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What You Should Hate / October 25, 2009

thomas-friedman1

This article was first published in The eXile on June 8, 2000, issue 92.

How can we best promote world peace? As always, Thomas Friedman has a stunningly original answer: by building more McDonald’s. Here’s Friedman’s “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” from his new book The Lexus and the Olive Tree:

…[A]s I Quarter-Poundered my way around the world in recent years, I began to notice something intriguing. I don’t know when the insight struck me. It was a bolt out of the blue…. And it was this:

No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s.

That’s what passes for an insight, in what passes for the mind of Thomas Friedman. Please note that this man is the possessor of what he himself calls “the best job in the world”: Foreign Correspondent for the New York Times. He is paid a huge salary to Quarter-Pound his way around the world producing “insights” like this. That’s the most interesting aspect of the whole Friedman phenomenon: not that Friedman is a bear of very little brain (because after all, there are a lot of Poohs in the woods) but that this Pooh is a leading writer for America’s newspaper of record.

lexus-olive

McFriedman: Not 1 single intelligent insight served worldwide.

Why would a hegemonic world power hire an outright halfwit as spokesman?

The very stupidity of Friedman’s analyses must somehow serve the Empire’s purposes. Once you admit this possibility, you can see that it fits an historical pattern. Again and again, the truly powerful Empires hire mediocrities; it’s the marginal empires which generate the great sloganeers – Mao, for example. Whatever else may be said about him, Mao came up with some great lines, from “paper tiger” to “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” When those five-million-strong crowds chanted in Tienanmin, they were quoting some first-rate poetry. That little red book they waved enclosed some of the best lines of the century.

Friedman, slogan kommissar of a much stronger Empire, couldn’t get drunken Manchester United fans chanting. Consider his use of numbers. This was one of Mao’s favorite mnemonic devices; “Smash the four olds!” “Destroy the Seventh Snake!” All Friedman has to offer is “The Three Democratizations” – but Friedman’s three D’s are so uninspiring that two days after finishing his book, I can only name two of them. If this guy was working for the Chinese Propaganda Ministry, he’d soon find himself collecting glowing camel-dung in the most radioactive districts of Sinkiang.

But the US, like nineteenth-century Britain, is so strong that it doesn’t want talented poets working for it. Think of the intentionally flat slogans of the British Empire:

“England expects every man to do his duty.” “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Dull lines – meant to be dull. The British, in their glory days, revelled in their dullness, associating real poetry with women, the French, and other lesser species. There was an element of gloating in the very dullness of their slogans: let the conquered know that they are ruled by mediocrities.

The slogans Friedman develops in this book have the same triumphant dullness. Their purpose is not to inspire Americans, but to convince everyone else that there’s no way to stop “Globalization-Americanization” (his term). Take his favorite oxymoron, “The Golden Straitjacket,” his name for the state-model created by Thatcher and Reagan. It’s “Golden” because if you implement it, your country will supposedly get rich. It’s a “Straitjacket” because, as Friedman says over and over again, it takes away all your freedom. He compares this straitjacket to the Mao suit, evoking those grey-clad crowds in the great Tienanmin Square rallies:

‘The Golden Straitjacket is the defining garment of this globalization era. The Cold War had the Mao suit, the Nehru jacket, the Russian fur [sic]. Globalization has only the Golden Straitjacket. If your country has not been fitted for one, it will be soon.”

Friedman comes up with dozens of glib, sloppy metaphors implying that there is no way out of “globalization-Americanization,” and that anyone who tries to resist will be stampeded. He refers to the wired-up leaders of the movement as “the Electronic herd,” which tramples anything in its way. He takes the cattle-herd metaphor further, dividing the wired American elite into “long-horn” and “short-horn” cattle, and adds that the herd is served by the “bloodhounds” of financial-rating services like Moody’s.

Friedman doesn’t seem to know that cattle herds aren’t usually guided by bloodhounds. But the clumsiness of his metaphors is part of his job. He’s here to threaten those who seem reluctant to join the herd. Who wants subtlety from a leg-breaker? The cruder the metaphor, the more frightening. Good poets don’t make good goons. And Friedman is pure goon, brass-knuckled platitudes all the way. Like a Naked Gun voiceover, he lets his violent metaphors stampede where they will. One of the most ham-handed metaphorical panics is what happens to this “electronic herd.” Within pages of its introduction, the “herd” is transformed from cattle to wildebeest, grazing the Savannah. Ah, but that’s only the beginning. You have to read it to believe it, so take a deep breath and follow Mr. Friedman into the Serengeti of international finance:

Think of the Electronic Herd as being like a herd of wildebeests grazing over a wide area of Africa. When a wildebeest on the edge of the herd sees something move in the tall, thick brush next to where it’s feeding, that wildebeest doesn’t say to the wildebeest next to it, “Gosh, I wonder if there’s a lion moving around there in the brush.” No way. That wildebeest just starts a stampede, and these wildebeests don’t stampede for a mere hundred yards. They stampede to the next country and crush everything in their path. So how do you protect your country from this? Answer: You cut the grass, and clear away the brush, so that the next time the wildebeest sees something rustle in the grass it thinks, “No problem, I see what it is. It’s just a bunny rabbit.” [...] What transparency does is get more information to the wildebeests faster, so whatever they want to do to save their skins they can do in an orderly manner. In the world of finance this can mean the difference between having your market take a little dip and having it nosedive into sustained losses that take months or years to recover from.

Is he TRYING to be ridiculous here? I don’t think so. Friedman is a perfect spokes-beest for the entire herd. His endless Mister-Ed monologues comfort the other ruminants, reminding them of their hegemony.

But that doesn’t make for great Imperial poetry. In fact, by the end of that paragraph, with its African bunny rabbits, transparent wildebeest and brush-clearance program, poor old Mao is banging his head against the coffin-lid. Mao’s corpse is praying to Marx, Stalin, and Kwan-Yin for one day back on Earth, just time enough to liquidate this Friedman, whose hack-work shames ideological poets everywhere. In fact, seismologists detect widespread vibrations as Imperial poets from Virgil to Kipling batter their coffin-lids, screaming in agony, as Friedman drones on.

But there are horses for courses, and this garrulous Mister Ed is perfect as mouthpiece of the gloating, swaggering American Empire in its moment of triumph. Because Friedman’s not just dumb; he’s mean, too. He just loves to tell those about to undergo “Globalization-Americanization” that the process is going to hurt:

Unfortunately, the Golden Straitjacket is pretty much ‘one size fits all.’ So it pinches certain groups, squeezes others….It is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it’s here and it’s the only model on the rack this historical season.

But of course he has to offer something which passes for evidence. So, to fill the time between “insights,” he recounts inspirational anecdotes gleaned from lickspittles and Uncle Toms the world over. Friedman meets the son of a leading PLO general, and is gratified that the boy is now working as a software salesman with no hard feelings over the fact that his father took a hundred bullets from an Israeli hit team. He is told by Anatoly Chubais, that herd bull of the Russian Young Wildebeest herd, that it’s Russia’s own fault entirely that the country is in ruins.

Russia, in fact, is the villain of this book. Friedman hates Russia – truly hates it, with a mealy-mouthed venom which does not make pleasant reading. His book begins with a quote from an American businessman whining that it’s “aggravating” that the Russian crash actually affects his profits. When he needs a bad example, it’s always Russian. He tells the hoary anecdote (an “insight” in this case, naturally) about the Russian elevator with misnumbered floors, and the equally venerable anecdote about the Russian who drives his tank to town because he doesn’t have a car. Oh, those funny, funny Russians, with their aggravating habit of starving to death just when we want to celebrate. Like many of the Empire’s leg-breakers, Friedman hates Russia for all sorts of reasons: as a child of cold-war America; as an Israel-can-do-no-wrong Middle-East correspondent; and above all as a popularizer of the get-with-the-program hegemony of the Golden Straitjacket. Russia doesn’t fit into the Golden Straitjacket very well. In fact, the Straitjacket made Russia so uncomfortable that by 1998, its screams were audible even in the offices of the New York Times. Friedman and his masters will never forgive Russia for ruining the gloat-fest with that discordant scream.

This article was first published in The eXile on June 8, 2000, issue 92.

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34 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. David Jackmanson  |  October 25th, 2009 at 9:29 am

    If we’re re-living Mao’s slogans, let’s remember “It is right to rebel against reactionaries”

  • 2. Mas.Litio  |  October 25th, 2009 at 9:50 am

    And, yet, the dude is still gainfully employed after being wrong about practically everything.

  • 3. Judas Chongo  |  October 25th, 2009 at 10:27 am

    hahaha fuck Tom Friedman

  • 4. TonyS  |  October 25th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Well, it makes kind of sense. Look up imperialism (Lenin) and you know: The capitalistic imperialists wage war against any nation which will not “open up” their nation for capitalism. Hence, nations with McDonalds wage wars against nations without McDonalds.

    The question is: Does Friedman read Lenin? As a manual?

  • 5. Evan Ravitz  |  October 25th, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Friedman changes his spots often: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist -McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.”
    -Thomas Friedman, NY Times Magazine 3/28/99

    First he’s a fan of the wars for oil; now he pretends to be green as he jet-sets and eats junk in his Lexus.

  • 6. Comrade Black  |  October 25th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    If China achieves even half its economic potential, simple math says it will be twice as powerful as the US. I would like to believe they would embrace Western ideas about the dignity of the individual and abandon authoritarianism on the way there, but judging by present trends, this does not appear likely. In fact, it could be the West that is forced to adapt its behaviour to a China-dominated world, in which case we’ll have Thomas Friedman and the like for talking us all into a new dark age.

  • 7. Comrade Black  |  October 25th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    If China achieves even half its economic potential, simple math says it will be twice as powerful as the US. I would like to believe they would embrace Western ideas about the dignity of the individual and abandon authoritarianism on the way there, but judging by present trends, this does not appear likely. In fact, it could be the West that is forced to adapt its behaviour to a China-dominated world, in which case we’ll have Thomas Friedman and the like to thank for talking us all into a new dark age.

  • 8. John Douglas  |  October 26th, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Georgia went to war with Russia last year, so the MacDonald’s analogy is no longer true anyway.

  • 9. DarthFurious  |  October 26th, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Jesus H. Tap-dancing Non-existent Christ I hate Thomas fuckin’ Friedman. I can choke down about a paragraph of his propaganda bullshit before I get an overpowering urge to stomp his teeth down his throat.

  • 10. Gnargh  |  October 26th, 2009 at 9:52 am

    John Douglas – you’re absolutely on the money. Another way of looking at it is that aside from Africa, nations just aren’t waging war against each other. It’s cheaper (in terms of both human lives and money)to pay “freedom fighters” to duke it out against a state government anyway.

  • 11. Quadrillion Dollar Man  |  October 26th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    “And, yet, the dude is still gainfully employed after being wrong about practically everything.”

    Yeah but he works for a Mexican now.

  • 12. Allen  |  October 27th, 2009 at 1:58 am

    Wow. I had actually forgotten just how bad of a ham-fisted hack Friedman really is — not just dull but shockingly and unapologetically unimaginative and inarticulate. And yeah … almost as if intentionally so in order to give offense.

  • 13. chill  |  October 27th, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Well, “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a pretty good line.

  • 14. Hermies Purrbuckets  |  October 28th, 2009 at 10:36 am

    “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s.”

    Ya think, Tommy?

    Probably because a McDonald’s symbolizes that the country has been SUBDUED, BROKEN and BOUGHT by EVIL US EMPIRE.

    A McDonald’s in a foreign land is a giant ugly TOMBSTONE marking the grave of the SLAIN, EVISCERATED native culture.

    It tells the surviving citizens, “You are OUR Bitch now! So eat slaughtered COW!”

    HP

  • 15. wengler  |  October 28th, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Friedman has been laying low since his billionaire wife’s mall-building company hit the skids hard.

    Have some sympathy for the guy, he might only be a ten-millionaire now.

  • 16. Warren Moon  |  October 29th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    man i wish we really were an evil empire. that’d be fucking sweet

  • 17. Expat in BY  |  October 29th, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    8. John Douglas

    I’ve never been to Yerevan, but I bet they have a McDonalds, just like Baku.

    I would guess the McD analogy went out the window long ago, long before the South Ossetia War.

  • 18. אברהם  |  November 2nd, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Friedman is the Mr Magoo of globalization; he’s totally blind to the thousands of connections and contexts that make his cheerleading all the more buffoonish. For just one example, he doesn’t seem to see that globalization is forging a world that will have no place for his always-triumphant American empire… Just goes to show that our intellectual elite is possibly the worst educated aristocracy in history. On the other hand, no one who’s paying attention needs to have wasted their time reading about real subsumption of capital to see where things are going…

    @Comrade Black

    Ask Toussaint L’Ouverture about the West’s application of its Enlightened ideals.

  • 19. Pizza de Oveja  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 4:49 am

    It should be noted that China was at the brink of total economic chaos and only started growing economically and did in fact progress from a huge prison state immersed in widespread poverty and hunger, AFTER the death of the glorious Mao, demostratating the uselessness of his methods and his total incompetence in anything other than killing millions of people and destroying his own country. And of course China and the other third world countries like India and so forth have only succeeded economically after throwing the leftist economic system that will never and have never worked, taking full use of the advantages of globalization and the economic methods, laws and systems that were created in the west by the according to you horrible bankers, corrupt politicians and damned businessmen that control the tyrannical societies in the west, in which everyone have rights that those people living in the true paradise couldn’t even fathom a few years ago, like access to a photocopier, interstate travelling, not having your earning confiscated by the state, and chiefly, the right not to be carried out in the night out of your bed and shot. Now it continues to be a huge prison but at least, not only the glorious political elite benefits form the luxuries of it, and we’ll see for how long the middle class that they are starting to create tolerate the last remnants of communism that still exist there, like the prision state, tortures and the eternal leaders…

  • 20. az  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 11:38 am

    19: who are you trying to fool?

  • 21. Draco  |  November 5th, 2009 at 12:10 am

    13 “Well, “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a pretty good line.”

    It’s easy to understand. It was plagiarized…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_empire_on_which_the_sun_never_sets

  • 22. Destro  |  November 7th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    If the lazy fat ass Americans ever wake up and overthrow the oligarchs that imposed the ‘globalization-Americanization’ empire at their expense I hope they reserve a lamp post to hang Friedman from.

  • 23. VladimirM  |  November 11th, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Thanks God at last somebody eloquently outlined diagnosis for this retard. Because I couldn’t believe that this symbol of dumb mediocrity never is pronounced what he really is.

  • 24. jester l  |  November 11th, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Pizza, are the people of Eastern Europe more free in their poverty and lack of economic security. I could cite millions in the world who aren’t better off. Calling India in the 20th Century is a stretch.
    Pizza,are you sure the new growth in a handful of countries isn’t just a one-shot thing? There can only be so much off-shoring and overseas investment. How many call centers can you cram into India, a country whose entire education system is geared to H1b visa garnering? Even in China, by far the most successful in the “new” globalization model hosts 55% foreign companies for its exports. Its domestic market is only single digits compared to the U.S. or even Japan, a country with less then ten percent of China’s population.
    Globalization has ravaged most of the world’s economy and consumption power. Though profitability has been restored to the world’s largest corporations, this profit will fall in the long run when world demand can’t keep up or falls in relation to productive forces. If the U.S. ceases becoming the country of last import, the whole thing collapses.

  • 25. JakeS  |  November 28th, 2009 at 8:53 am

    “Well, “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a pretty good line.”

    As is the rejoinder: “That’s because God doesn’t trust an Englishman in the dark.”

    @19: To suggest that China has embraced Tommy’s agenda of deregulation and financial capitalism is a stunning display of ignorance about actual Chinese industrial policy, exchange rate policy and financial, fiscal and monetary policy.

    @24: China’s *growth* may be a one-off thing, but China is using that growth to construct a serious industrial state at an even faster rate than the US is dismantling theirs. So even if growth were to cease, they would still have an impressive industrial production apparatus.

    And heavy industry is power. Raw materials are power. Commercial shipping is power. Energy resources is power. Money, bonds, stocks, debts, mortgages and contracts are just promises. And promises can be broken faster than steel mills.

    - Jake

  • 26. dwilmsen  |  December 18th, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Israel tried to bomb Lebanon into the stone age in 2006. Both Israel and Lebanon have the Golden Arches.

  • 27. Nachtmahr  |  December 21st, 2009 at 11:13 am

    redwinged blackbird

  • 28. McGuffin  |  December 28th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    “One size fits all” means
    that it wouldn’t pinch certain groups and squeeze others. A perfectly typical example of what’s wrong with this guy’s writing.
    When his metaphors aren’t sloppy and contradictory they are mixed.
    Plus he’s a warmonger who routinely advocates the destruction of civilian targets. Not just in Iraq but the Balkans for example. I never got over his “Give war a chance” cutesy catchphrase. I guess I just think him immoral.

  • 29. Fischbyne  |  January 23rd, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Friedman is an idiot AND a plagiarist. I saw that tidbit about McDonald’s as the bell weather for armed conflict in Harper’s Index back in the 1990s. “Struck me,” indeed. Friedman doesn’t have the kind of comprehensive grasp of global armed conflict to have something like that “occur” to him.

  • 30. Funonymous  |  March 11th, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    “we’ll see for how long the middle class that they are starting to create tolerate the last remnants of communism that still exist there, like the prision state, tortures and the eternal leaders…”

  • 31. Funonymous  |  March 11th, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    split post quoting post 20

    Speaking for the US and the UK, we tolerate all three of those things just fine, I’m sure the Chinese will have less of a problem with their more group oriented culture.

    If you don’t believe me, go try and buy chemistry equipment, or be a model rocket hobbyist, or drive past an intersection without a camera snapping a shot of your plates, or read about all that rendition, or take a look at the names of the people in Nixon’s administration, and W’s, and look at how many serial failures held onto the reigns of power irrespective of who held elected positions.

  • 32. Ciorba  |  December 2nd, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Isn’t that cute, Friedman the multimillionaire (net worth 25 mill USD) expects us to believe he ever set foot in a burger joint.
    Actually, I do hope that was an attempt at populism. The other possibility (that he’s telling the truth, that our elites truly waste their ill-gotten gains on disgusting, barely edible plebian crap) would be simply intolerable. I’m supposed to feel resentment mixed with envy for the lifestyles of the plutocrats, not pity and disgust.

  • 33. Tim Lieder  |  February 8th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    So you are engaging in ad hominem attacks against Thomas Friedman for claiming that globalization is both inevitable and not necessarily evil; yet you use Mao as a counterattack because Mao is so…eloquent? I can see your point since that Cultural Revolution in which loyal Communist party members were shuffled off to death camps on a regular basis is the epitome of awesome.

    And Russia didn’t completely ruin its economy with Communism to the point where it practically begged Putin to take over and establish a new totalitarian regime. Is that America’s fault?

  • 34. Al Ductour  |  August 14th, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I came across this post when I was doing a search for “tom friedman idiot.” I keep writing the NY Times asking them to stop having Tom write. I even offered to pay him to stop his garbage, to no avail.

    Using your logic, NY Times will keep him around as long as he can write dumb things that make no sense. Now I better understand why he’s around.

    It is a shame that so many people actually try to make sense of his dribble and try to quote him. Poor bastards.


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