The Democratic state is full stack challenge and cannot be reduced to the vote – a functioning democracy requires the democratising capital, knowledge and freedoms (agency) – making functional markets – all topped off the vote. It is why we historically built banks for the poor, schools and libraries prior to the emancipation of the vote.
Posts tagged politics
Postmodernism has shown itself as a tool for art or annoyance in the hands of the Left. In the hands of the Right, these principles are a heavy rock, itching to be hurled at your head. Without any intent to contribute further to the new Red Scare that seems to have started in the US Press, we still need to open our eyes and ask what exactly is going on.
So these four points can be resumed: collectivism against private property, polymorphous worker against specialization, concrete universalism against closed identities, and free association against the state. It’s only a principle, it’s not a programme. But with this principle, we can judge all political programmes, decisions, parties, ideas, from the point of view of these four principles. Take a decision: is this decision in the direction of the four principles or not. The principles are the protocol of judgement concerning all decisions, ideas, propositions. If a decision, a proposition, is in the direction of the four principles, we can say it’s a good one, we can examine if it is possible and so on. If clearly it’s against the principles, it’s a bad decision, bad idea, bad programme. So we have a principle of judgement in the political field and in the construction of the new strategic project. That is in some sense the possibility to have a true vision of what is really in the new direction, the new strategic direction of humanity as such.
Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola. But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
The European parliament is to review a proposal for an associate EU citizenship open to nationals of a country that has left the union but who want to stay part of the European project and retain some of their EU rights. The plan, tabled by a liberal MEP from Luxembourg, could mean British citizens who opt for the new status would be able to continue to travel freely and live on the continent – rights that may no longer be automatic after Brexit. “It’s clear the UK is divided, and many people want to remain part of Europe,” said Charles Goerens, who proposed amendment 882 to a draft report by the parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on possible changes to “the current institutional set-up” of the European Union.
Certainly this crisis makes us ask: what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income? And what would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living – if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day? I’m not proposing a fancy thought experiment here. By now these are practical questions because there aren’t enough jobs. So it’s time we asked even more practical questions. How do you make a living without a job – can you receive income without working for it? Is it possible, to begin with and then, the hard part, is it ethical? If you were raised to believe that work is the index of your value to society – as most of us were – would it feel like cheating to get something for nothing?
Come on, Europe. Take Europeans seriously. Let them speak. Why educate the masses if they are not allowed to talk? Look at Ireland, the most innovative democracy in Europe. Just weeks ago, a random sample of a hundred Irish citizens, drafted by lot, was brought together to form a Citizens’ Assembly. This is a country that trusts its citizens, rather than fearing them. Over the next year, they will discuss five topics, including abortion, referendums, and climate change. They will invite all the experts they want to hear. This Assembly is the second of its kind. In 2013 and 2014, a similar procedure asked Irish citizens to make policy recommendations about a range of topics including marriage equality. Their proposal for constitutional reform was later voted on in a national referendum. It was the first time in modern history that a constitution was altered after deliberation with a random sample of citizens. Now, these are ways of doing democracy in the 21st century. In South Australia earlier this year, 350 citizens were drafted by lot to decide whether the state should store nuclear waste from around the world in its desert. The topic was too technical for a referendum and too touchy for party politics. By pulling in random citizens, a much more informed policy proposal was made. (The panel decided against.) What if you were to call for a similar Citizens’ Assembly in the European Union? Every European member state could bring together a random sample of a hundred citizens. They would then meet on four occasions, over a period of several months, in order to answer one big question: How do we make the EU more democratic by 2020? From Portugal to Estonia, participants would get the same amount of time and materials. Every country would formulate ten recommendations. Then a selection of delegates from each national convention, again drafted by lot, would come together in Brussels to finalize a list of 25 shared priorities for future EU policy.
A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called “dissent” This secter has not appeared out of thin air. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting. It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures.
Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies. This is what Orwell meant when he wrote that the goal of totalitarianism is to destroy our “common basis of agreement,” and it seems urgent enough just now that hundreds of Facebook employees have formed a renegade group within the company to try to stop the fake-news crisis. (It isn’t only Facebook’s crisis, of course — for a while this week, Google’s top news link for “election results” pointed to a bogus site that showed Trump winning the popular vote — but Google is a search engine; Facebook is where millions of people live.) Zuckerberg should put on his best listening hoodie and hear them. Instead, they’re guerrillas in Teslas, acting in secret and fearful for their jobs. 2017 is going to be magnificent.
The Disinformation Review collects examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation all around Europe and beyond. Every week, it exposes the breadth of this campaign, showing the countries and languages targeted. We’re always looking for new partners to cooperate with us for that. The Disinformation Review is a collection of disinformation examples sent to the EEAS East StratCom Task Force from a network of over 400 journalists, civil society organisations, academics and public authorities in over 30 countries. The East Stratcom Task Force provides an analysis of the trends emerging from the reports received. Opinions and judgements expressed here do not represent official EU positions.
In the West, unions (for manual labourers) and professional associations (for groups such as doctors and lawyers) played a critical role in setting national standards. They gave people an identity that depended, in part, on both mastery and morality, a group of peers to compete against, and to be held to account by. But, as Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations (1776), every profession ‘ends in a conspiracy against the public’ and the Chinese Communist Party tolerates no conspiracies except its own. Especially since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, any group that might represent a cross-national basis of resistance to the Party has been cut down. Unionisation, outside of the toothless and corrupt All-China Trade Union Federation, is a threat to the Party, which no more wants hod-carriers or rail workers across the nation to come together than it does Christians, democrats or feminists. In the end, what perpetuates China’s carelessness most might be sheer ubiquity. Craft inspires. A writer can be stirred to the page by hearing a song or watching a car being repaired, a carpenter revved up by a poem or a motorbike. But the opposite also holds true; when you’re surrounded by the cheaply done, the half-assed and the ugly, when failure is unpunished and dedication unrewarded all around, it’s hard not to think that close enough is good enough. Chabuduo.
“We should be cautious about putting too much faith or fear into elected officials […] At the end of the day, this is just a president. [….] If we want to have a better world we can’t hope for an Obama, and we should not fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.”
We now know that the polls were wrong. Over the last few months, I’ve told numerous reporters and people in the media industry this, but I was generally ignored and dismissed. I wasn’t alone — two computer scientists whom I deeply respect — Jenn Wortman Vaughan and Hanna Wallach — were trying to get an op-ed on prediction and uncertainty into major newspapers, but were repeatedly told that the data was solid. It was not. And it will be increasingly problematic.
German weekly Die Zeit did two scenario stories this year, in which they tried to paint pictures of — at that point — unlikely futures. The first one was Brexit; the other one was Trump. For both, reporters tried to talk to politicians, bureaucrats, policy experts, etc. in Germany and the European Union. Most wouldn’t speak to them, and a few only did off the record. They would say that they weren’t allowed to plan for these futures. That not only had no strategy but mostly not even possible scenarios. Our governments went rather unprepared into maybe the two biggest politically relevant events of this year.
So how should society be compensated? Taxation is the wrong answer. Corporations pay taxes in exchange for services the state provides them, not for capital injections that must yield dividends. There is thus a strong case that the commons have a right to a share of the capital stock, and associated dividends, reflecting society’s investment in corporations’ capital. And, because it is impossible to calculate the size of state and social capital crystalized in any firm, we can decide how much of its capital stock the public should own only by means of a political mechanism. A simple policy would be to enact legislation requiring that a percentage of capital stock (shares) from every initial public offering (IPO) be channeled into a Commons Capital Depository, with the associated dividends funding a universal basic dividend (UBD). This UBD should, and can be, entirely independent of welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and so forth, thus ameliorating the concern that it would replace the welfare state, which embodies the concept of reciprocity between waged workers and the unemployed. Fear of machines that can liberate us from drudgery is a symptom of a timid and divided society. The Luddites are among the most misunderstood historical actors. Their vandalism of machinery was a protest not against automation, but against social arrangements that deprived them of life prospects in the face of technological innovation. Our societies must embrace the rise of the machines, but ensure that they contribute to shared prosperity by granting every citizen property rights over them, yielding a UBD.
Last year I spent a lot of time covering the Greek crisis for Newsnight. Much of what I learned then feels relevant to Brexit. So, here are a few of those lessons.
While degrowth does not have a succinct analysis of how to respond to today’s shifting socio-technical regimes—accelerationism’s strong point – at the same time accelerationism under-theorizes the increased material and energetic flows resulting from this shifting of gears. Put another way, efficiency alone can limit its disastrous effects. As degrowth theorists have underlined, environmental limits must be politicized; control over technology must therefore be democratized; metabolic rates must be decelerated if Earth is to remain livable. To conclude, accelerationism comes across as a metaphor stretched far too thin. A napkin sketch after an exciting dinner-party, the finer details colored in years afterwards—but the napkin feels a bit worn out. Big questions need to be asked, questions unanswered by the simplistic exhortation to “shift the gears of capitalism.” When the gears are shifted, the problem of metabolic limits won’t be solved simply through “efficiency”—it must acknowledge that increased efficiency and automation has, and likely would still, lead to increased extractivism and the ramping up of environmental injustices globally. Or another: what does accelerationism mean in the context of a war machine that has historically thrived on speed, logistics, and the conquest of distance? Is non-violent acceleration possible, and what would class struggle look like in that scenario? To be fair, the word “degrowth” also fails to answer many big questions. There has been little discussion on whether mass deceleration is possible when, as Virilio shows, all mass changes in social relations have historically occurred through acceleration. Can hegemony decelerate? If degrowth lacks a robust theory of how to bring about regime shift, then Williams and Snricek’s brand of accelerationism doesn’t allow for a pluralist vocabulary that looks beyond its narrow idea of what constitutes system change. And yet, the proponents of each ideology will likely be found in the same room in the decades to come. Despite their opposite ‘branding’, they should probably talk. They have a lot to learn from each other.
In western liberal democracies (where Tor is overwhelmingly based, and by raw numbers, largely serves) human-rights advocacy has better optics than privacy. But the opposite is true in the regions that Tor aims to serve. Privacy empowers the individual. Empowering the individual naturally dovetails with human rights, so its plausible that greater human rights is a natural byproduct of privacy advocacy. However, Tor’s pivot from “Privacy Enthusiasts” to “Human Rights Watch for Nerds” substantially increases the risk of imprisonment to those operating a Tor relay or using the Tor Browser Bundle from less HR-friendly regions.
When we started to think of a possible topic for this year’s Information Design course at IUAV, Venice (after exploring the world’s technology and networks in two consecutive editions of an illustrated Atlas of the Contemporary) we realised that in trying to understand how — and if — this crisis would have unfolded, there was a great potential for design to help illuminate this conjuncture. Given the increasing importance of economical data and the financial landscape over our lives, the lab was then established as an ongoing, real-time workshop in data-visualisation, which would track and explain the crisis that the analysts predicted for 2016. Its purpose was to better understand the broader network of causes and implications which every financial turmoil exists within, providing context to economic reports, and looking at the socio-political framework of news stories. From a design perspective, the intention was to develop new ways for visualizing financial news, in order to move from the rather bi-dimensional and dispassionate language of bar and pie charts, into a richer territory made up of maps, cartograms, illustrations and diagrams.
The [Ethereum] hard fork has provided an example of social consensus overriding machine consensus. This effectively places machine consensus, and therefore immutability (in it’s technical sense) as subordinate to social consensus. Whilst this has been cited by some as an about-turn from all that blockchain stands for, I see it as the opposite, an evolution beyond fundamental ideals toward a more pragmatic understanding of reality in which we recognise and leverage all the value blockchain architecture can offer, but retain (as do all blockchain communities) a measure of power over the underlying ‘hard rules’.
Politically the fantastic would give voice to the oppressed, the excluded, the marginal – to all those who were deemed outside the sublime world of economic security, the illusory world of the powerful, the rich, the visible. The poor and outcast of society had become invisible and it was the power of the fantasist to make visible what was now invisible in the social body, what had been rejected and left to fend for itself in the darkness of societies morbid, and obscene slums and decaying systems of crime and punishment. One can see this in many of the stories of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Kafka, Lovecraft, Machen, and on through those such as Borges, Bioyes, and later authors too numerous to name here. Against the realism of society one will discover in the fantastic terms such as the impossible, the unreal, the nameless, formless, shapeless, unknown, invisible. As H.P. Lovecraft famously noted, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.”
Simon Farid is a visual artist interested in the relationship between administrative identity and the body it purports to codify and represent. In practice, this means that the artist is ‘squatting’ identities that have been constructed by other people for surveillance, marketing or institutional purposes and then discarded. Farid notoriously ‘inhabited’ the identity of an undercover police officer and the one of a politician who moonlighted as a web marketing guru. The first identity was the one discarded by Mark Kennedy, an undercover Metropolitan Police officer who spent almost 8 years pretending to be an environmental activist called Mark Stone. To settle into the life of what the UK calls a “domestic extremist,” Stone traveled under a fake passport and used a driving licence and bank cards bearing his borrowed name. But once Kennedy’s cover was blown however, Stone was nothing but an empty shell. That’s when Farid steps in. The artist reactivated Stone’s email address, started collecting library and store cards, opened a bank account and amassed a number of other identity articles under the name of Mark Stone. By doing so, Farid effectively ‘occupied’ the identity that the police officer had abandoned.
One of the governance problems of blockchains, related to the fundamental error of decentralization theater, is the failure to build deliberative institutions on top of the “parliament of miners.” Voting by proof of work is great, especially if the majority is well above 51%, and can demonstrate its strength without an actual hashing race. It’s a good way to finalize decisions. But not a good way to make them. But blockchain governance would be considerably improved if the miners actually had a formal way to delegate their power to a structured institution that represented them. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum have foundations and/or core teams, but authority in these institutions isn’t tied in any way to actual mining power. Informal politics fills this void with personality cults and eloquent blogposts, all hoping to create collective agreement among the actual voting miners. History shows this is not a great way to run a railroad. Misalignment between a fundamental power, like the miners, and a group purporting to represent them, like the foundations, is inherently dangerous.
These are difficult days for democracy. European nations struggle to elect governments on low turnouts. Populists wielding half-truths go from strength to strength. Facts are a devalued currency, personalities never more important. People use ballot boxes to bloody the noses of the political elite. Young people are particularly jaded. Late adopters such as Russia and Turkey are turning their backs. In its original sense, rule by the people, democracy seems to be in retreat. Perhaps because of this, or in spite of it, experiments in new manifestations of democracy are proliferating. And some may offer a more tangible experience for ordinary people than the remote, mundane exercise of voting for a stranger once every four or five years.
Last week, the Australian arts community reacted in horror as news was released of the defunding of around 65 arts companies and organisations. In what is already known as “Black Friday”, the Australia Council released its latest figures for multi-year funding, revealing the bleak result of years of cuts and bungled policy. So far discussion has focused on the crisis facing small-to-medium companies and organisations. But this has obscured where the real damage is happening. The number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects has decreased by a staggering 70% since the 2013/14 financial year. According to the Australia Council’s 2013/14 annual report, that year it funded 1,340 individual artists and 2,489 total projects. In contrast, the total for the two funding rounds for 2015/16 was 405 individual artists and 694 projects. This represents a fall of 70% for individual artists, and 72% for overall projects. The number of small-to-medium organisations receiving multi-year funding over the same period fell from 178 to 128, around 28%. The 70% reduction particularly hits artists such as writers and visual artists, who mostly work alone. This intensifies the impact that literature has taken in the cuts. As Writers Victoria said: “It’s impossible to know what Australia’s literary landscape may look like in six or 12 months’ time.” This damage doesn’t even have the bad excuse of “savings”. It is a direct result of the former arts minister George Brandis’s requisition of $105m over four years from the Australia Council budget to finance his unaccountable and secretive National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).
this is about social sadism – deliberate, invested, public or at least semi-public cruelty. The potentiality for sadism is one of countless capacities emergent from our reflexive, symbolising selves. Trying to derive any social phenomenon from any supposed ‘fact’ of ‘human nature’ is useless, except to diagnose the politics of the deriver. Of course it’s vulgar Hobbesianism, the supposed ineluctability of human cruelty, that cuts with the grain of ruling ideology. The right often, if incoherently, acts as if this (untrue) truth-claim of our fundamental nastiness justifies an ethics of power. The position that Might Makes Right is elided from an Is, which it isn’t, to an Ought, which it oughtn’t be, even were the Is an is. If strength and ‘success’ are coterminous with good, what can their lack be but bad – deserving of punishment?
Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world.
In spite of the political, economic, and ecological crisis of the last few years, the new social forms and categories that have emerged have failed to constitute themselves politically, and it’s hard to fathom what form change could take. In the absence of a collective horizon, the new (second) Industrial Revolution might not lead to the future but to the past, to a Victorian phantasmagoria of sorts, supplemented by consumer gadgetry and semiotic fetishism. A place akin to the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a sentient environment able to materialize all your dreams—but with a twist.
The contemporary version of happiness is not something that has simply emerged as a product of popular opinion - it isn‘t that society is just giving us what we want. Instead a particular version of happiness has been promoted very consciously for a very long time.
It was not the individual events that made 2014 so topsy-turvy: after all, what could top the 1991 Soviet collapse for sheer disruption of the status quo? The year instead was remarkable for the number of big, consequential and utterly unforeseen events—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the rise of ISIL, the diplomatic breakthrough between the US and Cuba, the emergence of US shale oil and the collapse of oil prices, not to mention a clutch of other economic, business and market events. All in all, it has been evident for months that 2014 was a staggering maelstrom of surprises.
“Knipoog in het Frietmuseum van Brussel dat dit weekend deze gesigneerde foto ontvangt. Clin d'œil au Musée de la frite à Bruxelles qui recevra cette photo dédicacée ce week-end.”
The art field is a space of wild contradiction and phenomenal exploitation. It is a place of power mongering, speculation, financial engineering, and massive and crooked manipulation. But it is also a site of commonality, movement, energy, and desire. In its best iterations it is a terrific cosmopolitan arena populated by mobile shock workers, itinerant salesmen of self, tech whiz kids, budget tricksters, supersonic translators, PhD interns, and other digital vagrants and day laborers. It’s hard-wired, thin-skinned, plastic-fantastic. A potential commonplace where competition is ruthless and solidarity remains the only foreign expression. Peopled with charming scumbags, bully-kings, almost-beauty-queens. It’s HDMI, CMYK, LGBT. Pretentious, flirtatious, mesmerizing. This mess is kept afloat by the sheer dynamism of loads and loads of hardworking women. A hive of affective labor under close scrutiny and controlled by capital, woven tightly into its multiple contradictions.
Twenty-Eight Equally Sized European Union Member States
Well, we can talk about the decline of the union movement, but it runs deeper. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the great divisions between anarcho-syndicalist unions, and socialist unions, was that the latter were always asking for higher wages, and the anarchists were asking for less hours. That’s why the anarchists were so entangled in struggles for the eight-hour day. It’s as if the socialists were essentially buying into the notion that work is a virtue, and consumerism is good, but it should all be managed democratically, while the anarchists were saying, no, the whole deal—that we work more and more for more and more stuff—is rotten from the get-go.
If there is a single word to describe Google, it is „absolute.” The Britannica defines absolutism as a system in which „the ruling power is not subject to regularized challenge or check by any other agency.” In ordinary affairs, absolutism is a moral attitude in which values and principles are regarded as unchallengeable and universal. There is no relativism, context-dependence, or openness to change.
If ZunZuneo looks ridiculous in retrospect, it’s because 2011 is a different country. We now know U.S. security apparatus may threaten the “open Internet” as much as an oppressive government, if not more. Clinton’s speeches as secretary of state dwell on freedom of expression but not freedom from surveillance, and now—following the NSA revelations—we have a good idea why. Beyond all this, as sociologist Zeynep Tufecki writes, it’s likely that the failure of ZunZuneo will threaten online activism abroad, even if it’s not associated with the U.S. government.
The belief that agency can be distributed is hard to internalize even after you’ve been intellectually convinced. I nodded along as I read Mike’s posts last year, but I keep catching myself acting in violation of these beliefs. As an example but without intending to get bogged down in politics, it’s easy to read about congressional corruption and gain a sense that all congressmen are bad people. Then you might read a story about a specific congressman and think, “hmm, he wasn’t so bad.” Ok, so maybe he’s an exception. Or today’s congressmen are more corrupt. But there’s a third possible synthesis that the mind shies away from: perhaps the system made them that way. Perhaps sequences of simple actions that are each beyond reproach can cause the group as a whole to grow hostile toward the people who form it or who caused it to be formed.
For the machine’s creators, this process—sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star—will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars’ worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the ITER organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the ITER Unit of Account.
If there was ever a need for political representation or a paternalistic and opaque authority it has been removed by technology. Every political system we have tried has proven incapable of protecting human rights and dignity. Every political system we have tried has devolved into oligarchy. To effect the change we require immediately, to give individuals control and responsibility, to bring regional systems under regional governance, allow global collaboration and protect the heritage of future generations, we need a new political model.
The data does tell us that climate change is happening. It does tell us that this change is linked to human behavior. It does tell us something about how certain levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases will impact our lives. And it does give us guidelines about how much we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and by when, in order to avoid negative consequences. What climate science doesn’t do is tell us how to value the different policies to reduce emissions, or how to deal with unintended consequences of those policies so we get the most benefits for the least harm.
The time has come: the new IPCC report is here! After several years of work by over 800 scientists from around the world, and after days of extensive discussion at the IPCC plenary meeting in Stockholm, the Summary for Policymakers was formally adopted at 5 o’clock this morning. Congratulations to all the colleagues who were there and worked night shifts. The full text of the report will be available online beginning of next week. Realclimate summarizes the key findings and shows the most interesting graphs.
In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531 000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7 million jobs. Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.2 According to its own figures, the mining industry is worth $121 billion a year to the Australian economy, only around 25 per cent more than the cultural industries. Mining employs significantly fewer people than the cultural sector: 187 400 directly, and a further 599 680 in support industries.3 The industry receives government assistance – to the tune of $700 million in the last financial year.4 In 2011–12, Australian industry as a whole – including agriculture, food manufacturing and service industries – was given an estimated $17.3 billion in combined assistance (a mixture of direct subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs and regulatory assistance).5 This doesn’t count a further $9.4 billion invested in research and development by the Australian government in the same financial year.6 In contrast, it’s probably safe to say that, when discussing arts funding, we’re talking about around $500 million annually, out of a total tax revenue in 2011–12 of $390 billion7 – that is, about 0.1 per cent of total government expenditure. (Assistance to industry, including research and development, is around 7 per cent.) The Australia Council, the major arts funding body, has a budget this year of $220 million.
In asking all states to confine themselves to only surveil as a law enforcement tactic, and to in effect do no international intelligence work (for intelligence can clearly not operate within these bound), the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance ask for nothing less than the end of the Westphalian compromise and the creation of a new fundamental theory of geopolitical power and the monopoly on violence.
We’ve treated ’scale’ like an unalloyed good for so long that it seems peculiar to question it. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to scale businesses and services up to make more things for more people in more areas; perhaps the strongest is that things usually get cheaper and quicker to provide. The problem is that scale has a cost, and that’s being unable to respond to the wants and needs of unique individuals. Theoretically, that’s not a problem in a free market, but of course, we don’t have a free market, and we certainly don’t have a free market when it comes to politics and media.
How could anyone be against transparency? Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious. But I have increasingly come to worry that there is an error at the core of this unquestioned goodness. We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse. And I fear that the inevitable success of this movement–if pursued alone, without any sensitivity to the full complexity of the idea of perfect openness–will inspire not reform, but disgust. The “naked transparency movement,” as I will call it here, is not going to inspire change. It will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.
The conventional view of Machiavelli is as an unscrupulous amoralist, for whom, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues, the only ends of social and political life ‘are the attainment and holding down of power’. Moral rules are merely ‘technical rules about the means to these ends’. Because Machiavelli viewed all humans as inherently corrupt, so ‘we may break a promise or violate an agreement at any time if it is in our own interests to do so, for the presumption is that, since all men are wicked, those with whom you have contracted may at any time break their promises if it is in their interest.’
What’s really going on is that software-enabled human locust swarms are eating everything they can access. Which generally means small business front-end layers wrapped around larger platforms. The locust swarms cannot actually take on true Big Industry unaided, for the most part. When Big Industry owns its own last mile (think McDonald’s) it is rarely stupid enough to offer up lunch for locusts.
The term was indeed a direct analogy with ‘post-industrial’. A post-industrial society is not a non-industrial one. It continues to make and to use the products of industry, but the energy and innovative drive of the system have gone elsewhere. The same applies in a more complex way to post-modern, which is not the same as anti-modern or of course pre-modern. It implies a culture that uses the achievements of modernism but departs from them in its search for new possibilities. A post-democratic society therefore is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. I did not say that we were now living in a post-democratic society, but that we were moving towards such a condition.
Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the “peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off” mechanism that prevents revolutions.
All disruptive technologies upset traditional power balances, and the Internet is no exception. The standard story is that it empowers the powerless, but that’s only half the story. The Internet empowers everyone. Powerful institutions might be slow to make use of that new power, but since they are powerful, they can use it more effectively. Governments and corporations have woken up to the fact that not only can they use the Internet, they can control it for their interests. Unless we start deliberately debating the future we want to live in, and information technology in enabling that world, we will end up with an Internet that benefits existing power structures and not society in general.
In late 2009, the Ministry organized a 1,000-member strong national gathering - a drill in collaborative “Where do we go from here?” brainstorming involving randomly selected citizens and a few handpicked prominent thinkers (Magnusson and Jónsdóttir were there). Groups of participants bounced ideas off each other, ultimately formulating a list of shared values. The summit organizers, through Magnusson and his tech-nerd compatriots, took those suggestions and came up with an aggregation of cherished mores in short order. Not long after the discussions finished - thanks to social media crowdsourcing - Iceland had a decent estimate of its moral compass.
Usually when I speculate about the future, I stick to two areas; either the really near future (within the next couple of decades), or the really far future (so far out that signs of continental drift should be glaringly obvious). But what about the medium term?
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Earlier in 2007 the Soil Association organized an amazing conference, “One Planet Agriculture: Preparing for a Post Peak-Oil Food and Farming Future.” Many talks from this conference are recorded and transcribed here, and I daresay if these are issues with which you are unfamiliar (or issues on which you are worse than unfamiliar because you have settled for mainstream mediated vacuities), devoting a lazy holiday afternoon to these marvelous talks might be a positively life-changing experience for you.
HavenCo’s failure—and make no mistake about it, HavenCo did fail—shows how hard it is to get out from under government’s thumb. HavenCo built it, but no one came. For a host of reasons, ranging from its physical vulnerability to the fact that The Man doesn’t care where you store your data if he can get his hands on you, Sealand was never able to offer the kind of immunity from law that digital rebels sought. And, paradoxically, by seeking to avoid government, HavenCo made itself exquisitely vulnerable to one government in particular: Sealand’s. It found that out the hard way in 2003 when Sealand “nationalized” the company.
For the last two years, I’ve researched the history of Sealand and HavenCo. I used the Wayback Machine to reconstruct long-since-vanished webpages. I dug through microfilm of newspapers back to the 1960s. I pored over thousands of pages of documents, only recently unsealed, from the United Kingdom’s National Archives.