[iDC] "for the purpose of inspiration, which is as much part of politics as critique."

Michael H Goldhaber michael at goldhaber.org
Thu Jun 25 00:30:40 UTC 2009

Trebor, all,

It seems to me you propose a kind of saintly way of being that can be  
the life purpose of only a very few selfless people. Admirable though  
it is, I doubt that those few saints will achieve much unless they  
(you?, we?) can manage to inspire others who will act in accord. Most  
people engage in such efforts enough to bring about change only  
because they realize it is somehow in their self interest to do so.  
(Even Marx thought the self interest of the working class would be the  
means to achieve socialism, and he thought himself  as helping instill  
in them the necessary consciousness of that self interest that they  
might otherwise not have noticed. Meanwhile, once he could afford it,   
he bought a house with a "ballroom" so that his daughters could  
entertain suitors.) Music listeners concerned about something as  
mundane as file sharing are also testing the limits of their power (or  
powerlessness). Finding out that one can advance whatever cause one  
believes in is a prerequisite, quite often, for taking on a larger  

A great many are somewhat concerned about suffering in far away places  
such as Iran, Rwanda , or, even worse, Congo, where 4 million have  
died  so far, but what to do to alleviate such suffering is far less  
obvious. Who is doing this to them, and how does, say, the West or  
corporations or other kinds of institutions or attitudes cause what is  
happening? Even if we had an ironclad, single and uniform answer to  
that, it wouldn't automatically lead us to a way of stopping the  
suffering. Some suffering we do know how to at least lessen, such as  
the tremendous onslaught of AIDS in Africa. Once there were medicines,  
activists did force the drug companies to at least partially yield on  
intellectual property issues, so that the drugs could be made  
affordable to those most in need. Intellectual property happens to be  
the key issue in digital rights management, and, I suspect, people who  
learn that in one fight can extend their actions and outrage more  
easily to the other. They may well see the commonality of interest  
that underlies both efforts.

In general, it seems to me a self-defeating approach to argue that one  
struggle is so important that others don't count (though I've surely  
been guilty of that myself, at times).  Unless you believe very firmly  
in a heavenly afterlife, you are left with only this one life, and who  
is to say you should not seek the satisfactions that most appeal to  
you. For many, such satisfactions will involve some kind of political  
struggle, and those who see the commonality  in a wide range of such  
struggles are likely to fare better than the narrower ones.


On Jun 24, 2009, at 7:25 AM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Biella, all,
> Thanks so much for your courageous post.
>> Trenchant critique of Netboosterism is so so important and many on  
>> this
>> list do this exceedingly well. It is far to easy to collapse the
>> differences that exist in the networked world and differences must be
>> made clear. Punching holes in a frictionless narrative that places  
>> all
>> to much faith and power in the capacity of media/technology (the
>> “medial” as Dominic Boyer has theorized in a great little prickly  
>> pear
>> pamphlet called A Philosophy of Media) must be debunked. And as I
>> mentioned above, I would rather keep the baby in the bathwater as  
>> well
>> when it makes sense to do so and the sense I refer to is for the  
>> purpose
>> of inspiration, which is as much part of politics as critique.
> The best kind of critique inspires to jointly work toward  
> alternatives while
> also acknowledging the sometimes distressing hybridities and lost  
> battles.
> A worthy critique encourages us to deviate from common life; life is  
> not
> about straightforwardly being "successful," being “better” than  
> others.
> It means acting independently of demands and cultivating our ability  
> to say
> “no.” Leading an exemplary life is harder than anything and it  
> starts with
> skepticism and enthusiasm, and endless micro-decisions, which will  
> rarely be
> applauded.
> Why do so many people care more about digital rights management on  
> iTunes,
> intellectual property, and privacy on Facebook than about the  
> suffering of
> people in Rwanda or indeed Neda Soltani (or the other Iranian  
> students whose
> death was not recorded)? I shared a flat with Croatian and Serbs (!)  
> in the
> late 1990s in London and that surely brought these wars home for me,  
> quite
> literally. Consequently, I traveled to Kosova and Serbia to interview
> people.
> Where do I start if I am serious about my own life, at least from  
> time to
> time, looking for concrete ways of politicizing my life project?  
> Education,
> support for non-commercial projects, peer initiatives, art, and  
> businesses
> who are not greed-driven (e.g., Craigslist, Etsy) -- these are but a  
> few
> humble but tangible entry points. I appreciate so many of you on  
> this list
> who wholeheartedly committed their life to a politics of inspiration  
> that
> moves us beyond our differences.
> Trebor
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