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Excerpted from Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream by William Powers. Copyright © 2010 by William Powers. Excerpted by permission of New World LIbrary.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 

"Have the well-rounded objectives of America's Founding Fathers ... been flattened to a single organizing principle: the unification of greed?"

  William Powers, Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, Part 3

During that time, a family friend in Chapel Hill invited me to run in a local 5K race. He said, "Come on, it'll get you out of the hospital and give you a break from calling...What's her name?"

"Jackie."

"Right. Plus you'll love the place where they're holding the race."

As we drove in his SUV through Chapel Hill and onto the highway, he enthusiastically described the hills, forest, and lake of the race site, but I was baffled when we arrived at an industrial park. Sure, it was green. But the hills were landfills covered with sod, the lake artificial, the woods a monoculture. The place was spawned by AutoCAD, not Mother Nature. Like a bad toupee, it looked all the worse for trying to be something it wasn't.

I ran amid two hundred others past the high-tech military suppliers, between the human-made forests and lakes, and I realized it wasn't just the aesthetics of the place that bothered me, but what it symbolized: the Flat World.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman presents the phenomenon in a positive light in his best-selling book The World Is Flat. Technologies like the internet, he observes, are breaking down hierarchies. Thanks to bandwidth, companies can easily outsource certain jobs to India, China, and elsewhere; hence, people now compete on equal footing, according to talent, on a globalized economic playing field. World capitalism, guided by government incentives, will save us from environmental collapse, Friedman further argues, by inventing clean technologies to allow for the increased global consumption.

It's not an argument to be taken lightly. Though world inequality is unfortunately on the rise, the "flat" system has led to quick economic growth in certain countries like India and China. In our ever more interconnected world, environmental and human rights horrors can be more efficiently exposed. In theory, a world that's flat gives us previously unimaginable intellectual and economic freedoms, so why was I feeling the Flat World blues?

Friedman didn't invent a flat world, but rather his metaphor articulates a truth about the way we have come to imagine the twenty-first century. The metaphor carries a host of negative connotations: The world has hit a flat note. Industrial agriculture creates a flat taste, and multinational corporations flatten our uniqueness into Homo economicus serving a OneWorld™ Uniplanet. A once-natural atmosphere has been flattened by global warming: every square foot of it now contains 390 ppm of carbon dioxide, though up until two hundred years ago the atmosphere contained 275 ppm (and 350 ppm is considered the safe upper threshold for our planet). Rainforests are flattened to make cattle pastures; a living ocean is depleted and flattened by overfishing; vibrant cultures are steamrolled to the edge of extinction. Have the well-rounded objectives of America's Founding Fathers -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- been flattened to a single organizing principle: the unification of greed?

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