Social Memory Complex: A political economy of the soul

A Review of Douglas Rushkoff's "Program or Be Programmed"

Program or Be Programmed Cover

I've been saying for years that the future will not begin until the average Joe is able to program his computer. I know, I know - it's a convenient time to mention it. But those of us who make our living as programmers can get tired of being the go-to guys for computer issues. For my part, I find it embarrassing - and not just that I'm treated with deference and respect for nothing other than a minimum comfort with these machines. Rather, I completely understand the frustration of subordinating one's sentience to a stupid configuration ritual or opaque interface construct that by all rights should be conforming to me. Yet my generation is supposedly more advanced because we've learned how to click on "How High?" at the "Jump!" prompt. By the same token, my industry isn't exactly falling over itself to make these machines more human.

Upon reading Douglas Rushkoff's Program or Be Programmed, however, the annoyance has transformed to concern. The vast potential of our networked culture lies not in figuring out what the computer wants as much as figuring out what we want. Because as we tailor our wants to the available choices presented us by software, as we conform our lives and attention spans to the demands of the network, as we learn the new social dynamics of massive connectivity and anonymity, we aren't just adapting to inevitable realities of our times. We are just as assuredly adapting to the strategies of the business interests that have massive capital invested in leveraging the biases of these systems in which we too often passively participate.


Written on Monday, November 01, 2010
Tags: society, programming, computers, communication, culture, organizational-theory

The Rally To Elevate Tone of Voice Over Substance

So Jon Stewart had his rally yesterday. From what I can tell, it was a great promotional event for his TV show and a great party for a lot of college-educated people. Don't get me wrong; I love Jon Stewart, love the Daily Show, and I love the fact that people who are not bat-shit crazy were willing to turn out for a quasi-political event (even if ironically). I don't have any problem with a comedy show holding a rally, no problem with lampooning the 9/12ers, and no problem with centrist liberals holding field day on the D.C. mall.

But something about it irks me. Perhaps it's the inauthenticity of Stewart pretending he's just a really topical comedian while hawking a crypto-politics somewhere between a librarian's shushing and a classic elitist "let the serious people talk now" attitude. Yes, we've all seen him rip Tucker Carlson a new one by pointing out that he's just a comedian and you can't pin him down on political opinions because, after all, you're just going nuts over a joke you don't get while shirking responsibility for your role in the political discourse that's destroying this country . And of course it's absurd that people prefer getting their daily news from a thirty minute sketch show rather than from a show run by credentialed journalists. And of course that should be embarrassing to credentialed journalists everywhere.

But I'll tell you what's really absurd and embarrassing: critiquing our political culture because, in the midst of all the death, destruction, and suffering it's causing around the world and at home, the big problem is that the rhetoric is too uncouth. The rhetoric! My poor, virgin ears! As if that's the major problem with politics right now. Not innocent men, women, and children dying every day because of drone attacks by this supposedly calm and concerned President. Not peaceful people being jailed everyday for political crimes connected to what they choose to do with their body. Not the economic crimes committed by the corporate-government cabal destroying any wealth and future security. No, it's the tone of national discourse we should really be concerned about.


Written on Sunday, October 31, 2010
Tags: journalism, jon-stewart, comedy, current-events

Scaling Up Without Growing
Where the Entrepreneur, the Consortium, and the Union Meet

I had a great time visiting my good friend Jim in Charlotte this past weekend while the wives were selling crafts at the Country Living show in Atlanta. Many hijinks ensued, but one of the most rewarding was our discussion of different approaches to co-working, as well as expansions on the concept that could redefine how we work. We come at the conversation from two different angles, and I want to give Jim the opportunity to explain his vision, so I won't go into too much detail about his particular suggestions.

It suffices to say that Jim has been co-working at a local space for some time now. Where he sees opportunity is in an organization that could take care of the administration - invoicing, taxes, space provisioning - leaving freelancers, small proprietors, and other independent developers free to pursue their business. The organization could be run on the mutual model, where all the "clients" are owners.

I'm intrigued by this idea, but I want to skin a slightly different cat. My experience of co-working has been quite different due to Richmond's lack of a dedicated space for it. Our group has had to be more ad hoc, using Twitter and Google Groups to spontaneously organize meetings at local coffee shops on an irregular basis. Everything I've read on starting a co-working venue stresses the need to build the community first, rather than getting the location and expecting people to come to it.


Written on Saturday, October 30, 2010
Tags: business, entrepreneurship, labor, unionism, development

Freedom may not be free, but it's not priced in dollars, either

I've tried to chew a bit on Bryan Caplan's post about why he is not a left libertarian before I raced off to refute it point by point. That's because I suspect no refutation is necessary; Caplan throws into rather stark relief precisely why left libertarianism has more to do with attitude and temperament than blatant differences on principle.

Caplan argues over and over in his article that certain left libertarian arguments do not make sense because, if you consider the issues from an economic point of view, everything balances out. In doing so, he glosses over a key difference between his approach and that of left libertarians generally; many of us find the typical libertarian reduction of all matters of justice, culture, etc. to economic calculation totally warped and inaccurate. More and more of us are rejecting a rigid market fundamentalism that seems to discount any issue that cannot be modeled economically. There's more to human flourishing than marginal value.

For example, Caplan may be right that we effectively forego a fairer rental agreement with our landlord in exchange for lower rents. It's certainly an elegant argument that provides a clean explanation for our entrance into supposedly free contracts with such little negotiating wiggle room for ourselves. Of course, for economists, it's all about explaining within the constraints of the model - there's no price one can place on human dignity, the social effects of systemically lopsided contracts, etc. A pure economic argument does not address whether justice is served, or why people place such a low priority on being treated fairly. It doesn't attempt to back up the speculation on people's motives for accepting skewed contracts with evidence; the mere assertion that our market system has mediated this contract is proof positive that it is fair and balanced, and so the only task left is to come up with explanations for why we chose such an arrangement.


Written on Monday, October 11, 2010
Tags: economics, subjectivism, marginalism, libertarianism, vulgar-libertarianism

So that's why nobody sees the writing on the wall...

Frank Zappa:

The illusion of freedom [in America] will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.

Written on Sunday, September 12, 2010
Tags: reality

You don't end racism by being an asshole

Chris George fucking hits this one out of the park. In a short blog post, he makes the point I've been trying to make to many of my fellow left libertarians more succinctly and persuasively than I've ever been able. Excerpt:

The language used by "anti-racists" can commonly come off as divisive and inflammatory rather than helpful and informative. And it doesn't appear to be a good strategy for most of the same reasons that referring to Statists as violent idiots doesn't appear to be a good strategy. In fact, this strategy would seem to turn into enemies the only people capable of helping racists out of their prejudice. People have flaws. The goal, as seems obvious to me, should be to help them overcome those flaws, not use them as something to bludgeon everyone over the head with.

And the kicker that should speak to every person genuinely concerned with improving the human condition:

In sum, it's not opposition to racism that I oppose. It's the tendency (often based on little or no evidence) to demonize people who may be racists -- especially when that demonization comes at the expense of the goal you are trying to accomplish -- that I oppose.

Another essay of his arguing against the appeal to morality in advancing libertarianism is also great reading. I must say that it is extremely validating to see people take the problems of our society seriously enough to get off their fucking high horse about it. Given the past debate in the ALLiance over all this, it's nice to see somebody else articulate the case for open-mindedness over politically correct orthodoxy.

Written on Saturday, September 04, 2010
Tags: racism, strategy

Liberalism and Democracy
Keith Preston on Carl Schmitt is a site I've been interested in, if a bit wary of, since Keith Preston informed me of its launch earlier this year. I've seen some commentary there that I find not so challenging or interesting, but some of the articles provide food for thought. Of particular interest to me are the realist approaches of many on this alternative right, and acknowledging novel and new insight into the realities of our world need not necessitate the adoption of their politics nor the acceptance of their conclusions. As a staunch leftist egalitarian, I find that maintaining an open mind towards the reactionary wing forces me to ground my ideals in the human. Ignoring or rejecting the ugly is insufficient for those who take ideas and politics seriously.

Still, I was a bit taken aback when I first heard of Keith's plans for a four-part series of articles on German jurist Carl Schmitt (Part 1, Part 2). Here was a thinker who provided the legal basis for a continuity between Nazi-era totalitarianism and emergency, extra-constitutional measures in the present "War on Terror". But as it turns out, Schmitt's actual scholarship on these subjects has been rather narrowly read over the past eighty or so years. One need not adopt his advocacy for the establishment to see the problems with liberal democracies he pointed out. This passage from Keith's latest is particularly compelling:

At a fundamental level, there is an innate tension between liberalism and democracy. Liberalism is individualistic, whereas democracy sanctions the "general will" as the principle of political legitimacy. However, a consistent or coherent "general will" necessitates a level of homogeneity that by its very nature goes against the individualistic ethos of liberalism. This is the source of the "crisis of parliamentarianism" that Schmitt suggested. According to the democratic theory, rooted as it is in the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a legitimate state must reflect the "general will," but no general will can be discerned in a regime that simultaneously espouses liberalism. Lacking the homogeneity necessary for a democratic "general will," the state becomes fragmented into competing interests. Indeed, a liberal parliamentary state can actually act against the "peoples' will" and become undemocratic. By this same principle, anti-liberal states such as those organized according to the principles of fascism or Bolshevism can be democratic in so far as they reflect the "general will."


Written on Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Tags: liberalism, democracy, parliamentarianism, politics

The Technology That Will Realize a Left Libertarian World

As much as I talk about revolution and theory, this is what is going to free humanity from large, centralized, bloodthirsty, inhuman domination. Hat tip to Kevin Carson for staying on top of this. Watch it all: it's important that we frame our political and economic ideas in terms of the possible, and this is certainly one way for us to achieve this in our lifetime. Please contribute to their cause!

Written on Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Tags: subsilience, open-source, agriculture, agrarianism, left-libertarianism, technology

Because Killing Them All is Not an Option
Anarcho-pluralism as the peaceful alternative

Hey, anarchists, or really any reader who believes passionately in your political ideals for changing this world: depart with me on a thought experiment.

Your revolution succeeds. Through whatever means you think it possible, your fellow ________s have defeated the authoritarian/fascist/totalitarian forces and are ascendant. You, of course, know that your side will not rule in the same ruthless manner your enemy did.

Now what do you do with all these enemies whom you haven't killed or converted yet? The same beliefs that motivated them to oppose you in the past are likely not to be simply cast aside. After all, you didn't cast yours aside when you were out of power. As somebody experienced with dissidence, you know all too well that such people can take a long term view of their agenda and undermine the society you want to build in countless subtle ways.


Written on Monday, August 23, 2010
Tags: pan-secessionism, anarcho-pluralism, leftism, politics, anarchism

The Unique One and the Universal

Over the past two to three years, I've engaged in many conversations featuring the appeal to moral principles asserted to be held in common. Some who've known me for a while may notice that over this period I've begun to distance myself from appealing to these moral principles as a basis for my arguments. This has been a rule I've adhered to largely from both my own investigations of my beliefs as well as the influence of Max Stirner's "The Ego and Its Own" (or, as Shawn Wilbur correctly points out is a better translation of the title, "The Unique One and Its Property").

Stirner taught me that abstractions and concepts ("spooks") often rule us just as completely and arbitrarily as corporeal authorities, and that true freedom requires one to break free of all preconceived notions of propriety, convention, and duty. This philosophy is often called "egoism" and is treated by many as a form of nihilistic realism culminating in an almost Nietzschean "will to power". All constraints on the ego are to be discarded in order for the self to express itself fully through its property, its ideas.

This causes understandable concern in many. The search for perfect and complete freedom is framed in terms that are positively anti-social. If adhering to ethical codes or moral laws or legal statutes or social conventions should displease you, why not throw them all out? After all, what makes them all more valuable than your own happiness? And I find this a hard argument to reject without appealing to other spooks.


Written on Monday, August 16, 2010
Tags: left-libertarian, philosophy, egoism, spirituality, law-of-one

Anarchy and Organization, Continued

Does this sound like a certain left libertarian group you know?

It is true that there existed among us "social study groups", but we know how ephemeral and precarious they were: born out of individual caprice, these groups were destined to disappear with it; those who made them up did not feel united enough, and the first difficulty they encountered caused them to split up. Furthermore, these groups do not seem to have ever had a clear notion of their goal. Now, the goal of an organization is at one and the same time thought and action. In my experience, however, those groups did not act at all: they disputed. And many reproached them for building all those little chapels, those talking shops.

This is Amedee Dunois at the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam. Read the full speech here. We can learn a lot from the example of those who have gone before.

Written on Saturday, August 14, 2010
Tags: anarchism, organizational-behavior, left-libertarianism

Tree hierarchies for your Mongoid::Document objects

I'm a bit late mentioning this, but I released another super-beta gem in the hopes it might help another poor soul: treeoid, the missing "acts_as_tree" library for mongoid. It couldn't be simpler, really: it gives you a "parent" accessor and a "children" collection. On top of that, it provides a scope allowing you to list a set of treeoid objects in hierarchical order, which is perfect for front end integration.

The tests are there but nominal; I'd love to see them fleshed out. I also had some ideas for making it cooler; for example, I keep an array of an object's descendants in the object, allowing me to hierarchically order objects. This opens up some novel means to simplify how I implement the parent and children accessor. Imagine this:

field :ancestry, type => Array # contains ids of all ancestors including self, already exists

# but instead of a parent_id accessor

def parent_id # the parent can be fetched from the ancestry list

This also allows all descendants of a given object to be easily fetched - if the id shows up in the ancestry, return it! It's this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has really endeared MongoDB to me. I hope you can benefit from this and help me improve it. Or help with greedy. I'd love to get said help at CVREG's upcoming Why Day hackfest.

Written on Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tags: mongoid, ruby, rails, development

Thoughts on Revolution
Art, Hypocrisy, and Violence in Perspective

A friend gave the pamphlet The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand to a friend of his, passing along his reactions to me. This essay is an attempt to answer some of his concerns, which I am not publishing here. However, I think it stands reasonably well on its own as a meditation on genuine change and its propensity for resulting in some kind of suffering. The friend began by asking,

With whom, economically and culturally, should or does the contemporary poet or artist identify?

I appreciate the question. My personal opinion is that I see no difference between the answer to this question and the answer to the question, "With whom should anybody identify?" You either see an unjust system as acceptable or not. How honest you are with yourself about the actual decision you're making is the real matter, and I don't think anybody scores perfectly in that area.


Co-working in Richmond, VA

I'm interested in establishing a co-working community in Richmond, Virginia. To that end, I've taken the initiative in setting up a wiki page for anybody who's interested. If there's interest, I'd like to put together a regular "jelly" somewhere centrally located in Richmond to start. That's a nice, informal way for people to see if this is something worth expanding.

Please visit / edit and provide your ideas, suggestions, and contact information.

Written on Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tags: richmond, local, coworking

Power of Numbers

What an astounding video; can you imagine something like this ever happening in our country?

Note also that the bad cop who was striking the victim gets away. Meanwhile, the good cop who was trying to stop the bad cop gets beat down. The lesson here is that it's not enough to be a good cop yourself; the blue wall of silence that protects so-called "bad apples" also endangers "good apples". However high and thick that wall is, there will always more of us than them.

Written on Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tags: video, law-enforcement, police-brutality