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.