More Ideas, More Rushkoff

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Mobius over at Jewschool has posted a long and thoughtful response to the “Next Big Jewish Idea” question.

Rather than promoting any singular form of Jewish identity or expression — be it by supporting a specific denomination or specialized small-scale organizations — Jewish institutions should invest in initiatives that give support to the widest array of individual communities possible. In that respect, rather than funding specific communities or initiatives, Jewish organizations should be spotting trends in various communities and developing resources that can be shared by individuals, communities and initiatives with overlapping interests. (MORE)

Perhaps most interestingly, Mobius also brings Douglas Rushkoff’s thinking into the mix, also finding Rushkoff’s writings on business innovation and branding profoundly relevant.

So is it time to bring Rushkoff back into the fold?

It was a few years ago that Rushkoff published Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism. I didn’t read the book, but I remember the excitement that Rushkoff was turning his media-savvy mind to Judaism — and the serious criticism that followed the book’s publication.

Rushkoff’s flirtation with the mainstream Jewish community was short-lived (he participated in the first Lishmah conference in New York). People seemed to think that he was making a lot of strong and grand statements about the nature and future of Judaism without having much perspective on Jewish history and knowledge. (I remember hearing one Jewish leader say that there were factual errors on every page of Nothing Sacred.)

But the experience didn’t deter Rushkoff. When looking into Rushkoff’s Get Back in the Box, I came across his Testament, a now year-old comic book series that continues his exploration of Judaism.

I got blacklisted by some Jewish groups who never even read the book — just reviews of the book,” Rushkoff stated. “I learned early on in life that if you have something that might be truly dangerous to say, say it in comics.” (MORE)

Testament weaves together a biblical narrative and a modern day tale. Here’s a summary of the first collected edition Testament: Akedah.

Rushkoff sets two story lines going here. In one, the draft has been reinstated in a near-future U.S., and potential draftees are implanted with chips that make their whereabouts traceable and allow the government to compel compliance. The other consists of three episodes in the story of Abraham: the near-sacrifice of Isaac, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the battle that Abraham leads to free his nephew, Lot (in Genesis, however, the battle precedes Sodom and Gomorrah). The two plots develop in tandem, with characters in one corresponding to those in the other, and the cosmic conflict between Jehovah and the combined forces of Astarte and Moloch framing both.

Rushkoff certainly has eclectic interests, but he’s an exceedingly talented and intelligent guy. If he’s this interested in exploring Judaism, I’d like to think that we could find a way to include him in the conversation.

Posted on December 13, 2006

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6 thoughts on “More Ideas, More Rushkoff


    Well, not sure if I agree. First of all, just because you are passionate about Judaism does not mean your voice should be heard above all others when talking about Jewish identity. Reputation, when it comes to analysis and polemics, is earned through track record–and, unfortunately, Rushkoff’s arguments have been so poor that I personally would not invite him to a conversation on the future of the Jewish People. He can talk all he wants–I only have so much time left on this world, and I’d rather not waste it on someone proven to talk drivel for the sake of “seeking the edge.”

    Second, I wonder if those people who quote the Long Tail — that theory developed by Chris Anderson about information-age economics — actually read it, or understand the larger picture as it stands opposed to traditional economic models. Just like Rushkoff, those who project themselves as the ultimate innovators could do well to understand the historical context in which they are operating before making strong cases about things that they, well, have oversimplified to embarrassing proportions.

    Why is context important? Because the Long Tail is all about the ability of integrative technologies to make niche markets profitable when their collective potential is harnessed. Integration–and not splintering–is the historical trajectory. Common protocol is the foundation upon which everything else must be built–and, therefore, without an integrative vision of the future, niche markets will not last, nor impact the rest of the body politic. Back to Rushkoff and his disciples: the creation of counter-cultures depends on the health of the main culture: without an integrative vision, even the niches die.

  2. Daniel Septimus Post author

    I guess what I’m asking is: Has Rushkoff been proven to talk drivel? Like I said, I haven’t read his book on Judaism (though I plan to) and I missed his Jew-tour a few years back. What was so off about his presentation and vision?

    The one thing I will take issue with now from your comments: “the creation of counter-cultures depends on the health of the main culture”. That can’t be true. Or at least it can’t be necessarily true. Wasn’t the civil rights movement a countercultural movement? Isn’t the whole point of a counterculture that it emerges to counter a normative culture that’s problematic — if not corrupt?


    About Rushkof–do you see him strengthening Jewish life? I don’t . Proof is in the pudding with this sort of stuff: if Rushkof was gathering a group of followers who viewed Judaism as a positive factor in their life, and were thereby driven to spread Rushkof’s gospel, then I could say he was worth listening to. As it is, he’s mostly PR.

    As for the second part, think about it: if there isn’t a strong culture, would a counter-culture develop? Counter-cultures develop precisely at times at which the majority culture is so strong that people react to it. Civil Rights–followed the US’s newfound post-WWII strength. Punk–reacted to the bullish 80s, Socialism to the rise of massive capitalist wealth following industrialization…and I could go on.

    You can’t be a rebel unless you have something to rebel against. Now, I’m not saying that to be a rebel you need to prop up that which you rebel against–even if you do, somehow, reify it through rebellion. But I am saying that we need a strong Jewish communal structure if we want to provide for niche opportunities.

  4. Daniel Septimus Post author

    Re. Rushkoff: The fact that he doesn’t have followers and might have a fondness for publicity, for me, doesn’t necessarily mean that his ideas shouldn’t be encouraged and listened to. Again, I don’t have strong opinions about him (or his ideas) right now. I was only pushing because he seems to care and he seems to have something that’s worth hearing and it seems like a lot of people have something against him.

    Re. Countercultures: I misunderstood. I thought your use of “strong” had positive moral connotations. If you were merely using it descriptively, i.e. “strong” as in “deeply entrenched,” then I agree with you.

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