Ok, I’ll admit that this is probably just extraordinary coincidence. Snowcrash, one of the most popular futuristic novels of the 1990s, is the dystopian story of technological excess that can only be resolved through the use of technology. Amid the torrent of technobabble that pollutes the streets of future America in Neal Stephenson’s novel, there exists a strange and somewhat timely allegory of American politics.
In Snowcrash, the federal government has given itself over to
corporate American interests, which just happens to be run by organized crime. This is not an unfamiliar narrative in popular contemporary fiction (ie. Godfather III, Damages, etc.). However, over the past two decades the public divide between American government and American business has grown increasingly narrow.
Consider for a moment the rhetoric of American presidential candidates. How many times have you heard them describe the country in corporate terms? Or how often has a candidate defined the nation’s top office the parlance of a CEO? How many professional politicians (at the local, state, and federal level) have used their corporate experience as resume builder for professional politics?
Does anyone remember the Peter Principle? In Peter and Hull’s 1969 satire, The Peter Principle, the authors introduce the science of “hierarchology,” which states that in a hierarchy members are promoted so long as they work competently. However, people are eventually promoted into positions for which they are no longer competent. In time, everyone occupies fulfills a role for which they are incapable of performing its duties.
Has American political office become Peter’s post?
Former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, by most accounts a successful CEO and politician, attempts to maintain political capital by promoting his previous work as CEO, rather than his successful terms as a Republican governor of one of the most liberal states in the Union. His toughest competition – at the moment – comes not from other career politicians, but rather from (wait for it…wait for it…thank you Neal Stephenson) the former CEO of Godfather Pizza, Herman Cain. Savor the Snowcrash flavored irony for just one moment.
Cain, most culturally relevant for his John Lennon parody ‘Imagine There’s No Pizza’, was by most accounts a mediocre CEO. He competently rose through the ranks at Pillsbury. When he peaked there, Cain took a manager trainee position with Burger King, where he climbed the ladder ultimately revamping a string of failing stores in Eastern Pennsylvania. For his success, Pillsbury made Cain CEO of its failing Godfather Pizza franchise, which he and his business partners purchased in 1988, and he fulfilled the role of CEO until 1996.
Besides his post as Chairman of the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, Cain has little political experience. Ironically, Cain’s lack of political experience seems to be the most attractive portion of his resume to an American public – and sitting officials – that increasingly prefers outsiders with whom they would like to share a beer than political operatives who can wheel and deal in the best interest of [whoever’s] interests. The worst part of all the anti-government rhetoric from inside the government is that its not bringing the nation any closer to solving its political problems. In a digital, futurist, Snowcrash, sort of way, American politics is vividly illustrating Clay Shirky’s prognostication that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
These are the horns of the dilemma
What truth is proof against all lies
When sacred fails before profane
The wisest man is deemed insane
Even the purest of romantics compromise
What fixation feeds this fever
As the full moon pales and climbs
Am I living truth or rank deceiver
Am I the victim or the crime
Grateful Dead – “Victim or The Crime“