) that doesn’t come out till later this year, Brian. Sorry, I should have made that clearer! The Canadian edition is available (came out in May, I think), but it also costs $36… 🙁

I had a longer comment written, but then a sales-call interrupted me and I didn’t hit the “submit” button before closing the window, so it got lost…

It (my lost response) had something to do with how the recent “non”/”nee” vote by the French & Dutch might perhaps also be seen in light of slightly deflating globalism and rising nationalism, vs. in light (as some on the left would have it) of rising xenophobia and anxiety over immigration. Those are problems, but my sense is that, for the average Dutch- and Frenchman (generically speaking, gender-wise), the anti-European constitution vote had more to do with economics and national sovereignty. The European consumer & producer of alimentary products, for example, is thoroughly tired of having Brussels tell him or her how hams, cheeses, breads, and beers now have to be produced (and subsequently, in what state/ condition they can be consumed). People get real pissed when you start messing with their table, at least they do if they have a long tradition of advanced culinary standards, and long traditions of how certain foodstuffs are produced.

I see the problems with centralisation here in BC, too, with us Vancouver Islanders no longer having a poultry processing plant, because it’s more efficient [says who??] to have this process centralised on the Lower Mainland. That means that the organic chicken farmers on Vancouver Island are slowly being squeezed out of business because it’s getting too exorbitant financially for them to truck their chickens via ferry & truck to the mainland (because they have to comply with the standards of having their poultry processed centrally), while the factory poultry farms on the lower mainland grow in size, not least ’cause they’re situated right next to the processing plant(s). Meanwhile, another outbreak of avian flu and you’re looking at another mass slaughtering in the stupid centralised mass production agribusiness.

It’s enough to make a person give up. (Almost.)

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