[iDC] The New Socialism

mark bartlett mark at globalpostmark.net
Sun Jun 21 11:07:30 UTC 2009


you're critique is pretty much spot on. there are a few things other  
things that need to be emphasized. socialism in the marxist sense  
cannot be reduced to statist or net-ist mechanisms of "social" order.  
the US constitution is "social," though not a socialist contract. nor  
are the bodies that regulate net architectures or protocols. J. C. R.  
Licklider, a name that rarely is included among the net founding  
fathers, set out very clear criteria for a "socialist net."

Licklider’s definition of efficacy is quite remarkable:

Creative, interactive communication requires a plastic or moldable  
medium that can be modeled, a dynamic medium in which premises will  
flow into consequences, and above all a common medium that can be  
contributed to and experimented with by all.

             Such a medium is at hand – the programmed digital  
computer. [my emphasis]

Encapsulated in these few lines is a socialist, participatory  
epistemology, creative and interactive, that has been lost in  
translation, so to speak, as the essential relational conditions of  
logic, commonality, and social inclusion have been compromised and  
often lost through both academic and market influences. Exactly what  
has been lost appears a few paragraphs later, as Licklider makes fully  
explicit the social agenda that was still alive and well even in the  
highest circles where academic and military research programs  
intersected. “Society,” he asserts, “rightly distrusts the modeling  
done by a single mind… the requirement is for communication, which we  
now define concisely as ‘cooperative modeling’ – cooperation in the  
construction, maintenance, and use of a model.” Of crucial importance  
here is the triple mode in which cooperation, if it is to resist the  
dominance of a single mind [fascism], must be pursued. Without  
involvement at the level of net architecture – at the levels of  
construction and maintenance – then use will be subjugated by a single  
mind. Licklider effectively created the concept of an operational  
social-ist network.

This form of mindshare in NOT what happens in any of the net's  
versions of social networks today. None fit the definition of  
cooperative modeling in Licklider's precise sense because the three  
aspects necessary to ensure premises flow into "socialist"  
consequences in a medium contributed and experimented with by all are  
alienated from each other. Construction and maintenance is the whole  
game, and that is run effectively by a group of techno-elites behind  
closed doors and controlled by states concerned with "security" and  
maintaining their own power.

Socialism is a form of consciousness, not forms of play and labour,  
radically opposed to libertarianism and its core principle -  
individualism. The net will never lead to socialism. At most it can  
produce occasional successes in fighting neoliberal, capitalist  

My view is that the net as currently structured can lead only to  
continued support of capitalism. This will be true as long as "civil  
society" is negated by "consumer society." Which is mostly what  
Flicker, Facebook, etc promote. The issues of "play", "labour," and  
"playbour" ( a very unfortunate neologism) are terms that predetermine  
analysis and take the capitalist net as a naturalized given. The  
better terms are, means of production, and, exchange.

What means of production lead to socialist forms of exchange? "Means"  
here must include Licklider's criteria for cooperative modeling of a  
dynamic system if socialism is to have any hope of moving beyond what  
Marx called "crude communism," which characterizes all forms of 20th  
century socialism. Only emphasis on exchange, as a  non-alienated, non- 
individualist, non-personalist form of consciousness will lead to  
socialism. And exchange of this type must also include the civil  
rights of animals, plants, water, air and minerals. Silicon itself  
must be liberated if a socialist political economy is ever to defeat  
the Russian flag planted in the Arctic's seabed and the US flag on the  
moon. That will happen only when the death of the enlightenment,  
humanist subject is finalized. And this of course is dependent on  
finalizing the death of god.

Let's hope that ethically and technologically superior aliens arrive  
soon!  :)


On 20 Jun 2009, at 14:39, Dean, Jodi wrote:

> Problems with Kevin Kelly:
> 1.  The presence of communal aspects of digital culture is not an  
> indication of an emerging collectivism. Kelly's point presumes a  
> prior rampant individualism, as if there were no
> community or group based practices and activities and as if the use  
> of an available media tool automatically implies collectivism rather  
> than multiple individual uptakes.
> Communal aspects of digital culture run deep and wide. Wikipedia is  
> just
> one remarkable example of an emerging collectivism—and not just  
> Wikipedia
> but wikiness at large. Ward Cunningham, who invented the first
> collaborative Web page in 1994, tracks nearly 150 wiki engines  
> today, each
> powering myriad sites. Wetpaint, launched just three years ago,  
> hosts more
> than 1 million communal efforts. Widespread adoption of the share- 
> friendly
> Creative Commons alternative copyright license and the rise of  
> ubiquitous
> file-sharing are two more steps in this shift. Mushrooming  
> collaborative
> sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, the Hype Machine, and Twine have added
> weight to this great upheaval. Nearly every day another startup  
> proudly
> heralds a new way to harness community action. These developments  
> suggest
> a steady move toward a sort of socialism uniquely tuned for a  
> networked
> world.
> 2.  The notion of socialism without the state is inseparable from a  
> notion of mass culture.  All Kelly is highlighting is the way that  
> mass culture does not only happen top down--but
> this is an old point from cultural studies.
> We're not talking about your grandfather's socialism. In fact, there  
> is a
> long list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class
> warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the
> newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of  
> the
> state, digital socialism is socialism without the state. This new  
> brand of
> socialism currently operates in the realm of culture and economics,  
> rather
> than government—for now.
> 3.  Hard to call the chaos of the free market 'brilliant' today  
> unless by brilliant one means a machinery of destruction that  
> reappropriates the work and energy of the majority in order
> to enrich the few.
> The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of  
> Linux
> was born in an era of enforced borders, centralized communications,  
> and
> top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a  
> type of
> collective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free  
> market
> with scientific five-year plans devised by an all-powerful  
> politburo. This
> political operating system failed, to put it mildly. However, unlike  
> those
> older strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a
> borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It  
> is
> designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization.  
> It is
> decentralization extreme.
> 4.  Collective worlds? Or, individuated media spheres in which we  
> can maintain a happy, idiotic isolation? Collective worlds? at a  
> time when over a billion people are starving? when union
> membership is (in the US) at its lowest point since it began?  
> Meritocracies? Umm--like the one that rewards CEOs with giant golden  
> parachutes? that dumps tons of money into failed banks?
> that gives medals to war criminals? Instead of rations and  
> subsidies--which belong to the banks, we have a bounty of free  
> goods? Really? Oh--maybe he means the millions of houses standing
> empty since their owners couldn't pay the mortgage.
> Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective  
> worlds.
> Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to  
> virtual
> co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share  
> apps,
> scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless
> meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things  
> done.
> Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of
> government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods.
> 5.  And who are the owners, then? Stockholders? This is a stretch-- 
> particularly today. Or maybe he means contingent labor, migrant  
> labor, those who pick up work by the piece.
> When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a  
> common
> goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor
> without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not  
> unreasonable
> to call that socialism.
> 6.  Kelly is trying to give us neoliberalism with a human face--he's  
> picked up (smart boy) on the rage against the banks and is trying to  
> throw out the bath water of finance talk while
> keeping the baby of entrepreneurialism.
> In the late '90s, activist, provocateur, and aging hippy John Barlow  
> began
> calling this drift, somewhat tongue in cheek, "dot-communism." He  
> defined
> it as a "workforce composed entirely of free agents," a  
> decentralized gift
> or barter economy where there is no property and where technological
> architecture defines the political space. He was right on the virtual
> money. But there is one way in which socialism is the wrong word for  
> what
> is happening: It is not an ideology. It demands no rigid creed.  
> Rather, it
> is a spectrum of attitudes, techniques, and tools that promote
> collaboration, sharing, aggregation, coordination, ad hocracy, and a  
> host
> of other newly enabled types of social cooperation. It is a design
> frontier and a particularly fertile space for innovation.
> 7.  To call sharing the mildest form of socialism omits the way  
> practices of sharing always play a role in the lives of those who  
> rely on language--kids wouldn't survive into adulthood
> without some kind of sharing. Again, this kind of remark evinces  
> Kelly's bizarre underlying assumption about a totally atomistic  
> individualized capitalism wherein any kind of human
> contact indicates incipient collectivism.
> The online masses have an incredible willingness to share. The  
> number of
> personal photos posted on Facebook and MySpace is astronomical, but  
> it's a
> safe bet that the overwhelming majority of photos taken with a digital
> camera are shared in some fashion. Then there are status updates, map
> locations, half-thoughts posted online. Add to this the 6 billion  
> videos
> served by YouTube each month in the US alone and the millions of
> fan-created stories deposited on fanfic sites. The list of sharing
> organizations is almost endless: Yelp for reviews, Loopt for  
> locations,
> Delicious for bookmarks.
> Sharing is the mildest form of socialism, but it serves as the  
> foundation
> for higher levels of communal engagement.
> 8.  The product isn't free--we pay in different ways: one way, by  
> our digital traces/footprints, the information we leave whenever we  
> access something. Another way we pay--
> attention, the lack of attention to other things, for tools and  
> access.
> Adding to the economic dissonance, we've become accustomed to  
> enjoying the
> products of these collaborations free of charge. Instead of money, the
> peer producers who create the stuff gain credit, status, reputation,
> enjoyment, satisfaction, and experience. Not only is the product  
> free, it
> can be copied freely and used as the basis for new products.  
> Alternative
> schemes for managing intellectual property, including Creative  
> Commons and
> the GNU licenses, were invented to ensure these "frees."
> 9.  Who are the workers who have this ownership that he's talking  
> about?
> Of course, there's nothing particularly socialistic about  
> collaboration
> per se. But the tools of online collaboration support a communal  
> style of
> production that shuns capitalistic investors and keeps ownership in  
> the
> hands of the workers, and to some extent those of the consuming  
> masses.
> 10.  And, the real core: he doesn't really think any of this  
> socialism--and that's fine with him!!
> Indeed, a close examination of the governing kernel of, say,  
> Wikipedia,
> Linux, or OpenOffice shows that these efforts are further from the
> collectivist ideal than appears from the outside. While millions of
> writers contribute to Wikipedia, a smaller number of editors (around
> 1,500) are responsible for the majority of the editing. Ditto for
> collectives that write code. A vast army of contributions is managed  
> by a
> much smaller group of coordinators. As Mitch Kapor, founding chair  
> of the
> Mozilla open source code factory, observed, "Inside every working  
> anarchy,
> there's an old-boy network."
> This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some types of collectives  
> benefit from
> hierarchy while others are hurt by it. Platforms like the Internet and
> Facebook, or democracy—which are intended to serve as a substrate for
> producing goods and delivering services—benefit from being as
> nonhierarchical as possible, minimizing barriers to entry and  
> distributing
> rights and responsibilities equally. When powerful actors appear, the
> entire fabric suffers. On the other hand, organizations built to  
> create
> products often need strong leaders and hierarchies arranged around  
> time
> scales: One level focuses on hourly needs, another on the next five  
> years.
> 11.  Wouldn't it be great if capitalists never had to pay workers  
> anything!
> The dream is to scale up this third way beyond local experiments. How
> large? Ohloh, a company that tracks the open source industry, lists
> roughly 250,000 people working on an amazing 275,000 projects. That's
> almost the size of General Motors' workforce. That is an awful lot of
> people working for free, even if they're not full-time. Imagine if  
> all the
> employees of GM weren't paid yet continued to produce automobiles!
> 12.  Good thing that we realized that we could pool mortgages, break  
> apart their risks, insure them, and then creates markets in all  
> these things. This
> worked a lot better than going door to door asking folks if you  
> could borrow their mortgage. And prosperity in recent decades? The  
> average worker in the US is
> worst off than he was in the mid 70s. Seems like the prosperity was  
> for the top .0001 percent.
> A similar thing happened with free markets over the past century.  
> Every
> day, someone asked: What can't markets do? We took a long list of  
> problems
> that seemed to require rational planning or paternal government and
> instead applied marketplace logic. In most cases, the market solution
> worked significantly better. Much of the prosperity in recent  
> decades was
> gained by unleashing market forces on social problems.
> 13.  I wish I could send SMS messages to a porn call center and  
> watch hot people following my instructions on television.
> Now we're trying the same trick with collaborative social technology,
> applying digital socialism to a growing list of wishes—and  
> occasionally to
> problems that the free market couldn't solve—to see if it works. So  
> far,
> the results have been startling. At nearly every turn, the power of
> sharing, cooperation, collaboration, openness, free pricing, and
> transparency has proven to be more practical than we capitalists  
> thought
> possible. Each time we try it, we find that the power of the new  
> socialism
> is bigger than we imagined.
> We underestimate the power of our tools to reshape our minds. Did we
> really believe we could collaboratively build and inhabit virtual  
> worlds
> all day, every day, and not have it affect our perspective? The  
> force of
> online socialism is growing. Its dynamic is spreading beyond
> electrons—perhaps into elections.
> Jodi
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