Futurist and media maven Douglas Rushkoff has just published Life, Inc., a book about how corporations control and permeate our lives. In a recent interview, Rushkoff says the middle ages were better than our corporate-controlled future.
Peggy Nelson interviewed Rushkoff for the blog Reality Sandwich, and summed up one of the major themes of Life, Inc. by referring to science fiction:
An over-arching theme I found in the book is how the common-sense stuff of our reality, the economy and money and shopping and working, is really science fiction; we don't live inside a "natural" economic structure — we made it up.
She's right: One of Rushkoff's criticisms of corporate life is that it divides us from the real world around us in a way that the economy didn't a thousand years ago.
Early in this terrific, funny interview, Nelson asks Rushkoff whether the Middle Ages perhaps weren't so bad after all, if they existed in pre-corporate times. And Rushkoff replies:
I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist about these things, but I think the reason why we celebrate the Renaissance as a high point of western culture is really a marketing campaign. It was a way for Renaissance monarchs and nation-states, and the industrial age powers that followed, to recast the end of one of the most vibrant human civilizations we've had, as a dark, plague-ridden, horrible time.
Historically, the plague arrived after the invention of the chartered corporation, and after central currency was mandated. Central currency became law, and 40 years later you get the plague. People got that poor that quickly. They were no longer allowed to use the land. It shifted from an abundance model to a scarcity model; from an economy based on annual grain production to one based on gold released by the king.
That's a totally different way of understanding money. Land was no longer a thing the peasants could grow stuff on, land became an investment, land became an asset class for the wealthy. Once it became an asset class they started Partitioning and Enclosure, which meant people weren't allowed to grow stuff on it, so subsistence farming was no longer a viable lifestyle. If you can't do subsistence farming you must find a job, so then you go into the city and volunteer to do unskilled labor in a proto-factory for some guy who wants the least-skilled, cheapest labor possible. You move your whole family to where the work is, into the squalor, where conditions are overcrowded and impoverished — the perfect breeding ground for plague and death!
I love the idea that people from the Renaissance Era started a smear campaign against the Middle Ages in order to make people think the capitalist market system was way better than feudalism.