Death from below

First assignment: John Perry Barlow’s Death From Above, written in March 1995.

Second assignment: Cory Doctorow’s Somebody Has To Die, posted three days ago.


Over the last 30 years, the American CEO Corps has included an astonishingly large percentage of men who piloted bombers during World War II. For some reason not so difficult to guess, dropping explosives on people from commanding heights served as a great place to develop a world view compatible with the management of a large post-war corporation.

It was an experience particularly suited to the style of broadcast media. Aerial bombardment is clearly a one-to-many, half-duplex medium, offering the bomber a commanding position over his “market” and terrific economies of scale.

Now, most of these jut-jawed former flyboys are out to pasture on various golf courses, but just as they left their legacy in the still thriving Cold War machinery of the National Security State, so their cultural perspective remains deeply, perhaps permanently, embedded in the corporate institutions they led for so long, whether in media or manufacturing. America remains a place where companies produce and consumers consume in an economic relationship which is still as asymmetrical as that of bomber to bombee.

The lop-sided character of this world view has been much on my mind lately with regard to various corporate projects on what they are all too pleased to call the “Information Superhighway” (evoking as it does the familiar comforts of Big Construction by Big Government in cooperation with Big Business). The cable companies and Baby Bells have a model for developing the next phase of telecom infrastructure which, were it applied to the design of physical superhighways, would have us building them with about five thousand lanes in one direction and one lane in the other. The only more manipulative consumer architecture I’ve seen is the quarter mile of one way conveyor belt which sucks the unsuspecting off the Strip in Vegas and drops them into the digestive maze of Caesar’s Palace Casino without any return route at all.

I don’t much care which one we kill off. A manufacturer who has so little respect for my business that he locks my handset gets no love from me — no more than would a restauranteur who bars the door until I agree to eat there for the next year. The record industry lost me about 20,000 lawsuits ago — they can go hang, as far as I’m concerned. And, of course, no human language contains the phrase “as lovable as a phone company,” and I’d dance on the grave of pretty much any major carrier.

Not sure biznicide is the only option here, but it’s important to note that it’s seriously under consideration.

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6 Responses to Death from below

  1. Dave Winer says:

    A proposal for the corporate death penalty:

  2. Julian Bond says:

    Here’s one to ponder.

    There are plenty of heavily branded US Multinationals selling a standardised commodity worldwide. eg Starbucks, McDonalds, CocaCola. There’s a Chinese restaurant in every town in every country but they’re all different, they’re not branded and they’re all independent. One is the result of a top down, military style organisation that bombs the locals with their product. The other is a bottom up ant hill, driven by individual entrepreneurs that exploit market niches.

    There’s some comparison in there somewhere with the Vietnam war.

  3. JTH says:

    A bit “off topic” … or maybe not
    I read the piece last night while watching Ken Burns “War” on PBS
    Besides being a powerful re-creation of the times and events of WWII, it may give insight to some mindsets that are not of my generation.

    In particular, I read the piece while “War” was covering the 8th Air Force Schwinefert (sp?) raids where the odds of coming home were not good.
    Matter of fact, airmen rarely made it to 15 sorties, you were dead by 14.

    Those folks (survivors) are well retired now, but did the attitude(s) carry down?

    As for Julian’s comment on Chinese restaurants …
    The west operates on “contract law”, the east operates on “relationships”.

  4. Mike Warot says:

    JTH, that’s an interesting point. Those guys were battle tested, and they have to have worked well in leadership positions on teams literally risking everything on a regular basis. It’s no wonder they carried this powerful lesson home with them to go on to repeat the structure for the rest of their work lives.

    Thanks for the new perspective.


  5. JTH says:

    Also of note, comment (on the show) that after a sortie or two you stopped making friends, you lost so many.

    But that may be “off topic”
    I’m just too young to know (right Doc?)


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