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April 3, 2005

<< I Slap My Forehead | The Annotated NYT >>

The Lexus, the Olive Tree, and Other Bad Metaphors

Most of you have probably already caught Tom Friedman’s essay on globalization in this week’s NYT Magazine, signalling the arrival of his latest book.

But please, before you wade into Friedman prose that extends a good 15 pages beyond his usual allotted space, arm yourself with the quality snark of press critic impresario Matt Taibbi:

The hallmark of the Friedman method is a single metaphor, stretched to column length, that makes no objective sense at all and is layered with other metaphors that make still less sense. The result is a giant, gnarled mass of incoherent imagery. When you read Friedman, you are likely to encounter such creatures as the Wildebeest of Progress and the Nurse Shark of Reaction, which in paragraph one are galloping or swimming as expected, but by the conclusion of his argument are testing the waters of public opinion with human feet and toes, or flying (with fins and hooves at the controls) a policy glider without brakes that is powered by the steady wind of George Bush’s vision.

So when you encounter Friedgrafs like the following …

At one point, summing up the implications of all this, Nilekani uttered a phrase that rang in my ear. He said to me, ”Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” He meant that countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before — and that America had better get ready for this. As I left the Infosys campus that evening and bounced along the potholed road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: ”The playing field is being leveled.”

”What Nandan is saying,” I thought, ”is that the playing field is being flattened. Flattened? Flattened? My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!”

… you’ll have been duly prepared for Friedie’s tortured relationship with imagery and the English language. Somewhere along the way, he’ll try to coin a new noun form of the word “flat,” no doubt trying to seed the culture with another goofy buzzword.

All this and more can be found in the excellent MetaFilter thread on the essay.

Posted April 3, 2005 at 6:42 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture


Despite Friedman's rhetorical flat-ulence, there is one good metaphor in his essay, even if it isn't his but Dinakar Singh's:

[India] produced people with quality and by quantity. But many of them rotted on the docks of India like vegetables.

I think what globalization has to be about, if it's to be good for companies and good for the globe, is to 1) find and reach the educated workers and entrepeneurs whose talents are going untapped, and 2) educate everyone else, which requires stable, forward-thinking government and social structures, and protection from disease, faminine, and violence.

Of course, the problem of globalization isn't just in finding and using untapped human resources; it's avoiding depletion and/or crazy competition over our natural resources, which is a trickier business.

I would like to note that I finally got around to reading Taibbi's review, per Matt Penniman's insistence, and wow, it is just awesomly, AWESOMELY good. I mean... he is SO mean and SO right!

I loved Friedman once... lo these many years ago. Now he's just gotten weird.

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