Saturday, December 29, 2012

The tragedy of the common internet

Often when discussing file sharing, the notion of the tragedy of the commons is invoked. Often as an argument against it - the one person having access to most of human culture is no big deal, but as more and more entities gain this access, stranger and stranger things start to happen. In the end, tragedy occurs.

For those of you who for whatever reason might want a reminder of what the tragedy of the commons is all about, here's the gist of it: imagine a public space, open for everyone. Any one person using it won't make that much difference, so the implicit imperative for any one parcitular person is to use it to the max. Which, eventually, leads to a critical mass of people using it to the max. Which, in turn, ends in tragedy, as the usefulness of this public space is diminished or even destroyed, due to everyone overusing this public space.

The implied relevance to the issue of file sharing being that even though the one person engaging in it can be written off as collateral damage, the effect of the multitude of people doing it is a radical shift in consumer behavior that will destroy the common good. Which, according to this logic, means that any and all cultural activities that also happens to be a commercial enterprise will in effect shrivel and die because no one is willing to pay for anything anymore.

Why pay for anything when everything is free, right?

Wrong. Evidently wrong, too. My proof for this claim is as follows: the internet exists.

This is the entirety of my claim. The alpha, omega and all in between. Nothing added, nothing subtracted - this is it, in sum total.

So, what does it mean that the internet exists? And, moreover, that it has existed for so long that those born on this side of the millennium bug don't know what a world without it looks like?

It means that the fact that people are still willing to pay for culture is a brutal argument against the validity of the invocation of the tragedy of the commons. Because - and be sure to notice my stressing of this point - even though most of what's produced in terms of commercial culture is available for free these days, people still pay for it. And, moreover: if you ask them about it, they will most likely tell you that this is the right and proper thing to do.


Can we get past this moot point now, and get back to the business at hand? There's a whole lot of business going on on this internet thingy, after all, and I dare say that most of it has something to do with culture -

Friday, December 28, 2012

Overcoming everyday life

I am having a womancold.

A womancold is exactly the same thing as a mancold, only with less sympathy and more pain, responsibility and missed opportunities.

The thing about being sick is that things that things that are usually very easy to do, suddenly become an epic struggle of stupendous proportions. And getting these things done is a project of intense management, juggling the ever decreasing amount of resources in a manner that makes most work places seem like a fun place of relaxed relaxation with optional amounts of actual work - in comparison.

In short, it's somewhat of a challenge.

In a way, this challenge is something of a relief from the ordinary state of things. Suddenly, you know what to do, and you know that it is within your reach to do this thing - in contrast to ordinary life, where the default mode is not having a clue as to what is to be done or how to go about doing it.

So, here I was, barely able to stand up, my head spinning like any number of electrons on a mission, and the most primal of all urges told me to get thing done.

Being out of toilet paper is no laughing matter.

What to do, you ask?

There are several options. One is to brutalize oneself through the sickness and stumble to the store to get some new paper - no matter the protests of the body. Another is to ask someone for help. Another is to soldier through this lack and make do with whatever substitute might happen to be around -

Options abound.

It does make you view the default mode of your everyday life in a new light, to be sure. Suddenly, taking things for granted is not an option, and this renegotiation of your relationship with the world is an imperative to appreciate what you have once health is restored.

Like, for instance, the ability to get a womancold without having to worry about life and limb. Thanks to the actually existing socialist utopia I live in, I know I can just retreat from the world until the sickness fades away, without having to worry about anything bigger than the lack of certain necessities.

On the one hand, life sucks - womancold, you know. On the other hand, life is pretty good, all things considered.

Once I'm back on my feet, I'll be sure to remember this.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Text me

There are two kinds of text in the world.

The one is where the different parts of the text serve as parts of a coherent whole, where each and every part provides you with some aspect or detail of a greater whole, and where the ultimate goal is that you as a reader navigate these parts in order to grok the more overarching theme and structure of the work.

The other is where the author draws your attention in various ways and directions in order to make you think in new and interesting ways.

I sometimes forget that these two types exist. For some reason, I imagine that there is just the one, and that anything I write will have to measure up to some sort of Platonic yardstick of textiness. If the parts don't measure up - well, then shut up.

This is not a good thing. It means I go silent for a longer while than is healthy for an aspiring blogger.

What is a good thing, though, is that I'm sometimes reminded that I don't have to be the newest, edgiest, wittiest or bestest of anything. I just have to be the one who nudges you and your thinking in a direction neither of you have been nudged before.

This is a more managable goal.

I nudge you to ponder it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why end the world when we can change it?

So. The world ends today.

Or, well. It doesn't. But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in having a blast bonding with people in the hyperbolic and utterly ironic preparations for this supposed end of the world. I've talked to people I rarely talk to otherwise, met some new people, and on the whole been on a socializing binge.

Good times, these endtimes.

It's hard not to think of the saying that it is easier to envision the end of the world than a minor change to the modes of production. That it is easier for everything to end than to change.

Somehow, this idea lingers, even though the world as we know it has changed radically over the last years. You already know the list - the Soviet Union fell, the internet arose, cell phones happened and so on and so forth. In short, we moved from a world based on the active (and, to be sure, passive) restrictions on what people could communicate, to one based on the fact that these restrictions do no longer apply.

This is a brutal change in both the means and the modes of production. And most of us remember living through it, and can still feel obligated to know the answer to questions such as: when was the first time you used a computer?

We've been there, done that, got the scars. And remember the time before that.

Despite this brutal revolution in the ways to go about things, it still seems like it's easier to imagine the end of the world than a minor change to the state of things.

Why is this the hegemonical thought? And how do we remix this into something more realistic?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Songs for the end of the world

According to sources, the world will end tomorrow. This being quite a pivotal even for us all, I figured we could all sit down and discuss the important things. Such as, say, the soundtracks the end of our particular lifeworlds might have.

I am going to share with you - right now, before it all ends - the four soundtracks of the end of all my things. Along with a short motivational string of words, to put the end times in context. Are you ready?

Here goes.

One might think the passing of a world is a big, sorrowful thing. But, in the words of Silver Mt Zion:
Let's have a parade
It's been so long since we had a parade, so let's have a parade!
Let's invite all our friends
And all our friends' friends!
Let's promenade down the boulevards with terrific pride and light in our eyes
Twelve feet tall and staggering
Sick with joy with the angels there and light in our eyes
Brothers and sisters, hope still waits in the wings like a bitter spinster
Impatient, lonely and shivering, waiting to build her glorious fires
It's because of our plans man; our beautiful ridiculous plans
Let's launch them like careening jet planes
Let's crash all our planes in the river
Let's build strange and radiant machines at this Jericho waiting to fall

It is a big thing, indeed. So let's go out with a parade. The last thing we will se is a multitude of smiles reflected in each others eyes.

I did mention that smile, didn't I?

Sit down, friend. You are among your peers. You, me and everyone we know. The world might end tomorrow, but there's nowhere else I'd rather be than right here, right now.

And, yes, I know. The very essence of the world ending is that we won't be here tomorrow, and that some sort of transition between now and then will be required. So I propose we make it in style - 747 style. The one last careening jet plane to close off the parade.

Smile, friends. The world is over. And now, it's time to do something else. -

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Having fun with discourse

In their fun but somewhat overwrought book Contingency, hegemony, universality: contemporary dialogues on the left, the three authors Butler, Laclau and Zizek discusses contingency, hegemony and universality. At some length. For our purposes, we only need to extract their sense of hegemony, which goes something like this: of all the things that is theoretically possible to think, only a few of them are actually thought, and those things that are actually thought constitute what might be called hegemony.

They go on quite a while about it, but that's the gist of it.

This notion of hegemony opens up for the notion of certain people being pariah. People who, for whatever reason, are not accepted in a certain social setting, yet which are for that very reason a part of that same social setting. As Hannah Arendt described so acutely in her work Rahel Varnhagen, there is very much a difference between being present in a society and being part of it, and never is that difference more pronounced than when one is a visitor in them.

As any guest worker can tell you.

While it might, in theoretical fact, be very possible indeed to conceive of a notion of (actual) citizenship that includes those who are at present excluded, the presence of hegemony precludes this possibility from undergoing the formality of actually occurring. It may be a good idea to go through with this expansion of citizenship for the community in question, but, again - hegemony.

If we want to understand this hegemonic power over what is and isn't thinkable, we could do worse than to turn to Michel Foucault. In the Archaeology of Knowledge, he talks about the discursive conditions that form and inform our social practices, which in turn forms and informs what is thinkable and what isn't. Depending on what contingent (there's that word again) factors once served to shape our discourse was, our present takes on forms they wouldn't have taken on otherwise.

(As any who has studied anything at all about ancient Greeks know, there's really no getting around the fact that you have to know the context of the Ancients to really understand their thoughts. Socrates didn't die due to lack of a will to live, after all, and this death has inspired many a possible thought into hegemony -)

Well. Back to our times. From Foucault, we can take two directions. We can either go with Bourdieu, and discuss the habitus as the ultimate expression of hegemonic being - whatever you happen to be, you are in some sense a hegemonic being, and cannot be otherwise. Not due to personal failings, but due to the limitations of the human body - you do have to be someone, no matter how many indecisions you commit in a daily basis.

Or, we can go with Hanna Fenichel Pitkin's notion of the anti-blob. Which is to say - society is not a blob, and regardless of how brutally hegemony may affect our lives, change is  possible. Society may be big, slow-moving and prone to mind numbing inefficiencies, but it is possible to make things happen. In spite of and indeed because of these very things.

I usually return to Nancy Fraser's Rethinking the public sphere at this point. There is hegemony, yes, and there are things that simply cannot be said and/or done in society as we know it today. The solution to this - the correct answer, if you will - is not to despair, but to build our own hegemony, where new things are thinkable and new ways of being are made possible. Not a global hegemony, to be sure, but a small one, a local one. One where we, the local people, can talk to each other as the people, about the people we really are -

And thus, reforming our respective habituses into something new.

There is, of course, somewhat of a risk of becoming pariah in the course of building this subaltern discourse of ours. But as any fan of Doctor Who can tell you - it won't matter.

So go out there and have fun. Remix that discourse with a smile, and prove the current hegemony wrong once and again.

Not once and for all, though. We do still want change to be possible, after all. -

How to make a new year's resolution last longer than four months

A new year approaches, and with it, a new round of #95theses.

I've already invited you all to come join me in this festival of a blog series, so I'm not going to do it again. Instead, I'm going to muse for a bit about what we will see in the coming months.

First off, the first thesis: Markets are conversations.

Right there, we have the basis for a radical re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor on the market. And, with it, a re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor in what we tend to call human life. As the logic of capitalism and market exchanges encompasses ever larger areas of our daily life, so it becomes ever more important to understand how and why this logic has changed.

Only in the twentieth century could you get away with talking about the free flow of goods and services as if they had nothing to do with people. Suddenly, communication becomes that much easier to do, and suddenly you have to care about what you say to your customers.

Saying that communication has become easier is a backward way of saying that it was harder back in the days. Harder both in terms of getting the word out to the people, and in terms of getting the word to you. If you were a small business, you had to work like a dog in order to make people notice you - at all. And if you were a regular customer, chances were you went with your standard option (i.e. a big corporation) rather than attempt the complex task of finding things out the hard way.

Or, to put it yet another way: how do you find things without using a search box?

It can be done, to be sure. People made whole careers out of being able to find stuff that way. But most people didn't, and this tendency made it all to easy for the big established players to get away with not talking very well with its customers.

Why would they? They were the standard option, after all. Old faithful. Tested and true.

This changed.

This has consequences for our daily lives in two ways. First off, we do seem to have more choice regarding where to spend our money these days. We can easily find those previously hard to find places and give them the benefit rather than the doubt. We may not have more money, but we can do the research and determine if we are using it well.

Secondly, it wreaked havoc with the notion of getting a job and staying there for the rest of the career. As it turned out, the big, old, true and tested companies didn't know what to do when their customers suddenly started to talk back at them, and continued to talk badly. Too big to fail and all that. And suddenly, the customers went away and did something different. They still bought stuff, to be sure, but they bought them from someone else - because they knew there were other actors on the stage, and because these actors both walked the walk and talked the talk.

It could be argued that the dot com boom (and bust) were due to the fact that more talking than walking went on. That does not change the fact that markets - now more than ever - are conversations, and that this places other kinds of demands on corporations and on people than the old style standardization of production did.

I'm going to explore this theme (and others similar to it) in the months to come. If you want to tag along and be a part of the discussion on this, then by all means. I start out on January the first, going through one thesis at a time until I run out of them at the beginning of April.

It's going to be a fun ride. And I look forward to receiving your input along the way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tell me why (this is the party of confusion)

I'm hearing rumors about Mr Assange. Rumors suggesting that the formation of a Wikileaks Party is on the horizon. And the one question I keep asking myself is -


First off, it's very much a duplication of efforts. I may be somewhat partial here, but the Pirate Party exists, and it exists in some fifty-odd countries. And if you want to make a dent in the political realities of these countries, you could do worse than suggesting to these parties that they should go ahead and do what they are already doing anyway.

To say that there would be somewhat of an overlap between the actually existing pirate parties and the eventual Wikileaks party, would be to break new grounds when it comes to understatements. To say the least.

Secondly - why would you want to destroy the impartiality of Wikileaks? If a party comes into being,  all future leaks will be seen in the light of the question "how does this benefit the party?". The notion of just putting the truth out there is brutally undermined when you become someone who stands to benefit in a very direct way from releasing some pieces of information and withholding other pieces. Being impartial is a hard thing to do when one is blatantly partial.

I do not understand this line of reasoning. At all.

Do you know something I don't? Do tell!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What to do with this post-rational virtue of ours?

What does it take to be rational these days?

The disconcerting answer to this question is that it takes more than personal virtue. Much more. And that it takes more than personal rationality. Much more.

Let's consider the case of pollution. Pollution in and of itself is never rational - no one wants pollution to happen. Yet it happens anyway, and it happens for rational reasons.

Or, rather, as an aggregate of rational reasons.

You see, for any one particular agent, the polluting act is a rational thing to do. For instance, any one person not using a car in order to get around won't make that much of a dent in the overall pollution situation. That one person may, on the other hand, face a wide range of discomforts as a consequence of not using a car. To any one rational person, the tradeoff between not making a dent in the order of things on the one hand, and making clear and significant improvements in the here and now, is in fact not a tradeoff at all. As evidenced by the positively humongous number of people in cars.

The sum total of a large number of rational decisions is an irrational outcome.

It is somewhere around here that the proponents of free market ultra liberalism run into trouble. What do you do when the very thing you base your entire ideological enterprise on - the rational individual - isn't enough to produce the rational outcome we need?

Because - and I'm going to go radical on you all - we need to get a handle on pollution. And a whole range of other issues where the rational thing to do for one person isn't what we need to see in mass effect.

It isn't personal virtue - one person doing the right thing isn't enough. And it isn't personal rationality - that's what's gotten us into this mess, after all.

So. What to do? What's left of virtue and rationality now that the individual aren't the prime shakers and movers of this world we live in?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The political divide: socially mediated opinionmaking and you

It would seem there is something of a catch 22 when it comes to politics. Or, rather, the relationship between citizens and their politicians.

On the one hand, we have citizens who actively want their politicians to make and take stances against the current order of things. There is no shortage of the sentiment that the political process is too slow, and that it would do well to speed things up in terms of getting things done. The citizens are waiting for the people to do things, to make a difference – to be the difference, as it were.

On the other hand, we have politicians who feel that they cannot act because they perceive a lack of public interest in a certain issue. While they might be ever so ready to bring out the political big guns when the time is right, they won't do it as long as the public is less than storming the proverbial barricades.

Which is the whole crux of the catch. The one hand waits for the other, and vice versa.

Clearly, this is a less than optimal situation.

The reasons for things being this way are many. One of the biggest one being that citizens and politicians live in different lifeworlds. Citizens see the issues in the abstract concreteness of ordinary life, where a problem is a problem. Politicians see the issues in the concrete abstractness of the political world, where problems are divided between separate political entities and where you have to navigate the intricate webs of institutional inertia in order to get things done.

To take this to the streets: if there is a pot hole somewhere, the ordinary person will think to himself that it needs to be fixed. The pathway from problem to solution is as straight as the street itself. The politician, on the other hand, will think about which department or institution that has authority over street fixing, what their budget is, what their current order of business is and who one should talk to in order to get them to get to work. And, moreover, how one should talk to that person.

Not quite the straight and narrow.

The thing here is that the politician way of thinking isn't wrong. The world we live in is governed by an intricate network of institutions, and being able to navigate these is a necessity for getting things done. Short of a major governmental overhaul, we are stuck with the institutional setup we have, and knowing who, where and why is a large step in the process of making change.

Needless to say, the sentiment of the people and the political situation within and among these networks of governmental bodies - don't always align. There may be a gaping hole in the street, but if the deciding body is in uproar over something completely different, the chances for fixing that hole are slim. And, conversely, that very same body might be on the cusp on launching the biggest street fixing campaign ever, eagerly awaiting a popular support that is nowhere to be seen - support it would need in order to amend the budget.

I believe you're seeing where I'm going with this. The divide between the public will and the necessities of actually existing institutions.

There are of course moments where these two align perfectly. I would be committing a great sin if I didn't mention ACTA in this context. It is the one, best example of when the two worlds unite in singular action -when public opinion and institutional logic speak the same language.

For every such victory, there are thousands of losses happening in the dark. Not because they don't matter, but because it's hard to make complicated bureaucratic matters of brutal subtlety matter to those who do not know the first thing about the institutional makeup of their government.

Sometimes, the two worlds meet. More often than not, they don't. Remember Occupy.

If you happen do be thinking  "but how does blogging relate to this", now is the time where you will get your answer. I propose, suggest and support the notion of the blogging politician. Not only because it brings them closer to their electorates, but also because it brings the intricate world of political necessity down to an understandable level. The networks of governmental organizations is not impossible to understand, it's just darned hard to get a grip on it when coming from the outside. (Especially for those who spend their lives doing the necessary hard work of the working people - not everyone reads up on constitutional theory after working eight hours in the factory.)

If the politician plays their blog right, they can invite the people to take appropriate action when the time is right - i.e. organizing demonstrations coinciding with important votes, building opinion before important sessions, those kinds of things.

Coordinating what happens inside with what happens outside, as it were.

What do you think about this? Is it something I should be pushing on the politicians I know - and, more importantly, something you would be willing to recommend to yours?

Do tell!

The right to link

Is it a crime to link to something?

Some would say the answer is yes.

"Some", in this case, being the judicial system, which apparently is about to try a certain Barrett Brown for the crime of linking to certain information. If you want details on what, you can crime your way over it from here.

"Some" is also, believe it or not, the Swedish copyright law. It is in fact a crime to link to things, under certain conditions. Not because of malign intent, mind you, but because of something that is about to become very common in the years to come: changed circumstances.

You see, the relevant laws regarding this were written back in the early 1900s. As you may well know, things were different back then. The laws say that 1) copyright is automatically given to someone once they have created something, that 2) they have the right to choose when and how they make their creation public and that 3) to make something public without the creator's permission is not allowed.

Under the conditions of early 20th century, this was as good a copyright law as one could make. No fuss with paperwork, no fuss with different types of works, and in general less fuss than one would expect from copyright regulation. If you created something, you got the copyright to that thing, and that was that. Simple, plain and easy to understand.

Back in those days, the means of production were not quite what we know today. Whatever any one person could do was of limited scope, and couldn't in any relevant way threaten those who mass produced copyrighted works. If you typed out a whole book on your typewriter, you had to put in a lot of effort just to produce that one copy. If you copied a painting, you essentially had to paint it by hand, which again took a long time for that one copy. And so on and so forth - things took quite a while to do back then, and if one person did it it didn't really have an impact on the market as such.

Or, put another way: it's hard to set up a factory cranking out pirate goods by accident. You really needed to know what you were doing and do it on a large scale in order to be relevant for copyright law back then.

These laws are, by and large, still in force. And they produce strange results when they are applied to the current state of things. Linking to something, for instance, has been compared to making something available to the public, which (as we saw in 3 above) is a crime. There actually was a big case a while back where someone was charged for linking to an unencrypted access point for a digital television stream. The stream itself was unencrypted and open for anyone who knew it, and the one thing this guy did was to link to it - therefore making it (more) available to the public.

An extension of this line of reasoning is that it may, in fact, be illegal to tell someone the names of things. If you know the name of something, you can search for it in a search box, and the person who told you the name made the search results available to you. Absurd, yes, but laws don't have to make sense - they just have to cohere.

Again - this state of things is not due to malign intent. It's just the result of good lawmaking not quite remaining good in a society where people have weapons of mass productions in their homes.

You and I take our right to link for a given. But there are forces in the world out there trying to make it something less than given. Good legislation turned bad is one thing, and the interests behind the case of poor Barrett is another.

Let's keep this right a given. Let's keep fighting those things that tries to take this right away from us. With legislative reform where possible (the Swedish Pirate Party is hard at work on that), and through ever more awesome feats of cryptography where it isn't (Telecomix and others are hard at work on that).

Don't let the dead hand of history take away the most potent weapon you have: the right to talk to your fellow human beings.  If we lose that, we lose everything.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The secret, sneaky message hidden in computer games

By playing such games as Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I have learned a thing or two about sneaking. One of these things is that it is of vital importance to know the terrain before you try to be stealthy in it. After all, no amount of stealth in the world helps you when you suddenly find yourself in a brightly spotlighted alleyway surrounded by hostile people with very loaded guns.

I've also learned that the best way to gain information about the terrain is a five-step method that looks like this:

1. Arrive at a place where sneakiness is required.
2. Save the game.
3. Kill any and all enemies in the place, in any way. Do not be stealthy about it.
4. Gain information about the terrain. Be sure to take note of any helpful features.
5. Load the game. Use you newly acquired information about the terrain to great advantage.

I have this nagging suspicion that this might not be the best way to go about being sneaky in the real world. And, moreover, that this might not be the only computer game strategy that works wonders in a game setting while being utterly dysfunctional in any kind of real setting.

If you are worried about kids becoming violent, don't fret about the computer games. What they learn from them is that you want a save point before you do anything important, and that it is precisely those moments that don't have a save point where you have to be the most careful. And that if you are not careful, all is lost.

Stop and think. Gather information first, but be safe about it. Then act.

What you should be worried about is the rest of the world that the kids are inhabiting. For one thing, it does not include the option to save the current state of affairs. For another, it does include a whole range of situations that actively tries to teach them that violence is indeed the answer to problems. And - as is the case with the war on terror - that violence is indeed THE answer to the problem at hand.

Leave the computer games out of this. They are positively pacifistic, in comparison.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wifi ethnography

Every now and then, I check up on the status of wifi networks in and around my apartment. This for two reasons. The one being that I'm kind of lazy when it comes to moving files around, and if it can be done without me actually having to move actual things around, then I will prefer that option. The other being that it is interesting to see what kind of names people assign to their networks.

So far, two things has revealed themselves to me. One is that there's a definite increase in the number of networks around here. Two is that there is less randomness in the naming than one might expect.

There are, of course, the default names. The "we never bother to name our network, so now you know what router o mobile phone we use" names.

The name name. A name that's also a name. Sometimes combined with the above - especially when it comes to phones, where the resulting name is a variant of the [name] [device] formula.

The family names. The x family. Often with an added explanatory word, like "network". Just to make sure to both family and neighbor friends that it's indeed a network that is indeed belonging to the family.

The local entrepreneur, who uses their company name. (If they are smart about it, they don't bother with passwords. Free is good advertisement.)

The local wannabe hacker, with the leet skills and the üb3r1337 haxxor name.

The local real hacker, who comes around to ask you to please stop trying if you show up too many times in the logs.

And, of course, there's always IPREDIA. Which is shorthand for "yarr! welcome, pirate friend!". A clear example of how legislative efforts sometimes backfire into more of the unwanted behavior, and of countercultural reactions to perceived threats to their way of being. -

From the basis of this, I feel as if it might be warranted to suggest that there might be more to the naming of wifi networks than one might initially think. That there might be more things to say if one but takes the time to invest them with discourse.

Who's up for it? Who's with me in thinking that wifi ethnography is a thing?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The theory of social media in practice

If you've seen the spoof on social media experts that the Onion recently made, then we share a certain thought space. If not, then by all means do go on and watch it. I'm going to refer to it later on, and it catches the general drift of a certain critique of social media experts that is all too common these days.

Go ahead. I'll wait until you return.

If you're more of a reader than a listener, then this article by Wasserman makes a fairly good job of explicating things in text form. Once again, I encourage you.

Are we on the same page? Good. Let's get down to business.

I do have to agree that most of what social media experts - both in terms of experts and "experts" - provide is old hat. Their ideas are, in fact, less new than one might imagine. The "experts" mostly copy found advice commonly occurring just about everywhere on the net these days, which may be curated in ever so efficient ways, but at the end of the day it's a slightly more advanced version of copy and paste. The experts, in their part, don't have anything new and original to say either.

This is where I will have to disagree with both the Onion and Wasserman. It's not that social media experts don't have anything to contribute to the world - on the contrary. It's just that just about everything they are saying was formulated back in the days of the ancient Greeks, and what the social media experts are doing is to apply the ancient wisdoms to the problems of today.

Not being new is not the same thing as not being useful.

Wasserman makes a case for the irrelevancy of social media expertise by pointing out a well known fact about consumers: they will crawl over broken glass in order to get a better deal. He may not have used those particular words, but a certain CEO of Ryan Air did. And as you might well know, the business model of Ryan Air is to make everything as difficult as possible for the consumer in order to make things cheaper. If anything can be outsourced to the consumer, it will be outsourced to the consumer - and for as long as the price is right, the consumers will remain consumers.

When it comes to a certain group of costumers, price is the one thing that matters. And, indeed, social media maneuvering won't make these people budge an inch in any one direction what so ever.

Enter Aristotle.

In his famous work on rhetoric, he goes on to define rhetoric as the art of finding the means of persuasion suitable to any situation. In some situations, these means are words and verbal actions. In others, it's a price tag.

Or, rephrased: sometimes, what you need is someone like the CEO of Ryan Air. Sometimes, a social media expert. Most times, you need both doing their separate things in parallel - the one making sure your business is competitive pricewise, the other making sure that those people who actually are affected by social media are affected in a positive way. So that both those with hard noses and those with sensitive browsers will take notice of you. And for the rest - well, if you can't make people pay attention, they're not going to pay anything else anyway.

As you can see, this is not a new insight. Aristotle has been around, so to speak, and while we may not want to take him at face value on all matters (things have changed somewhat over the last two thousand years), we do want to acknowledge that not everything is new under the sun. The rhetorical situation is still rhetorical, as it were.

Which does put those social media experts on the spot. If they don't provide anything new, what do they provide?

Mostly, something useful. Especially if an organization really don't know the first thing about being present on the internet, and needs someone to bootstrap them into existence. Even if what they are given is the most standardized and formulaic of unimaginative solutions, it's still way better than going about it blindly and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the most useful thing is also the least innovative.

Again, that difference between newness and usefulness makes itself known.

If there is to be made a case against social media experts - and, to be sure, the "experts" as well - then it is more fruitful to base it on the general lack of theoretical backing. There's a whole lot of running around in circles going on in social media circles, most of which could be avoided with a quick application of ancient Greeks. Yet the practitioners insist on reinventing wheels which the rest of the world has happily used for thousands of years.

I'm looking at you, dark social.

Social media experts need to be reminded that they are part of the same world as everything else, and that ancient wisdom proven through the ages has not simply disappeared only because internet phenomena such as lolcats has made an appearance. While there is much to be said about the workings of the discursive modes of production that enable lolcats to be a viable social strategy, these modes of discursive production were not invented by the internet, and the understanding of these should not be based on the assumption that they were.

In short, the whole notion of "it's all new, and the newer the better!" has to be replaced with something a tad bit more useful. Go back to basics, do your homework and read up on the Ancients. You'll be surprised about how much they really have to say about social media, once you really get to know them.

Like this.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The criminal mingling of DeLanda and Deleuze

I am now going to commit a crime. I am, moreover, going to commit it at you.

Congratulations. You are now on the recieving end of an act of filesharing. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

News and old profits

The purpose of newspapers is to sell customers to the advertisers. The ad buyers buy ad space, and as a part of this purchase they expect the newspapers to do their outmost to make sure that as many people see these ads. This by making themselves readworthy, and by process of mass distribution transforming the ads into profits. You, the readers, are the product, sold to the advertisers. For profit.

This is what newspapers is about. This is the one thing they do as a channel of communication.

I suspect someone might want to make some objections to this. Objections such as that the newspapers constitute a watchdog function on the public sphere, that they inform the public about important current events in in business and politics, that local newspapers serve to keep geographical regions coherent by discussing local affairs, that they provide citizens with an arena for debate and dialogue -

One could raise quite a few objections to the reduction of newspapers to a purely economic function. One could even make a case that the purely economic functions are of secondary importance to the vital social, societal and political functions that newspapers provide.

I concede this point.

With that said, isn't it time that we start talking about file sharing in the same way, without constantly getting stuck in this economic reduction to absurdity?

Originally published June 7, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is theory useful?

If you come from the position that the function of a university is to produce people ready to make difficult things happen, then an answer to this question is very fast to imply itself. Theory is useful in so far as it produces usefulness, and above that it is either contingency planning or wasteful.

There's nothing wrong with having a clear telos. But, as Zizek is wont to point out - if the purpose of education is to produce people ready to solve predefined problems, then that is the death of both ideology and theory. If the overarching goal is usefulness, then the subtler points of reflection and perspective can be sacrificed without any loss. We know what to do, the only thing standing in our way is the lack of manpower to make it happen.

This might have been true if the world was threatened by something undeniably acute, like a huge asteroid approaching the Earth at terminal velocity. When survival hinges on one single factor, then focusing all attention to that one thing is a useful thing to do. There's really no need for theory - just look at the size of that thing! Now go help build the large ass gun that's going to save us all.

Spoiler alert: there's no huge asteroid approaching the Earth at terminal velocity.

Likewise, if the world is going to end, it's probably not going to be because of one single thing. It would rather happen because of the unexpected intermingling of a number of factors. Some of them obvious, some of them not. Most of them needing applied theory in order to be made sense of.

The thing about theory in the absence of huge asteroids is that one never really can tell if it's going to be useful or not. There's no if-then statements that can be made, other than the one that sounds the most useless of them all:

Given enough theory, people will act differently than they would have otherwise.

This goes for all kinds of theory. Rhetoric, comparative literature, political science, philosophy, sociology - the whole gamut of things one can know that are not directly tied to making something happen. You can learn it without at the same time learning to do any one thing in particular, and thus being disqualified from learning anything "useful" - yet you will also see the world in a new way, and approach it in new ways.

Is that useful?

You can paint yourself into all kinds of corners trying to make use out of sense. With enough theory, you will eventually tear down the fourth wall and realize that there is no asteroid, and that you therefore are free to do pretty much whatever you want without it having to be useful. That the world is larger than the scope of one singular task, and that the usefulness of a life is - as of yet - still to be determined.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mark my words - and deal with them

Some time ago, I did something I am wont to do. I ranted on the Twitter. In the course of the ranting, the thought occurred to me that I could do shout outs to various random thinkers of the ages, making extremely bad jokes along the way.

If you've followed me for any length of time, you know this is my default mode. Get an idea, go for it, enjoy the bad jokes that results.

The result this time was #heythinker, with me giving a go at a whole range of thinkers I've read or read about during the course of my life.

Turns out there's quite a number of them. So quite, that I got reactions on it. Some smirks, some "okay, now you're just showing off", and some "hey, stop being elitist you serialtweeting prick."

Smirks I can do. Being called elitist - not so much.

I never got an answer to my followup questions as to where the elitism lies. It's not due to any attendance to expensive universities - living in the socialist utopia of Sweden, higher education is free. I don't make any claims to being smart, either - my general outlook on the world is that you know more than me. To a fault, at times. I just read a lot of books back in the days and can count on half-remembering the gist of what these people was about.

I suspect it has something to do with the use of these names being a marker for social class in and of itself. To commit the sin reflexively: it is what Bourdieu would call cultural capital, and displaying it publicly is akin to buying an expensive car and slowly walking it through the neighborhood, just to make sure that everyone notices that the car is indeed expensive and indeed yours.

(It is indeed possible to walk a car. If the guy on the sidewalk outwalks you, you're doing it right. If you get a parking ticket, you're doing it even more right.)

So, if I walked though your virtual neighborhood: sorry 'bout that. My bad.

But the thing is - I don't gain anything by pretending I didn't read all them books all those years ago, and you don't either.  Sure, it's not the most fun experience to see people throw around a name that means nothing to you, but everyone starts out that way. With enough Wikipedia time, you'll get the gist of it before anyone knows it.

Hey. With enough Wikipedia time, you'll eventually find out I'm not a smug bastard flouting my superiority after all. Rather, you'll find out that I'm just wrong about things. All the time.

I can live with being wrong. But only as long as you point it out to me.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rhetorical self defence

There are two ways to approach the body of knowledge that is rhetoric. One way is as an ancient tradition of social epistemics, detailing the various virtues and practices that one needs to continuously ponder, consider and master in order to gain a proper understanding of one's place in the lifeworld of one's peers. A tracing and retracing of the discourses of relevance that governs the life of those that matter to those people that matter - a techne of the ethics of the social, as it were. A comprehensive, systematic worldview, defining as it is redefining you and your relation to the relating of being human - confronting you with the limitations of what it means to be a meaning subject in human form.

The other way is as a cheat sheet to getting things done.

It is an open question whether the difference in length between the first paragraph and the second is an example of the first or the second way. The rest of this text is going to be written more in the spirit of the second.

So. Without further ado. Here are six utterly concrete ways to win every debate you'll ever happen to find yourself in. Regardless of your eventual knowledge about anything, including the topic of discussion. The first four are about what your opponent is saying, and the last two are about your opponent in general.

1. Make your opponent appear unclear and hard to understand.

In order to be accepted, a proposal must be understood. The opposite of being understood is being unclear, confusing and hard to follow. If you can introduce elements that makes it seem that the things your opponent is saying are unclear, confusing and hard to understand, then the likelihood of understanding is reduced.

One of the more famous examples of this being used is the media treatment of the Occupy movement. Despite the most clear cut political statements made since the "tear down this wall" speech, the general framing of the movement was - you guessed it - that they were unclear, undefined and hard to get a grasp on.

This was no accident. Clearly.

2. Make it look like your opponent is inconsistent and self-contradictory.

It is a generally accepted view that one cannot think both a thing and its opposite at the same time. It's hard to be both for and against the same thing at the same time, and appearing to be on both sides of an issue is either a sign of inexperience, not having thought the thing through or just general stupidity. Neither of which is a positive thing to be - less so to appear to be.

Remember what the ancient Greeks said about the difference between being and appearing to be. It is brutally hard to convey the message that you are when appearing to both be and not be. And with the added bonus of the internet, finding things in the past that is not congruent with what is said today is easier than ever.

Or, as Bill Clinton said recently: "You gotta give him one thing, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did."

3. Make it look like your opponents position is impossible.

This is more easily said than done. If you know any political persons at all, the one thing you have to do to see this in action is to mention communism. Especially if these people are liberal with a thing against the King of France.

Another issue where you might encounter this is the moon landing. Remember what Kennedy said? "We choose to go to the moon." Despite the fact that we did go to the moon, the impossibility card still finds ways to work its magic. Epic speeches and literal tons of physical evidence to the contrary.

It is indeed impossible to please everyone. But if you can make it appear that a given project is an impossibility, then no sane person would go for it.  Regardless of how possible it actually turns out to be.

4. Make it look like your opponents position is unrealistic.

So, you're a blogger, and want to make it big? Don't be silly. Be realistic. You're just one guy, in fierce competition not only with people writing a lot better than you, but also with every other activity in the world than blog reading.  Get real. It's not gonna happen.

See how that works?

If you are a mean-spirited soul, you use this to limit persons perceived life options. If you have ethics, you're more nuanced about it.

5. Make it look like your opponent is the wrong person to say what he/she's saying.

This is sometimes more easily said than done. If Gandhi would somehow return from the dead and conduct a massive campaign in favor of total global war, the criticism would write itself. On a harder difficulty setting, this can be harder to pull off.

Let's, for instance, take the random good guy Lawrence Lessig. Here's a guy who's done a ton of good stuff, is still doing a ton of good stuff and will most likely continue to do tons of good stuff in the foreseeable future. One would think him immune to the "being the wrong person for the job" argument, but - he isn't. Despite all the good stuff, he's still a human being, and human beings have limitations. One of them being lifespan, meaning that no one person can know everything about everything. There's always some things people don't know, and there's always situations where they are not the right person to speak.

So. When discussing copyright reform - don't go there. When discussing, say, the finer points of quantum mechanics - do.

6. Make it look like your opponent are motivated by nefarious motives.

I'm pretty sure a honorable reader as yourself wouldn't stoop to question a fellow human beings motives. In fact, I am convinced that you as a fine specimen of the human race is full of trust and compassion for your brothers and sisters, and that your first and foremost reaction to hearing of tragic news is to try and support the grieving.

Others, on the other hand, are not quite as honorable. They lie, they steal, they do all manner of things in order to further their own profits. And they will not hesitate in masquerading as honorable fellow citizens - for as long as it profits them! But when you least expect it, they will go for the jugular and make your life miserable at every turn!

If you need an example of this, look no further than at the ever so loudmouthed right wing radio talk hosts. There is no end to the bad will the government seems to have against just about everything. About everything.

# The reversal.

All of these ways can be used to make someone else look bad. They can also be used in reverse, as hinted above. That is, if one makes something out to be clear, consistent, possible, reasonable, the right character for the job and motivated by a heart of gold - well, who wouldn't go for that?

The thing is that these universal techniques can be used for both good and evil. And, indeed, both good and bad. The reason I wrote this post is not so that you can go out in the world and club random people (not even Lawrence) with your newfound rhetorical prowess. To be sure, you could go out there right now and start making unfriends - but I'm not sure how that would help you in the longer run.

The reason is rather the fact that you will encounter these forms of argument just about everywhere you go, and that you will be immensely helped by knowing about them.

Make no mistake. Sometimes, things are unclear, inconsistent and so forth. But as you now know, there's a difference between being and seeming to be, and in the distance between those two there's ample room for making things seem more or less what they are. And there's no lack of people that makes a hell of a living off of this distance.

Marketing exists, after all. And propaganda.

Learning to detect these things is a good skill to have. Learning to talk back at it even more so.

I would, in my ambition, recommend that you walk the whole nine miles and learn rhetoric in the sense this post started in. The more comprehensive style of thinking that turns every social situation into a window of opportunity, and transforms one's discourse into a reflection of the self as a self-among-others.

Until then - this short cheat sheet. This short introduction to rhetorical self defence. Use it wisely, use it well. And share it to those who might be in need of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recently used

Recently, I visited the home of someone who has died. Recently.

It was a strange experience. Everything is there as it used to be, waiting to be used in the everyday life that has ceased to be. All the things that made up a life. Even the dust in the corners. Unmoving. Waiting. Silent reminders of something that won't return any time soon.

Being a home out in the countryside where few people roam and even angels fear to tread, the sense of desolation made itself abundantly clear.

"Nothing happens here. Nothing."

There is a whole host of social processes that occur when one is in someone else's home. They don't even have to be around - the sense of the place being Somebody's Place is prevalent through all of the things, nooks and crannies. There is always the possibility of them walking in at any moment.

Until there isn't.

There is a saying that life goes on. It does. It very much does.

And there's a lot to the going on.

Things have to be sorted. Organized. Given to the right people, donated to the right places. Put into new places and new uses, now that the old places are out of use.

Leaving a dead place is hard. You know it will be exactly the same as when you left it. It will remain so until you come back.

That's the hard part. The hardest part.

It is a hard thing to remember to turn off the light as one leaves. They will remain off. Along with everything else. Unused.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ghost forums and unpopular torrents

The internet is an old place. It contains within it more epic tales, long drawn dramas and flaming romances than one might imagine, and most of them are available to the avid reader with enough attention to piece them together.

Like the couple who spent their lazy afternoons flaming at each other on their favorite forum, and affectionately laughed together at the resulting mayhem.

There are a great many of these forgotten stories, and the places they took place in are equally forgotten. Places that nowadays serve as graveyards for the interaction that used to happen, before it moved to that elusive place that is "elsewhere". Forums, message boards, communities, blogs, Geocities -

If you are a digital archeologist, there is certainly a lot of material to genealogize.

Despite the efforts of places such as the Internet Archive, there's bound to be an uncountable number of places and stories that simply vanished when the server owner got tired of the hassle and just shut the thing down. Stories that will never be retold or remembered, except by the few who were actually there.

I imagine that most of human history takes the shape of these stories. Lived but not remembered.

Like these places, it is a fact of contemporary information ecology that some things are easier to get a hold of than others. Some things are more strongly imprinted into the collective memory of the torrent network, and can be brought forth at a moment's notice. Others hide in the immemorial back alleys of the strangest places, and can only be summoned through the act of waiting it out. Slow to fade, the unpopular torrents are also slow to reemerge.

Who will remember these places? Who will seed the unpopular torrents?

The politics of the database

The most unmistakable mixing of database construction and politics is without question the Gutenberg Bible. Or, rather, the flood of bibles that came after that first one. Suddenly, everyone could get their devout little hands on the Good Book, and see with their own eyes what had previously been a mystery guarded by both institutional intent and technological limitations.

What followed was one of the biggest religious divides this side of the Ural mountains. Kind of a big deal, all things considered.

The invention of databases that could store sound was also a big deal, back in the days. There was no lack of uproar among the musicians, who suddenly faced the fear that their services would no longer be required. All it would take was one band doing the Perfect Recording, and then any and all demand for live music would be wiped out forever. The right ambience for the occasion was already available in a prepackaged, ready to be used and reused until kingdom come.

Some decades later, the whole business of music was all about records, record labels and record deals. Record sales abounded.

Then, something happened. A new database arrived, and the need for physical distribution of sound became more a matter of choice than of necessity. Again, the combination of institutional intent and overcomance of technical limitations puts us at a crossroads. On the one hand, we have those who have gone on the record with having an interest in keeping these limitations firmly in place. On the other, we have all these ordinary people who finally are able to discover a world bigger than the musical preachers of the radio are willing to admit.

You may argue that this comparison between what became the Catholic Church and the music industry is somewhat unfair. From the point of view of the database, it isn't - it's the very same intersection between technology and politics at play once again. Only with different players, and with a slightly more available soundtrack.

Don't play it again, Sam. Remix it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How to make friends and influence people - an invitation

At the beginning of this year, a couple of my friends and I made an experiment. We said to ourselves - hey, the Cluetrain Manifesto is so awesome that we could write a post for each of the 95 theses that begins the book! Let's see what happens if we do!

So we did. The first few weeks, things went smoothly. Then, life happened, and we all kind of petered out after the first month or so. Which might sound like a failure, until we look at the numbers. A post a day by five enthused persons for about a month - that's roughly 150 posts.

Add to that all the discussions, thoughts and wisdoms that followed, and the only way to look at it is through the lens of the two words "epic win". The process of thinking about something together with other people, and doing it for a longer period of time, is a powerful thing, and you learn more than you think when the backs and forth starts to forth and back.

So. Why are you reading this? What am I up to? Am I, in fact, trying to make you ponder the question if you want to participate in a similar endeavor?

Why, yes. Yes I am. Seeing the epic winnage of the last time, there's really no reason not to. One epic win is a victory indeed. Two is a recipe for success.

My plan is to start the first of January, and work my way through each of the 95 theses one day and one post at a time. It is my hope that you will tag along and think this through with me. In any way, shape or form, blog or otherwise.

So. Are you up for it?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Have you got the time? I seem to have lost all of it

Some years ago, my computer instadied. No warnings, no ifs, no buts, no nothing. One moment it worked, the next it didn't.

Pow. Gone. This is an ex-computer. It has ceased to be.

Now, there's never a good timing for this. Whenever it happens, it happens at a bad time. It happening being the major constituent of the badness of the given time.

But the particular time it happened was the week before Christmas, when the prices of just about everything is spiked upwards in anticipation of the guaranteed buyer interest. So buying a new one was out of the question - spending money on Christmas premiums is a luxury I did not have. (Still don't have, as it were - which means that I still don't have anything in the ways of pads, smart phones or anything like that.)

So, what happened was me being offline for a week. No internet, no youtube, no music, no nothing. Just me, the books I had on hand and the twenty degrees of brutal cold that haunted the outside at the time.

Minus twenty degrees (Celsius) is enough lack of heat to visibly freeze any unprotected liquid. Not instantly, but visibly. This might be construed as a random piece of miscellaneous information, until we remember that it severely limits what one can do outdoors. Being being one of the things limited.

So. Me, the books and time to think.

It was an interesting week, to be sure. Suddenly, there was time to do things. Cleaning? Ample time. Cooking good food? Yep. Eating the same food? Yes indeed. Reading? Very much so. Think long and hard about the interconnected virtual reality of contemporary life?


I imagine that this might sound strange to some of you younger readers, but I'm considering doing it again. Hopefully without my new computer dying on me.

Remember what I said about being the last of a generation? The last slice of humanity having memories of and from the beforetimes? The times before constant global communications?

It is good to be reminded that these times actually existed. That, in fact, they were the default mode for human being for just about all of history except the last couple of decades.

Though I probably won't be reading the first installment of the Baroque Cycle this time around. There is too much of a good thing, after all. -

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The bleeding hearts and the artists

Sometimes, the question of how artists are going to get paid in a world where file sharing exists is thrown at me. Most often with an undertone of accusation - being a proponent of a reformed copyright makes one a target for such questions. The assumption being that reformed copyright will utterly crush any and all markets for artistically inclined people.

There are several answers to this question. One of these has been addressed before. Here, I want to give you one of the more brutal responses. In order to put the question into proper context.

Because it is a valid question - if and only if it is placed in proper context.

Consider Greece. Things are looking rather grim at the moment. Estimates put youth unemployment at somewhere around fifty percent - give or take. This is both a cause and a symptom of the severe social and economic instabilities that have become endemic to the country. The one feeds into the other, and together these instabilities cause what economists call "a mess".

How are these kids going to get paid?

Don't play stupid with me now. If file sharing alone can utterly destroy entire economic sectors, then it stands to reason that the economy at a larger scale is at a similar risk of being just as utterly destroyed by similar factors writ large. If the faster flow of information has effects on a small scale, it would be absurd for it not to have it on a large scale. Effects are either real or irrelevant - you can't both copyright the cake and eat it.

Make no mistake. These kids live in exactly the same economy that the aforementioned artists are supposed to make a living in. Pretending that the one and the other have nothing to do with each other is either ignorant, cynical or both. In a situation where it is an undeniable empirical fact that the economy simply does not need the labor input of half it's youth - what room is there for artists? What use is it to ask about the artists when the more relevant question is how anyone at all is going to get paid?

Now, Greece is not an exception. It is, rather, the shape of things to come, a vanguard of the economic and social changes that has struck and will continue to strike the Western world. In force.

Faster flow of information, faster flow of money, faster flow of people - less local stability, less economically sound reasons to play the long term game, less political incentive to supply the social infrastructure needed to withstand the harder times that are upon us. The neoliberals tells us that we have to compete with the Chinese and the third world in the ever present competitive race to the bottom that is the quest for economic growth. And thus, ever faster, ever less -

Are you still worried about how the artists are going to get paid? Are you paying attention yet?

Have I managed to place the question firmly in the proper context?

If a small scale copyright reform is the biggest of your worries, then please show yourself out of the political sphere. You are not relevant, not helping and not a part of any solution whatsoever.

Get a grip. Get real. Or get (like so many of the young Greeks) lost.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The best next thing

When you saw the notice that the last post was around - however it may have been - you immediately thought something. When that tweet, notification, RSS post or whatever means of letting you know that something new is afoot went afoot - you thought something.

Hopefully, you thought "YES! THERE'S A NEW WONDERFUL POST, I SHALL DEVOUR IT IMMEDIATELY!". More realistically, it was probably more something along the line of "hey, a new post, cool. Lemme get back to you about that."

I imagine there was at least some disappointment in seeing that it was, well, the post. Five lines of text without any pretense about anything - the last one wasn't even green! What a waste of a mouse click!

I also imagine at least someone else thinking that something else is up.

Good call.

A good portion of all communication is expecting the counterparts next move. This is pretty much universal, no matter what medium (new, social or otherwise) is used. Any given particular speech act includes in itself the possibility and promise of future speech acts of a similar nature. As anyone knows who has discovered a new favorite band and fervently listens through any and all things they've ever done, both the possibility and the promise are powerful things.

Especially when there's a new album on the horizon.

Blogs are not exempt from this. On the contrary - the decision to keep reading a particular blog is based pretty much exclusively on this expectation.

Is the next post going to be good?

One may do two things when confronted with this thought. The first is to get a bout of anxiety - being good is hard! The second is to think a bit further, and realize that the key word "good" is just as relative as any other relative term. And that it is very much in the eyes of the reader what "good" might be. Leaving us with the choice between being good and being "good".

I prefer "good". Less anxiety that way, and more responsiveness to boot. Less talking with abstract universalities and more talking with people.

Like all good things, it also leaves room for interpretation and ponderings. What do you think? What do you expect from the next post? And is it possible to help this expectation along somehow?

Monday, October 29, 2012

This is a text

This is the first sentence.

This is the second sentence.

This is the third paragraph.

The last one is a green.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The freedom that came and went

Let's say there are two countries, country A and country B.

Country A is a paragon of workers rights, with minimum wages, strong unions, maternity leave and the whole package. Any law, program or policy that one would care to mention in relation to worker's rights - they got 'em. And have even gotten around to work out the less obvious drawbacks that the implementation of anything and everything on a large scale brings with it.

Country B could give less of a shit about their workers, and are not in the least ashamed of the slave like conditions of their sweatshops.

Let's say country C is on the lookout for cheap imports. To which of these two countries does it turn to?

Most likely B. Workers are expensive, and giving them rights and welfare only serves to make them that much more expensive. And expensive is the opposite of cheap.

The point here is not that the free market does not like workers rights. Rather, the point is that the free market produces bad and irrational results when the actors are at radically different levels of development (socially, economically, technologically). If and when A and B are at similar levels, the results of freeing up trade is that things get done cheaper without any of the two having to part with too much of their hard won progress. If and when they are at radically different levels, however, the willingness of B to do what is unthinkable in A changes everything.

Not only in terms of the unthinkable becoming that much more thinkable, but also in terms of social cohesion and other tangible intangibles. The unavoidable unemployment that follows from B being brutally more brutal than A, has a wide range of consequences for the social fabric of A. Factories that have been around for generations are no longer around, which means that both the social and economic institutions that have been built around these disintegrate.

The extreme example of this is when a whole town suddenly ceases to have a reason for being. Everything was built around a factory, and when that's gone, everything else follows suit.

The waves of so called liberalization that has swept over the west in the recent decades - think Thatcherism - is not so much a result of ideological conviction as it is of the economic realities of a too free market, with a too large degree of free trade. Every A country has to compete with every de facto B country in existence, which means that the rights and welfares of everyone is under constant pressure.

Worse, every B country has to compete with every other B country in existence. Which means that when these countries actually manage to get some decent social infrastructure going, they are suddenly a new overexpensive A country. And the pattern repeats.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

If you are a proponent of freer markets and freer trade, then please do continue to be that. But, please, update your reference points. When Adam Smith and Ricardo were around, they wrote against the backdrop of their time. I won't insult you by pointing out that the king of France isn't the powerful figure that he once was, but I will however kindly suggest that you transpose your analysis from an eighteenth century context to a twenty-first century one.

After all. When competing with everyone else, it simply will not do to let your analysis be too free. It's a luxury that you will have to shed in order to be competitive, as it were. -

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tickets, please!

Imagine you're on a train. You are not going that far, and you're almost there. Just a couple of more stations, barely noticeable in the geography of both time and space. In fact, it is so barely noticeable that this very day you decided that it was too much effort to buy a ticket.

Or, as you thought at the station, having had to run to the train to actually get on it in time: it's either buying a ticket or actually being on it. No middle ground possible. And it is after all not that very far.

But we are not there yet. We are not even there soon. There's still enough travel time left to ponder things - more specifically, to ponder that you are on a train, without that ticket. And once those thought have set themselves in motion, they are hard to stop - they build themselves a feedback loop, straight into the fear center of your brain, and soon becomes all one can think about.

Is that the sound of a ticket inspector getting closer? Is it just imagination? Are we really not there yet? Can we please be there yet? I can't take this uncertainty anymore!

Many I know are actively unable to fare dodge because of this feeling of uncertainty. They break down, either while in motion or while contemplating the very action. Which is good for them, I suppose - a sign of virtue, if anything. But, the important point here is the mechanism at work here. The mechanism that makes the person without a ticket feel all that fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

You see, it doesn't really matter if a ticket inspector comes along or not. There doesn't even have to be one on the train in question. The mere possibility of there being one is enough to set the feedback loop of fear in motion. The sin is its own punishment. Or, rather, sin punishes the one who is attuned enough to feel himself a sinner.

This is normalization, in a very down to earth way. And it doesn't happen only on trains - it happens everywhere, in every aspect of our daily lives.

Foucault has a very fitting definition about what it is to be disciplined. To be disciplined is to be ready to be watched, at any moment. It doesn't matter if any one particular existing person happens to watch there and then; the mere possibility of someone watching is reason enough to keep up the act, to keep up the discipline.

The watcher may not come around this time, but in the case they should be one need to be ready. Terrible things happens otherwise - one gets exposed as the fraudulent actor one really is. So the show must on.

After a while, it becomes that much less of an effort to do what is expected. The discipline becomes part of one's personality, of one's being in the world. After a while, the need for ticket inspectors fade away: discipline happens anyway, automagically, without either threats, rewards or punishments.

As with people who cannot fare dodge. Or, less dramatically, who cannot jaywalk on a deserted street in the middle of the night. It is internalized so hard that it's impossible to separate discipline from personality - at least without a torturelike amount of anxiety. Some things just becomes unthinkable, pure and simple.

The biggest argument against ever more invasive surveillance laws has never really been that personal data happens into the wrong hands. It is to be sure still a valid argument, but it is not the main argument against being constantly surveilled. No, the biggest argument is that the very act of being surveilled changes you, disciplines you, makes you do things you would not do in a more relaxed setting.

There's always someone watching. Which probably isn't what Shakespeare meant when he said that all the world is a stage.

It does not really matter if anyone actually watches the data gathered about them. The mere possibility of anyone potentially watching is enough to make people act in different ways. Start to discipline themselves and their ways of life - to assume the life of an actor. The audience never sleeps, regardless of whether it actually exists or not.

For the powers that be, this is of course a good thing. Law-abiding and disciplined subjects are always good to the powers that be - it makes the powering and being that much easier.

For the subject, on the other hand, it's very much like being on a train set in perpetual motion. With the big difference that the clear cut difference between having a societal ticket and not having one is muddled by thousand different factors, where one never knows which factor one might be found lacking in. And before one knows it, that feedback loop of anxiety kicks in. Do I really have a ticket? Is it the right ticket? Am i on the right train? What happens when the ticket inspector (or any other watchman) comes? What does this stamp on my ticket mean? Am I there yet?

Some people can probably live with this feedback loop, or learn to bypass it. Some even get a rush out of dodging the system - ticket or no ticket. Most people get caught in that feedback loop, though, and the gods know that it is not a feeling that should be systematically set in motion. Yet it happens, thanks to the ever more pervasive surveillance laws - Panopticon made flesh.

One cannot say (as so many seem wont to do) that those who have nothing to hide don't have anything to fear. Since they actually have something to fear: that the ever vigilant watchers will discover that they are not the perfectly disciplined subjects that the State demands them to be, but imperfect human beings like everyone else. That their ticket is invalid, in some way. And since the ever vigilant watchmen of society might take a while to actually tell you that you are doing it wrong, they might in theory drop in at any time to tell you that you are indeed being it wrong. At any time, without warning, it might turn out that the criminal of the day is - you.

Living in this kind of fear is not healthy in the long run. Feeling watched is not a healthy state of being. Being watched does not help at all.

Originally published June 23, 2011

I languish in your lack of language

I've had the thought of a blog post floating in my mind for quite some time. You know how it is - you get a good idea, but never really get around to go through the motions of actually putting it to the text.

The dear Les got around to write this beauty of a blog post, leaving me without a choice in the matter. Peachy, I know.

So. Let's talk about violence, shall we?

No, not the one signified by the military, the state or any of those traditional institutions of violence. No. Something a bit closer to home. Something that happens in the home, as it were.

The violence of exclusion.

The violence that happens when a son, who for some time has hidden his homosexuality, decides to tell the family. The violence that happens in that silent moment afterwards, and the continued violence that is likely to happen as the image of the son fragments and reconstructs.

There is almost no need for violence of the physical kind. Even if that also has a tendency to happen.

Another example is when, at a family dinner, one of the more actively political youths makes a radical statement about something. Like, for instance, the unavoidable fact that she is appalled by the thought of eating dead meat, and that the very essence of her being recoils at the thought and sight of seeing those she loves eat and enjoy the vileness in her presence.

There is no small amount of violence in the statement "let's talk about something more pleasant, dear". Swatting aside all pain, agony and suffering with a swift discursive burst of polite unacknowledgement.

The examples can be made manifold. Like their anonymous victims, they are legion - and everywhere.

The general theme is that people cannot be themselves in their immediate community of peers. They have to hide, sacrifice, partition off parts of themselves in order to fit in. Regiment their thoughts and emotions in order to keep up the facade of being someone who belongs - the facade of being one of the included.

The upkeep of this facade comes in the form of violence towards one's own self. It takes quite a bit of discipline to keep that self in line, after all. One wrong move, one wrong word, and the show is over - and no one knows this more than the one who has to constantly monitor themselves in order to not be that wrong move.

We need language about this. Something that speaks for those who cannot be themselves. And, until we can remix such a language into being, people who can speak for these persons. Not only as they are, but also as they would like to be - as they would become, had they not have to hide away in the closet/corset of "let's talk about something more pleasant, dear".

Let's not do that. There's too much unpleasantness going on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't fear the cyberwar: If you do, you've already lost

I've never understood this newly minted fascination with cyberwarfare. The fascination with all things "cyber" I can get behind, but this "war" aspect confuses me.

Mostly, because it's the same old warfare it's always been. The addition of "cyber" doesn't change that.

Let's say there's a bridge of particular strategic importance somewhere. Keeping this bridge up, running and under control is paramount to any and all military ambitions in the area, and therefore extra effort is spent on keeping this bridge up, running and under control.

Nothing strange so far. What would be strange, however, is if politicians, policymakers and interested loudmouths suddenly began to bombast about how important it is that we channel ever more money into Bridge Security. And, moreover, that both terrorists and criminals alike use this particular bridge for nefarious purposes, which means that ever tougher measures are to be employed in all things regarding Bridge Security.

Make no mistake about this. Keeping that bridge secure would be part of any sane military strategy ever. It would be what any military worth anything would do anyway. Stating and overstating its importance doesn't change this in any way, shape or form.

Yet it is this very thing that happens to any and all things cyber. Cyberwar looms on the horizon, and if the fear mongers are to be believed we are all doomed if extraordinary steps are not taken immediately. Not to mention all the cybercriminals out there!

The notion that it would fall to the military and civil planners anyway to ensure the safety and continued operation of existing infrastructure, and that there's thus no need for any extra anything, does not seem to generate as much spectacular interest as one might think. For some reason.

The notion that the already existing criminal laws are also applicable to so called cybercriminals, also face the same lack of spectacularity. If someone pulls a fast one on you on the internet, then it is the same act of fraud as it ever was in the offline mode - and the same laws are applicable there as well. Crime is crime, regardless of whether the criminals happen to live now or in an earlier generation.

So when the politicians, policy makers and loudmouths start to yell about the importance of cybersecurity - tell them to go stuff it. They're not saying anything of any substance whatsoever, and are just trying to scare people with falsehoods and lies.

That's not to say that the changes these people are doing aren't real. To the contrary - they are very real expansions of the authority of the state, at your expense. Thanks to the threat of cybercriminals, more states than any sane person would assume now takes for granted that your private electronic correspondence is state property. And that any and all attempts by you and your friends to withhold this property from the state is a criminal offense, or even an act of terrorism.

And you know what happens to criminals and terrorists, don't you?