Book Review: Woke, Inc.

I discovered Vivek Ramaswamy a few weeks ago when he appeared on some show, the name of which now eludes me (DemocracyNow!?), about his book Woke, Inc. In short, the book shines a light on what he sees as a major problem in America: the involvement of corporations in addressing America’s ongoing social and environmental issues. Not only does he feel this shouldn’t be the role of corporations, but he also exposes how corporations are scamming Americans, and in the process, hurting the most vulnerable communities in America and abroad. Corporations like Unilever and the NBA are talking out of both sides of their mouth, paying lip service to women’s rights and BLM while ignoring human rights abroad (see the lawsuit filed by Kenyan tea plantation workers or the 2020 protests in Hong Kong when LeBron James and James Harden criticized the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, after he spoke out in support of the people of Hong Kong).

Vivek is an Indian-American entrepreneur with a background in the healthcare and technology fields. Early on in the book, the reader discovers that he started a biotech company, Roivant Services, for the purpose of developing life-saving drugs. He believes in the Hindu faith. He is also a conservative, which made his perspective refreshing and enjoyable as it allowed me to really engage with the book; to question the parts I disagreed with, and appreciate the parts where we shared common ground as Americans.

One of the most insightful parts of the book is when he lays out the problems with limited liability protections, which he says has protected the Sackler family as well as Donald Trump. He goes on to discuss the history of the chartered corporation, and how in the 18th and 19th centuries, corporations had very limited scopes for what types of activities they could be involved in. For example, Massachusetts required that a corporation have a “single, specific purpose” as outlined in its charter.

He says the Founding Fathers weren’t stupid and knew exactly what they were doing: they feared that without certain restraints, corporations or “behemoths” would become more powerful than the state itself. I think we need to return to that framework. Corporations should not be able to lobby lawmakers, nor should they be able to contribute to political campaigns.

Critiques of Woke, Inc

When discussing Big Tech and social media giants censoring speech, Ramaswamy doesn’t address the issue of algorithms that amplify, for example, hate speech. While I completely agree with his proposed solution of amending Section 230, which provides immunity to  companies from being sued by someone harmed on one of their platforms, I’m not in favor of algorithmically amplified content allowing hate speech to run rampant. I believe there is more good in the world than bad, and it doesn’t concern me that a racist says something hateful on Facebook or Twitter. It’s only when their hate is blasted across these networks due to some profit-driven algorithmic calculation that’ll keep them engaged, staring at the screen, all the while infecting others with their hatred.

He also overlooks real examples of progressive voices being diminished by Big Tech. The world is not black and white. There are plenty of progressive authors and voices who don’t align with the narratives or agenda of the media elites and the power brokers in the Democratic Party. When it was still publishing, saw massive dips in its readership and Google SEO that could only be explained by manipulating algorithms. As others have said, a search for “U.S. imperialism” used to bring up articles by Chris Hedges, who is very critical of U.S. foreign policy, but suddenly, a few years prior to Truthdig becoming defunct due to a labor dispute, that all changed, and as a consequence, the site saw a steep drop in ad revenue.

Ramaswamy devoted part of “Chapter 13: Woke Consumerism and the Big Sort” to the issue of the American divide in terms of communities; how neighborhoods are less politically diverse than ever.

“Forty years ago it was completely normal to live alongside people who had different politics than you, but today it’s strange…As we’ve gradually become more aware of our differences, we’ve increasingly chosen to surround ourselves with people who think the same way as us.” (Ramaswamy, p. 280)

I wondered what he thought about the influence that political gerrymandering has had on the deepening divide, but he didn’t mention it. The way I see it, part of our divide (and this has been detailed by policy experts on Washington Journal in recent months) is rooted in the practice of gerrymandering that results in minority rule. Others have noted how Democratic senators represent some 20 million more Americans than Republicans, but look at the roughly 50-50 split in the upper chamber.

Final thoughts

He makes an important point about expanding the scope of the 14th Amendment to include “political affiliation” as a protection from being fired by private entities (p. 243). I also found value in his support of American youth spending parts of their summer engaged in “universal national service”, like a hands-on civics lesson. He rightly points out that people tend to fear this idea because it sounds like the draft, and after Vietnam, few Americans want to return to compulsory military service. However, the benefit, as he sees it, would be an infusion of national unity and virtue while also mitigating some degree of inequality given that “25 to 30 percent summer learning loss” for white students is likely higher for Black and Latino students.

His larger thesis at the end of the book is that part of what makes America great is its strength in individualism, but he thinks it’s even more important that we still see ourselves as one nation; that we have a shared identity. That, in his view and in mine, is at the core of America’s most pressing problems.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission if you buy the book through the link above.

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