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

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Jan 26 23:03:38 EST 2012

Marc, you are right to clarify the definition of elitism.  Often,
especially in the American context, it gets treated rather roughly,
deployed as a very specific kind of class critique, which taps into
deep American fears about European culture.  But in a fundamental way,
elitism is a theory of leadership based on the reasonable proposition
that good decision-making is tied to knowledge of the situation at
hand, an ethical principle that conforms to the social vision, and the
ability to make wise decisions.  If I think of elitism this way, I
don't have a problem with it.  But, very commonly, when I suggest to
my students, even the most democratic variant of this idea--voters
should educate themselves on the issues that face the public through
research, critical thinking, and dialogue--various aspects are met
with resistance by some students.  I think a lot of this is a flash in
the pan, American political drama, but there is also the question of
whose knowledge, what critical approach, dialogue on what terms, etc.
And, of course, people are often selfish, and people in positions of
authority, whether they know it or not, even in the most enlightened
circumstances, will take action to preserve the continuity of their
class (for the good of society, of course), even if it means that
others suffer by default.  In less enlightened circumstances, leaders
mercilessly exploit everyone else.  But the idea itself is appealing
because we understand the value of information in decision-making.

So, like you, I think this recongition of specialized knowledge and
ability is a tool....  and it all comes down to how it is used.  In a
democratic context, with academic freedom, a free press, an open forum
for debate, and a transparent voting process....  this is what the
public does. Among many things the public does, it negotiates the
application of elite power, forging consensus on what ought to be
legally binding applications of elite knowledge.  At once, it allows
experts and specialists to share their views, and exposes these views
to scrutiny by everyone else.  I think in an ideal future we, we would
take the fruits of elitism and depersonalize them, creating, in a
sense, elite ideas rather than elite classes.  Assigning value to
accomplishments based on their universal applicability, rather than by
restricting access to these ideas in such a way that they will
consistently benefit an information oligopoly.  This of course,
requires that we think fundamentally about how we distribute goods and
services in society, so that we can experience, more fully, the
flourishing that accompanies the free flow of life-sustaining and
life-enriching knowledge.  I think Bauwens' work here is very useful,
because he furnishes many great examples of the good consequences of
filtering information in a public, transparent way.  But in the end,
we have to pivot from a model of individuality that is measured
through metrics like net worth and salary to a model of individuality
that is rooted in one's potential to contribute to many, and is
supported by a firm recognition of this potentiality in a discourse of
human rights which emphasizes society's reciprocal obligation to
support each individual.

Joss, "I'm agreed that filtering doesn't mean elitism if done
carefully an openly, but is that what publishers generally do?"  This
is right, private business are never transparent or open.  And its
hard to expect competitors to behave transparently.  The old
publishing model benefited from capitalism in the classically liberal
way....  many businesses, competing with each other, motivates the
production of many texts from many perspectives in the pursuit of a
reading public in all its variations.  In its time, it seems, perhaps,
like it was the best possible way to get the widest variety of texts
vetted, distributed, with the public picking the winners and losers.
But we just don't need this model to get information to the public.
It might still be functional for select markets and I think there are
many virtues to the print model that I think we would be foolish to
abandon....  but as a social good, getting reliable information into
the hands of anyone that can use it to live better, we simply have to
find ways to sort this information with a high level of discernment
(and preserving access to the raw materials, because it is less and
less and either/or proposition), and distribute it widely and fight
privatization.  If, for instance, democratic models can allow us to
choose elite ideas, while insulating us from the dangers of an elite
class....  then applying democratic principles to information probably
can achieve a similar effect, without replicating the high/low
cultural divide and its associations with privilege.


On Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 6:08 PM, Hands, Joss <Joss.Hands at anglia.ac.uk> wrote:
> Dear All – I've tried to engage some of the points made in the last posts, if not always directly.
> As Marc argues, If publishing is rethought as a process of creating the 'stories than inspire others' which strikes me as a great objective, then the exercise of 'redefining one's or a group's place by finding an alternative space to have a publication made concrete, seen by others', seems like a fantastic objective for publishing as a form of action that can in fact reframe it not simply as a making public (with all its attendant problems) but as the building of networks of mutual recognition and support.
> However that suggests to me a more peer-to-peer style co-constructed network, which in turn means publishing actually becomes, again, something slightly different. That is a building of private, or at least bounded and protected spaces for discourse and exchange that, frankly (as Davin suggests) keeps the crap a bay (a reversal of its original sense). In public sphere theory this would probably be understood as something like a counter-public, but again the term public seems problematic here also as what we are really taking about us a interlinked web of interlocutors building, as Marc says, something particular and concrete - but also primarily in so doing, particular communities of interest. I think if this is the direction ‘publishing’ will be pushed this is no bad thing, but it does mean we are no longer speaking of a 'public' in publication, this may be unavoidable, and not at all elitist, but in fact progressive, given the historical and political roots of 'the public' and as Marc points out with regard to those conservative strands in Arendt's writings, perhaps good riddance!
> What this also suggests then is an agonistic form of politics/democracy and activism coming from such a re-tooled publishing agenda, a politics more in line with the radical democracy advocated by Laclau and Mouffe. Perhaps this is even an outcome of the technical character of distributed networks, which informs so much of our current social evolution.  Anyway - might be best to set aside the semantic point and ask what this does as a challenge to the constituted power of capital? I would say publishing as a process of production via deliberating peers building networks of recognition is a direct challenge to the neo- liberal version of post-scarcity publishing (still having to use that term for convenience) based on automated reputation systems, algorithmic popularity filtering and so forth. I'm all for that. However do we likely loose here the right to claim anything like 'public opinion' or a general consensus? That has a certain price attached, so long as actually existing democracies maintain ‘public opinion’ as their primary source of legitimation how are we to anticipate being in any sense represented? Even if, needless to say, that narrative is wearing very thin and not too desirable, it's about the best one we have that provides actual levers to exiting political power. Perhaps it would be better to turn to an older term which seems to be gaining traction, the notion of the 'general will'? I need to have a think about that one!
> Some of these points pertain to a number of the very interesting comments from Davin. The gatekeeping, or pre-publication filtering in book publishing is also shot through with an attempt to predict what will sell - and this also has a an increasing algorithmic character to it. I'm agreed that filtering doesn't mean elitism if done carefully an openly, but is that what publishers generally do? Although given the position of different publishers in the market place there are variable possibilities for filtering based on other criteria than simply sales potential, though even, or perhaps especially, in my experience - and from anecdotal evidence - the marketing departments of academic publishers are increasingly dictating what gets commissioned. So here gatekeeping is still not to do with elitism or not, so much as the tyranny of markets, I would say that deliberative filtering in open publishing (or basically ‘peer review’), as long as its done constructively and openly, is one way of supplementing the need to somehow manage vast amounts of material without the worse elements of a ‘elitist’ gatekeeping, whether that’s through markets or a cultural elite. Of course this still requires time, in itself a resource unevenly distributed, the result of which is likely to lead to a core of individuals having more power and influence, but this is probably more desirable than the neo-liberal variation.
>  Finally, As Marc says in latest post, referencing Michel Bauwens, the hope of an escape from the logic of capitalist production by in a sense eliminating the element of abstract labour from the production process is a worthwhile pursuit. The downside, as ever, how to make a living? What happens to good commercial publishers that still put out the things we like?  That’s fine for academics like myself whose basic income supplements other kinds of work, but begs profound questions for the economic system more broadly. Dmytri in an earlier post makes a related point that in the end for such endeavours as peer-to-peer production to expand beyond fringe or sub-cultural practices more profound social change is needed. Here we would need, at the very least, a general minimum income and the attendant upheavals that would entail. For me this is a fine objective, but returns us to the sticky need for a broader revolutionary movement and the question of just how likely that is, and I suspect I've now talked myself into a corner so will leave it there.
> Cheers, Joss
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of marc garrett [marc.garrett at furtherfield.org]
> Sent: 25 January 2012 14:06
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] OSW: open source writing in the network
> Hi Davin, Joss & all,
> Intrigued by your comments below...
>  >Critical thinking does require time to read, think, communicate.  It
>  >does require the existence of a community capable of supporting and
>  >sustaining this activity.
> Yes, an active intelligence requires 'time to read, think, communicate'.
> And critical thinking by artists is as challenging as academic thinking.
> It is interesting that there exists a general acceptance in the Media
> Art field, that artists must take on and acknowledge the ideas proposed
> by academia. Yet, many Media Artists spend their time within list
> environments discussing with theorists an abundance of different
> subjects relating to their practice, involving discussion on social,
> technical, political, historical and philosophical matters. This form of
> open exchange is an encouraging situation.
> "To be an artist is to contend with the present, and there are not many
> other careers that afford the freedom to radically examine life and
> society. To put it bluntly, if artists are studying and writing more
> about politics, culture, and education, it's probably a reflection of
> the unprecedented dysfunctionality of the societies in which they
> live."(Andy Deck 2005)
> We already have networks of critical exchange, through various lists,
> blogs and platforms, where the Internet has allowed us to explore
> dynamically and mutually different ideas together. Because much of the
> posts are public (they are on Netbehaviour anyway) or archived - it's a
> kind of publishing.
> Some have published discussions on chosen themes from lists such as
> DEEP_EUROPE, from the Syndicate list, featuring selected email
> discussions between 96-97. This is the only edition I possess in book
> form. Publishing extracts from conversations which have originally taken
> place in email lists reaches a wider audience outside of the list
> environment itself.
>  >(As an aside, if wanting to create a
>  >community in which people can read, think, communicate, create is
>  >"elitist," then what would an anti-elitist community look like?).
> Interesting proposition - I think we need to define elitism here. In the
> Oxford Dictionary it says Elite is "a group of people considered to be
> superior in a particular society or organization: the country's educated
> elite." Elitism "The belief that a society or system should be led by an
> elite - The dominance of a society or system by an elite - The superior
> attitude or behaviour associated with an elite etc...
> I suppose, some may feel here that elism (like a weapon) is not
> necessary a bad thing unless it's in the wrong hands.
> To answer your question "what would an anti-elitist community look
> like?" I'd say it would look messy, consisting of hierarchies,
> heterarchies, consensus behaviours - it may not exist or be able to
> exist as a 'pure' concept. And this may not matter, but what does matter
> are the values that these communities share. Traditionally, most
> utopias, theories and revolutions are caused by desire and necessity.
> Murray Bookchin's take on it is "Marxists could hope to administer
> necessity by means of a state, and the anarchists, to deal with it
> through free communities". (Post-Sarcity Anarchism). Free communities in
> a technological world do exist now and elitism within these structures
> do vary.
> Michel Bauwens last year wrote in an interview with Lawrence Bird "Peer
> production is based on the abundance logic of digital reproduction, and
> what is abundant lies outside the market mechanism. It is based on free
> contributions that lie outside of the labour-capital relationship. It
> creates a commons that is outside commodification and is based on
> sharing practices that contradict the neoliberal and neoclassical view
> of human anthropology. Peer production creates use value directly, which
> can only be partially monetized in its periphery, contradicting the
> basic mechanism of capitalism, which is production for exchange value."
> http://www.furtherfield.org/interviews/interview-michel-bauwens-founder-foundation-p2p-alternatives
> What it says to me: is, that working our way through the systems which
> we have all grown up in is not an easy journey (of course). And being
> critical is a process of re-evaluating things constantly. Elitism, is a
> social norm which humans seem to 'instinctively' be hooked on. But, if
> we actively challenge our own forms of complicit reliance of accepting
> these norms, which tend to be the more aggressive methods and models of
> elitism and their defaults, that's a good start. But, if we expect it to
> vanish from our psyche's as an absolute, that's a different matter
> completely.
> Wishing you well.
> marc
>> Joss,
>> You raise some very good points, points which highlight the truly
>> profound nature of digital communication technologies.
>>> Such a policing is indeed necessary to justify the very
>>> existence of pubic life as a distinct arena that ‘represents’ us, and in
>>> that sense is the essence of the democratic life of the bourgeois state.
>>> However, as the cost of publishing has been reduced to something close to
>>> zero for a good number of individuals and organizations, capital, and its
>>> concomitant bourgeois state, have significantly diminished in their ability
>>> to filter and legitimate the work of a professional class of public
>>> intellectuals and cultural critics.
>> In my own study of electronic literature, I find that many of our
>> attitudes towards the literary are shaped by accidents of history.
>> Fortunately, we have found a good medium for storing and transmitting
>> human expression in the book, itself, prefigured by an oral language
>> which was similarly crystallized in the creation of alphabetic
>> writing....  but over time, we have become habituated to seeing human
>> thought represented and archived in this format, so many believe that
>> this quality is intrinsic to the literary.  Ignoring the possibility
>> that these are specific incarnations of an impulse that precedes it
>> and ignoring the possibility that this impulse will continue to be
>> carried forward in continuity with the present.  Now, without getting
>> into semantic quibbling over whether or not we want to provide a
>> strict prescription for "literature," I think it is interesting that
>> we depend upon the limiting effects of the material object to
>> accomplish what it is that we desire from literature: Meaning over
>> meaninglessness, virtuosity over thoughtless crap, quality that stands
>> out against quantity.  In other words, we still prefer to spend our
>> time using it in ways that reflect our interests, thus some would
>> rather read Literature instead of crap....  or, in the case you
>> describe, reliable publications over unreliable ones.
>> At the same time, we are keenly aware of marketing, pr, and
>> consumerism in the 21st century....  so we know that many operators
>> will exploit the logic of scarcity to present unreliable or crappy
>> texts as though they are worth the paper they are printed on.  It
>> costs a lot to print a book.  People have to buy a lot of copies to
>> make the bestseller list.  Glenn Beck's latest book must be AWESOME!
>> In other words, we know by now that the material limitations of print
>> publishing are no longer a reliable indicator of a book's aesthetic
>> merit, moral quality, truth value, scientific significance, etc.
>> Now, often times when I say that I think we need to have some sort of
>> reliable means to sort useful information from crap, people suggest
>> that there is some elitism there.  And certainly, when print was the
>> only game in town, such statements were directly tied to an implied
>> economic threshold, which kept some out and some in.  But when, as you
>> note, many people can publish many things online with no filtering....
>>   it is a mistake to assume that the process of conscious human
>> discernment means we privilege the haves against the have-nots.  It
>> could be.  In the case of commercial content and professionally
>> marketed materials, it is.  But this, too, is an accident of history,
>> rather than something essential to the act of critical thinking.
>> Critical thinking does require time to read, think, communicate.  It
>> does require the existence of a community capable of supporting and
>> sustaining this activity.  (As an aside, if wanting to create a
>> community in which people can read, think, communicate, create is
>> "elitist," then what would an anti-elitist community look like?).
>> To get back around to my comment....  I think that you hit the nail on
>> the head when you point out the need for critical structures and
>> practices that are capable of looking at the broad field of cultural
>> information we swim in, and to filter those results in accordance with
>> values negotiated by a community.  Once you take heavy hand of
>> material scarcity off the scales of publication, we have an
>> opportunity to think about what ought to be published without worrying
>> about the dynamics that made many of the hard decisions on our behalf.
>>   We now have to decide how to prioritize information, because the
>> price of paper isn't doing it for us.  And we need to think about how
>> search engines, social media, and government institutions are actively
>> trying to perform this role on our behalf.
>> If you look out there, and empyre as a community, has been very good
>> at trying to explore the potential of the new environment (and has
>> given a lot of similar projects, artists, critics, and activists, the
>> space to share other models for sharing work), there are groups of
>> people working on exploring the new models.  And, as these little
>> perturbations in art and academic culture go, so there are wild
>> vortexes of widespread social change that are being negotiated.  We
>> have to figure out how to articulate community in a positive way, that
>> moves the beyond the individual/collective, public/private dualities
>> that were formed under the zero sum game logic of society under
>> capitalism.
>> Davin
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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