[-empyre-] OSW: open source writing in the network

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Jan 20 21:51:05 EST 2012

I am reading through the comments here, and realize that I am
latecomer to the conversation, but I think there are a few things that
I find useful when thinking through the utopian potentials of digital
communications and the problems associated with capitalism.

For one thing, Myers observes that capitalism loves "free work."
Secondly, Pederson mentions the role of crisis in relation to the
evolution of capitalism.  Third, Terranova references research by Dean
and others which suggests that contemporary communication complicates
the formation of subjectivity.  Yet we could imagine another context
in which each of these facts are understood properly.

"Free" work, within the context of a just society with a commitment to
dignity and from the perspective of egalitarian relationships, is what
we call "helping someone."  It is only when human imagination and
effort is commodified that work becomes something we do for the boss
to get our hands on the resources that he monopolizes. "Work" could
also be something that we do for ourselves, our families, our
societies.  But in capitalism, you are either a boss, a hireling or a
chump.  But beyond this frame of commerce, unpaid work makes you a
lover, a friend, a comrade, a mother, a father, a sister, a brother,
etc.  Totally undervalued, of course, in our society....  but vastly
better to be one of these than either a boss, hireling, or chump.  We
need a worldview and politics that is capable of treating these other
subject positions as superior to the others.

Within the context of capitalism, crises, of the sort that produce
massive disturbances to biological, social, and psychological
existence (everything from wars to body image anxieties)  become
"opportunities" for profit....  rather than being measured in terms of
their costs to the people they effect.  Yet, again, we could imagine a
society that saw "crises" for what they are, taking full account of
the harm they inflict upon their victims, taking actions to avoid or
soften the crisis, and assessing the positives and negatives from the
perspective of those affected by the crisis.  Again, within
capitalism, a catastrophe is an occasion for selling shit and making
money.  But another worldview would say that a catastrophe is a
miserable tragedy.

Finally, the formation of subjectivity, from the perspective of a
highly atomized, alienated culture supported by the sale of social
prosthetics....  the way we deal with subjectivity against the
backdrop of technological change is determined by the larger concerns
of capitalism.  First of all, there are certainly ways that we can use
any medium of communication to contribute to the formation of
subjectivity.  Secondly, there might be some limitations to the way
that we see subjectivity that are driven by history.  For instance, we
tend to view individual subjectivity as in competition with collective
identity, but clearly within the network their are pathways to robust
formations of subjectivity, in which individuals communicate in
dialogue with a peer group that progressively elevates the level of
thinking and raises the social value of these thoughts with the
respect to the depth that such communities are capable of achieving
over time.  The problem is not the technology itself, its that we
don't know how to use it to serve social desires, because we have not
articulated our social desires through a well-developed political
process.  We, as a collective, do not have rules for using information
beyond those which are provided by an undemocratic market:  You pay
the market price, or you are outside the law.  Meanwhile the creators
and workers get underpaid and/or everyone else gets over-charged.
That's ethics in the 21st century. But we could imagine a social,
political, and ethical organization which was geared towards a common
commitment to public discourse to serve society.

And the truth each of these observations suggests to me that IF
capitalism continues to be the dominant mode of social
organization....  then each of these perverse perspectives will
continue to ruin us.  The question, really, comes down to the popular
will.  How long will we allow this?

My perspective on information is that, whatever I do to it, good ideas
are not mine to own or sell.  I might be able to sell a method or
process, a particular container or enhanced flavor.  But if something
is "true," then research and reason is only capable of pointing to it.
 I cannot "create" transferable knowledge.  And, the problem I see
with intellectual property it is based on a lie....  as if I have any
right to charge your for information that describes the natural world
or the cultural milieu that we all share.  I mean, if it were true,
you could reasonably be expected to figure it out on your own...  in
which case, it would be scandalous for me to try to punish you for
seeing what is self-evident.  (Maybe that is why I am so unoriginal,
or maybe that's how I soothe myself.)

On the other hand, things that are not true, they can be variable and
singular.  Which means, perhaps, that these things are capable of
being creative and original.  Which is where the moral case for paying
artists becomes critical.  We are, when we value a work of art, we are
essentially elevating an individual's subjective experience and saying
that it ought to be shared across society, that it ought to become
common.  And then the degree to which an artist deserves to be paid
ought to diminish as the work becomes so.  But, once again, critical
or artistic works are not treated in this way in the current social
scheme.  We encourage our philosophers to create "branded" thinking
that can sell books and generate schools of critical fashion.  We
deprive our artists of food, and then when they are dead and their
works are widely known, we decide that they are worth something
afterall.  And then we scratch our heads of what a racket the
University has become and how frustrating the economy of taste has

But we can't turn our back on philosophical truth, the value of
aesthetics, the utopian potentials of new media, the immense gift of
open writing, simply because capitalism perverts them.  Art, thought,
communication, culture are just the work of OUR hands taking place on
a world that is rightfully OURS.  And just as the pressures and crimes
of capitalism starve and cripple the people of the world, so, too, do
they strangle and deform the fruits of our existence.  Fundamental
change is absolutely necessary or else we will continue to experience
each succeeding wave of innovation as just another nail in the coffin.

On the other hand, we also need to recognize that change won't
necessarily happen automatically.  In effect, the occupyers and the
p2p pioneers are taking the everyday social practices where we all
live most of the time and attempting to scale them up.  They take the
sort of warm, everyday exchanges that we rely upon to survive, the
conversations, the bits of help, the concern of others and for others,
and try to apply them on a broader scale without depending strictly on
abstraction.  Even if the specific flare ups of utopian community fall
apart or get gobbled up by the media monster, these people are
creating an experience of an alternate economic model and training
themselves on ways to refine and broaden it.  With regards to the
outside world, an open resource like wikipedia is providing free
content for the machine, but amongst participants, they are operating
in accordance with a different economy, teaching themselves how to
produced sustained focus, to share valuable information, to use
dialogue to improve what they do.  In other words, they are
practicing, the way we should all be practicing, building community
and coordinating our behaviors so that we will know what to do even if
the time NEVER comes.


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