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Debating Internet Collectivism: Cathy Fitzpatrick

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th February 2009


In the next few days, I want to counterpose some approaches to the tension between individualism and collectivity, in the new types of relationality that I monitoring in our specialized wiki section as well as a special Delicious tag dedicated to P2P-Intersubjectity.

Today, we present what I would guess is a more neoliberal or neoconservative approach, that appeared as a reaction to an essay in Open Democracy. The author is a known critic of Wikipedia governance, and in general, of those features of the new online public sphere, which enhance lowest-common-denominator groupthink, but also the rule of an elite mob of geeks, that emerge out of the ‘tyranny of structurelessness. I think there is a lot of value in such a critique, even though I find the approach to be too reactive and one-sided, too much a defense of liberal individualism, unchecked by the balancing factor of community.

After this contribution, we will publish a left version of the arguments, by Jeremy Gilbert.

Cathy Fizpatrick:

“I’m very glad you’ve taken this project on. I realize you will be getting to some of the “tyranny” problems in coming installments, but I thought it was important to react now.

I was very apprehensive reading along, because I wasn’t sure where you were going to come out — still protecting our liberties, or ceding them to some hive mind feel-good in the end. Still hopeful.

You’ve flipped the two issues I myself have identified. You’ve flagged hyper-individualism as the problem, and “exercising our collective freedom” as the way out.

I’d put it just the opposite. (http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2009/02/the-coming-collectivization.html)

What we have now already forming is a tyranny, or tyrannies of the group or groups. Masses of groups that make up what James Harkin has called in the Age today “the chain gang” of IMs, friends online, chat rooms, etc. with which we are constantly engaging all day and which shape us (http://www.theage.com.au/news/technology/web/synapses-sex-and-second-life/2009/02/06/1234027907804.html).

I’m well aware of the problem of the inflation especially of the anonymous individual, but I’m more troubled now by the deliberate dimunition of the individual which you can see in the writings of Beth Noveck (http://www.democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6570), who wants expertise no longer to be accepted from individuals, or experts appointed by elected governments, but only from collaborative groups online, and who constantly elevates the collective group above the individual, believing that online communication automatically involves constructiing a collectivized identity shaped utterly by reputational pluses and minuses awarded by groups, and Clay Shirky, who actually believes that when we log-on, we leave behind our individuality, and also take on this collectivized persona, brutally subject to reputational systems and “sharing”. This is awful stuff, Tony.

When Zittrain bemoans the over-regulation of the Internet as some threat to creative freedoms, what he fails to include is some reflection on the reasons that might lead us to urge government regulation of IT — merely to get our civil liberties of free speech, privacy, and freedom of assembly *back*!

Why? Because they will have been wrested away from us by various Internet/social media/virtual world company or service provider Terms of Service that take them away. The average TOS is about as free as the constitution of North Korea, with concepts that date at best from the Middle Ages making access to services and the properties generated in them soley at the provider’s discretion — and with only a “forced migration” policy in place to “go somewhere else” if you don’t like that particular service. Cloud computing whisks away all our data out of our hands and our earthly communities and puts them into the hands of coders — coders who everywhere are making decisions about the 2-D and 3-D Internet by themselves, without lay persons, in the belief that these are “mere technical matters”.

What companies have from account holders isn’t just personal information like a bank account, of course, they have intentional searches, conversations, sometimes of a highly personal nature, transactions, health care data, etc. It’s not just that a prospective employer or online community manager where you spend much of your waking hours might see your questionable Facebook party photos or posts or gain access to your intentional Google searches, it’s that he might, on the basis of all that data, begin pushing connections, information, links to you as well, utterly shaping your perception in a corporate hold. The average social media already does that to you automatically. Indeed, in the wacky, extremist belief system known as Connectivism (see George Siemens), people are encouraged to construct their own personalized trusted “knowledge networks” of media sources they are willing to read, blocking all others. This is why I was so concerned last year about the ability to “block track” on Twitter, i.e. the request of power users like the News Gang aggregating the news off Twitter to block any feedback or backchat sent to their attention through filters.

Where is the wealth of networks, which first strip away all our data and many of our rights, going to come from, Tony? Lessig is offering the stone soup of copyleftism and opensource mania that browbeats everyone into giving up the rights to sell their intellectual property by offering it for free — merely for credit on the vast unpaid Creative Commons. The model for making money from Kevin Kelly’s “generatives” out of opensource software and digital content (which is increasingly THE content that people consume!) is merely to add a layer of technical obfuscation so as to necessitate the charging of a consulting or customization fee. “Your information wants to be free; mine is available only for a consulting fee.” It’s about a closed, not an open society in the end, as again, it becomes utterly dependent on coders who set up interfaces, log-ins, databases, processes *for you*.

Like many secular writers before you (Shirky does this), you have to include a bashing of the Catholic Church and the Pope, showing how new technology eroded the Church’s powers. What has collapsed lately in our cities, Tony, local newspapers and book stores or local Catholic churches?

The “aristocracy of nerds” isn’t just some quaint artifact that diminished as more and more ordinary people became conversant in using the Internet. The aristrocracy grows and persists and demands and takes more power. Have you ever looked at the “Tao” of the IETF, the group that runs the Internet standards? They believe that voting is archaic. Why have democracy when you can’t determine who is enfranchised? Better just to literally hum in hive mind (http://www.ietf.org/tao.html#getting.things.done)

You’ve also apparently fallen for the contrived technocommunist shill that all the nerds push constantly in their analysis of the Internet — and I want you to go back over this. Yes, there is a profound non-market — communist might be a better term! — element to these soi-disant “open systems” — and that’s a bad thing. They screamed about closed proprietary code — even though in fact, it is closed proprietary code, in Microsoft, in businesses like amazon.com and ebay.com that made the commerce engine of the Internet work; the Internet is not merely a set of technical protocols, it is human connections in commerce as well. AOL is derided as the service overtaken by events when the Internet roared past it – yet which instant messaging system is now used by virtually every teenage Internet user on the planet?

This recurring notion that proprietary worlds are “silos” that must be pried open and forcibly made “interoperable” is utterly unexamined. Yet worlds like World of Warcraft, There and Second Life which still hang on to their proprietary code have shown that the way money is made from both entertainment and business in these applications *is through proprietary code*. There is nothing on earth or heaven that says that just because the Compuserve or Prodigy model for communication was overtaken in the first iteration of the Internet, Web 1.0, that Web 2.0 absolutely has to follow lock-step those “lessons learned” — look at the actuality today of Web 2.0, with its still-niched proprietary 3-D virtual worlds and more massive social media NOT opensourced for the most part (Facebook and Twitter aren’t opensource programs, they merely create some admissibility of widgets by making some elements of the program interoperable).

There are 11 million people on World of Warcraft, which sells subscriptions, and over one hundred million on Facebook, which sells ads and still offers opt-out from Google. There simply weren’t that many people using the Internet at the Web 1.0 juncture that saw the transition out of the Compuserve model — there was a relative handful by constrast. Why, given the millions of people engaged in proprietary systems on a market model that is actually running Web 2.0 and making money for people, are we still harping about the mandatory lockstep need of opensourced platforms a la Web 1.0, Tony? Why? Please do the math here.

We don’t get the goods that we are supposed to get from the opensource=closed society gang because we can’t participate unless we are geeks and know code ourselves. Everywhere, on JIRAs, wikis, forums, etc. the coders rule and make the decisions about *social* software like Twitter or Second Life *without everyone else*. To try to participate (as I have done) anyway is merely to make yourself a recurring target of the most horrendous stalking, harassment and griefing by hordes of anonymous tekkies.

Zittrain strikes me as still unable to come to terms with “who pays for what”? The lion’s share of the opensource movement has come from the seemingly inexhaustible supply of geeks funded out of Mom’s Basement, My Big IT Corporation, My Video Store Clerk Job, My Foundation, and My School. In the recession, these wells are drying up. Who will go on paying? Big corporations like IBM foster opensource development so they later can swoop in and scoop up the results of unpaid labour — and then offer services and consulting on top of it. It’s a very narrow pyramid, who actually gets paid from promoting opensource (Zittrain is one of the elite who gets paid through books, lectures, etc. — most cannot make a living from it.)

You really should revisit Wikipedia as well — there aren’t even any 5,000. A tiny handful of coders decide everything, mainly the rules of contribution and clearance. It’s wrong. (http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/12/the-evils-of-wikipedia-and-the-hope-of-second-life.html)

If Popper thought that (I’d love to find that quote, too), then, he’d be disappointed once he came into a place like Second Life and had the opportunity to interact simultaneously with thousands of minds, minds poisoned often by the Internet and its glib and erroneous “facts,” minds shaped by memes disseminated as fast as the speed of light not even by “thought leaders” (bad enough!) but accidental YouTube pile-ups — and so on.

What I have found with the use/misuse of blogs, Twitter, etc. by regimes such as in Kazakhstan is that “transparency” and the promotion of free expression of complaints merely becomes a bureaucratic tool to exact more strict performance of underlings in the bureaucracy. It’s like the perfect tool to *this time* make communistic bureaucracies work. Hordes of blog commenters are unleashed on hapless provincial officials from the Center in a giant Stakhanovite speed-up. The cook rules the state by constantly Tweeting to the Prime Minister how rotten the potatoes are at Store No. 42 so that the manager is condemned or fired.

Basically, I’m profoundly troubled and in near despair over what I see as the coming new cyber-collectivization, that’s going to be made palatable in true propagandistic fashion by proclaiming that it is “more democratic” — People’s Democracy! — and more transparent — glasnost! I think the only solution comes in protecting the individual, even if it means suffering through some of his hypertrophied online manifestations and anonymous antics. It means curbing the group online under the rule of law — not the rule-by-laws of the TOS, but real-life Constitutional law grounded in real flesh-and-blood democracies where people can vote — not the humming of engineers.”

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21 Responses to “Debating Internet Collectivism: Cathy Fitzpatrick”

  1. Dr. Strangelove Says:

    The discussion about the political impact of the Internet tends to reflect broader cultural values circling around poles of collectivism and individualism. This is particularly evident among Americans, where there is an intense fear of collective rights and responsibilities among a large segment of the population.

    Fizpatrick’s rant brings together a number of overstatements. She overlooks that individuals acting as non-market agents (amateurs) are producing the vast majority of online cultural content today. This is neither open source nor proprietary — it is unconstrained expression. There are areas of human activity where nobody has to pay for anything.

    It is telling that Cathy Fizpatrick’s rant uses terms derived from the cold war and communism to tar the open source movement, even as she bewails the ‘propaganda’ of collectivism (put a ‘ism’ at the end of anything you fear…).

    Not all cultures elevate the individual over the group (indeed, historically and anthropologically, most do not and have not).

    Dr. Strangelove

  2. Evil Rocks Says:

    The great thing about America is that you could go out and get an engineering degree if you really cared and work towards change instead of whining in the echo chamber of the internet.

    That’s actually my primary critique of the entire upper generation: you all went out and got jobs in things that were going to be lucrative and feed your 401k instead of looking for a field that you were passionate about and wanted to influence the development of. That lead to a generation of politicians only interested in the next election, a generation of businessmen only interested in the next quarterly report, and a generation of writers concerned with “power” and those who have it as opposed to how to go about obtaining influence.

    The people who really care about this and who have the intellectual fortitude to involve themselves in making these things happen are doing so. Take a look at open-source software: if you want to get involved in the 2D and 3D platform writing process, get involved in the platform specification process! Standing on the sidelines and slinging mud is what got our culture into this predicament of non-participation in the first place. Open-source projects allow anyone to collaborate: now go forth and participate.

  3. Chriswaterguy Says:

    “the way money is made from both entertainment and business in these applications *is through proprietary code*.”

    I’ve been thinking about this for some time. There are businesses that make money through open source work (Sun and IBM spring to mind) but the big earners rely on proprietary code. The idea that open source is profitable is worth examining.

    But does this change my support for opening the proprietary silos? Not at all. Profit is not the motive for most supporters of open source – social good, community and personal freedom are all more important motivators than profit. If we’re talking about individualism liberties, it’s a great thing that individuals can choose to participate in something, on their own terms – choose to give to the community at the same time as they pursue something that gives them personal satisfaction.

    As for the idea that these silos must be pried open and forcibly made “interoperable” – she is attacking a marginal viewpoint. Most of us who support open source see it as a choice, not something to be forced. (Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, in arguing that proprietary code is wrong, represent a marginal though still very important viewpoint on this – most people just don’t agree with them on this point.)

    I share your feelings about this Michel – her argument about the attack on proprietary silos is shoddy, but there are some important questions raised, such as that about how profit is made.

  4. Chriswaterguy Says:

    They screamed about closed proprietary code

    “Screamed”? OSS advocates that I’ve heard are much less shrill than Cathy Fizpatrick.

    — even though in fact, it is closed proprietary code, in Microsoft, in businesses like amazon.com and ebay.com that made the commerce engine of the Internet work; the Internet is not merely a set of technical protocols, it is human connections in commerce as well.

    In terms of what makes money for a corporation (AOL, Amazon, eBay) proprietary code perhaps works better. I’m not greatly concerned about whether or not a corporation makes money – I’m more concerned about the service provided – and if service can be provided for no cost, while also giving greater freedom, community, and the ability to reuse the community’s work for other purposes, then Open Source wins. Of course, the profits might not be as impressive, because that money is still in the pockets of users rather than being won by the corporation. That’s okay with me.

    But the technical basis of the internet, in terms of LAMP servers, is open source, because it works better (more secure and stable. In terms of what works in providing a service, open source wins on this point.

    AOL is derided as the service overtaken by events when the Internet roared past it – yet which instant messaging system is now used by virtually every teenage Internet user on the planet?

    Um – not AOL, that I’ve noticed in the past 10 years (maybe it’s different in the US, but she said “planet”). And now some of the more popular alternatives are recognizing open protocols, which means a better, more connected IM service, even if open source hasn’t made a dent in the market yet.

    I could keep going like this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m starting to feel that she raises only one good question (maybe a couple more that I missed) among a lot of poor and hysterical arguments.

  5. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    “Neoliberal” is one of those cult terms that Marxists use to avoid having to say “capitalism” with a perjorative tone in their voice. I’m absolutely right to be a critic of Wikpedia and all wiki governance because it’s a vast hoax, much like communism was, pretending that there would be “all power to the soviets” but then having a special minority of workers avant-garde — the Bolsheviks — really take over. I hardly think my critique of the nastiness of online collectivism is somehow “unchecked by the balance of community” because only free individuals freely collaborating can make genuine communities, which I’m all for. In fact, why my critique spawns such hostility is that those invoking “community” usually mean to say “cabal” — it is really only a few coders hiding behind the utopia of groupism that is at work. Its like those group care-takers that Shirky hails in his “The Group is Its Own Worst Enemy” — which prompted me to write a blog “The Group is Our Own Worst Enemy” — and often not even a group, but a power curve with a tiny number at the top.

    The idea that Americans “fear collective rights and responsibilities” is some kind of urban legend on the global hard left circuit. It’s interesting to note even such a mass cultural factor as the differences between the games that Americans chose and the games Asians chose, with the former preferring intensive guild cooperation in World of Warcraft and the latter gravitating to quest games with lone heroes — it’s counterintuitive to the cliches about the culture.

    In fact, Americans have many ways in which they collaborate and cooperate in groups and look to civic participation in all forms in their society, which has been described in this fashion since de Toqueville and which hasn’t corroded even with “Bowling Alone”. Obama couldn’t have been elected if it weren’t for the capacity of lots and lots of people who had political and social clubs online as well as offline to raise money and blog and raise awareness and talk face to face. Ideologies such as those promoted at the UN by the Arab League and the holdover hard left socialists of Latin America mandating “collective responsibility” are merely disguises for state power over the individual and the organization. People undertake responsibility best when they do it voluntarily — and they do so in the U.S. in millions of volunteer and charitable groups. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a social welfare system which, btw, we do have, that is so attractive that countries with “real socialism” see their citizens leave them to come to our shores.

    The terms I use that people think are somehow delegitimized because they are “Cold War” in fact betray Dr. Strangelove’s own belief system that doesn’t see anything right about a Cold War started against a country with mass murderers as their leaders. I’m all for the Cold War, and while it led to all kinds of antagonistic exterminisms in mirror-imaging and misreading the enemy’s intent, the basic impulse to contain Stalin was a sound one. There’s absolutely nothing progressive about the Soviet Union or communism in my book. And I think that describing opensourceniks as descendents of the Bolsheviks in the technocommunist movement today out of Silion Valley I’m accurately reporting an ideology that not only promotes “expropriate from the expropriators” (stealing music, time from companies)and “seizing the telegraph station” (Google, social media), it even has “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”.

    The idea that everyone who wants to criticize or change anything about the Internet has to “go out and get an engineering degree” or a computer science degree ought to be called technofascism, if not techocommunism, as it envisions a corporativist state where only certain technical elites in certain categories get to run the state in a system of privileges. Ugh. I’m all for civilian and government restraint over coders, who are irresponsible, individually and collectively.

    Opensouce is NOT profitable. That’s the big shill. It is given away as a loss leader, stolen and created on time borrowed from big IT or universities, and repackaged as consulting fees. $10,000 Linux manual, anyone? $10 *million* dollar Drupal website anybody? I keep hearing more and more horror stories of the Drupal madness. Opensource is a money sink, not a money maker due to the need to maintain all the programmers to run it. If giant enterprise level systems like IBM or Sun buy it and make it work, it’s because they look at these soi-disant “opensource” projects as merely a cost-free R&D department that they can turn away from if it doesn’t work.

    Er, please tell me the social good that comes from inflicting wonky, non-user-friendly, stupid systems like OpenID or Drupal on to the unsuspecting public. Read my blog for my detailed critiques of these projects. If opensource really brought that good you claim, how could I not endorse it? But it doesn’t. It doesn’t create communities, but cabals of coders who are thin-skinned, hostile whiners when anyone tries to criticize them. Look at any geek forum on OpenID or Drupal to see how *geeks themselves are treated by other geeks* if they so much as peep about anything. “Patch or GTFO” someone will growl. “What are YOU doing to fix it?” Blah blah blah. Tiresome, communalistic clap-trap which is horribly stifling the initiative that in fact does get drawn to OS.

    The idea that silos have to be pried open and forcibly made interoperable isn’t a minority view, I’m afraid, you don’t realize how much it has spread. Search on Twitter for attitudes toward Kindle, i-phone, and Second Life if you need some documentary proof of my claims, you’ll find it easily. Stallmanism *ought* to be marginalized. In fact, many do agree with him in the OS movement, and become beligerent and obstructionist if DRM is questioned (again, see Twitter, my debates with @GeorgeReese).

    If you don’t think OS advocates aren’t shrill, I guess you have never been in the IRC channel, or the Second Life JIRA, or the Twitter Get Satisfaction forums, or any place where people innocently try to question opensource mantras. You’re wrong. They are the most shrill and extreme people on the planet.

    It would be great if the Internet allowed us a choice between opensource and proprietary code, between open spaces and walled gardens. In fact it did, even though the “information wants to be free” gang tried to impose freeness and bust open all the walls in the first iterations. That debate is happening again, and the same sorts, some of them quite gray-haired by now, are still screeching. Fortunately, the people really making and funding web 3.0 aren’t listening to them. We will have choices, and it will not be due to the opensource movement.

    Prokofy Neva/Catherine Fitzpatrick

  6. Michel Bauwens Says:

    Dear Cathy,

    They may be quite a few things wrong with Wikipedia and other OS practices, and you will see a lot of those critiques in these pages, but there is still a ocean of difference between freely aggregating individuals collaborating on Wikipedia, even in dysfunctional ways, and a coercive totalitarian system. So any critique of the OS movement and its values, requires something else than a Cold War attitude.

    It’s seem a strange inversion when you are for state-enforced IP monopolies, which is a form of pure coercion, but brand as coercive those that build open alternatives, that nobody is obliged to use, but that you may freely choose or not.

    Michel

  7. Dr. Strangelove Says:

    I’ll leave aside Neva and Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of volumous literature on America’s cultural condition (coming from those terribly ‘lefty’ sociologists and anthropologists) from over the past century and focus on the point that Bauwens makes immediately above. It is altogether a gross overstatement to suggest that open systems have not facilitated communities and expanded communicative freedoms within the online environment.

    You appear to be conflating the character of discourse within a very narrow segment of the technical community with the social reality of the end-user. Within your argument extremism in the elite-techical community appears to be projected onto the end-user communities.

    There is substantial scholarly evidence of the social good that has been derived from open systems and hybird forms thereof. There are certainly dissenting voices, but they usually rely on a very narrow slice of the Internet to make their point.

    And speaking of making a point, OS systems advocates may indeed be shrill, but have you ever been cornered by a free-market libertarian? It seems to me that both sides of the argument are variously guilty of the crimes you detail.

    Also, ‘only free individuals freely collaborating can make genuine communities’ is, anthropologically speaking, utter nonsense (and highly parochial).

    Your argument suffers from a unwillingness to recognize the relationship between OS, expanded communicative freedom and community.

    Dr. Strangelove

    Also, as to Zittrain, just finishing with his ‘Future of the Internet’ which I used a course text. It is a ridiculously overstated argument that presents simplistic binary senerios and presents a future senerio that is built upon a series of very weak assumptions and a flawed picture of evolving consumer applications. His argument rests upon what consumers fear and what they want, but gives not a shread of evidence to base these claims upon.

  8. Chriswaterguy Says:

    I’m absolutely right to be a critic of Wikpedia and all wiki governance because it’s a vast hoax, much like communism was, pretending that there would be “all power to the soviets” but then having a special minority of workers avant-garde — the Bolsheviks — really take over.

    Serious overstatement.

    Wikipedia is working at the vanguard of collaborative content creation and achieving something in its field far beyond – something I don’t think Catherine Fitzpatrick has addressed. That it faces serious challenges and isn’t handling them perfectly is to be expected – and a reason for constructively working with the community to find the best ways forward.

    Adding to Michel’s comment – a person is able to turn their back on advocates of OSS and open content etc. You can choose not to engage, even with the shrill ones. To compare them with totalitarians is absurd.

    $10 *million* dollar Drupal website anybody? I keep hearing more and more horror stories of the Drupal madness. Opensource is a money sink, not a money maker due to the need to maintain all the programmers to run it.

    I am not a fan of Drupal – it seems to be useful for certain projects, but it’s often a bad choice, if there are alternatives for your purpose – like the brilliant open source package, WordPress.

    If you don’t think OS advocates aren’t shrill, I guess you have never been in the IRC channel, or the Second Life JIRA, or the Twitter Get Satisfaction forums, or any place where people innocently try to question opensource mantras. You’re wrong. They are the most shrill and extreme people on the planet.

    I have been on IRC channels and Twitter’s Get Satisfaction. I’ve met a very small number of annoying people, and overall it’s been very positive. If you go in saying the kinds of things you’ve said here, you’ll get people’s backs up. If you then interpret their responses through the filter you’re using, you will consider them shrill. I personally haven’t met anyone in OSS or open content to compare with your lack of balance.

    The person I know who has the strongest opinion on these subjects is probably Ben Mako Hill (who I’ve met at two Wikimanias). He said something to me about something he was working on, about the importance of using free software when working on projects about free content and the like. I responded that an important part of freedom is the freedom to use the software we need to do our work – including proprietary packages like Skype when necessary.

    Can you imagine the kind of shrill, brutal, oppressive response one of Fitzpatrick’s OSS Stalinists would come back with? Mako’s response was something along the lines of nodding and saying a thoughtful “Okay.” I doubt that my comment converted him, but he seemed to think about it, and was the opposite of shrill.

    I suspect the OSS extremists, as portrayed by Fitzpatrick, are actually a myth.

  9. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    # Michel Bauwens Says:
    Michel,

    You’re not making a truthful and critical analysis of Wikipedia. The fact that hundreds of mediocre entries are edited “openly” or “by anybody” may prevent you from seeing what really goes on, as Wikinistas themselves explain, as you can see in this interview I quoted:

    The examples I give of entries that get tugged back and forth for political reasons are very telling — seemingly innocuous topics can be terribly skewed for arcane reasons. At the top of Wikipedia is a cabal of privileged and unaccountable and unelected editors and their cabal of “checkusers” who ruthlessly control the content against an increasingly arcane and arbitrary code that fits their agenda.

    If this were just one club, it wouldn’t matter, but it’s *the* top return in Search in Google; it’s *the* way in which many schoolchildren are learning “facts”; it’s *the* source bloggers and news media turn to even if they question its accuracy. So a body with that much scope and reach, when it has Politburo-like methods, *is indeed totalitarian*. The failure of some totalitarian institution to “take over completely” doesn’t make it less totalitarian. There isn’t any “ocean of difference” between these so-called “freely aggregated” individuals who have to swim upstream through a huge number of barriers, mastering all kinds of arcane ideological rules, facing ruthless deterrence, and a Communist Party system and New Class. It’s an odd thing to say, anyway; the Bolsheviks were “freely aggregated” and “volunteers” too. Who wouldn’t be, with that kind of access to power! The real test for the system comes when other people are able to freely access it and submit to checks and balances. As I note in my blog, all you would have to do to blow this totalitarianism out of the water at Wikipedia is have reliable public votes on the reliability of the entries, in true social media fashion, which would be an important corrective.
    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/12/the-evils-of-wikipedia-and-the-hope-of-second-life.html

    I have to chuckle at your silly hard leftist sectarian notion of “state-enforced IP monopolies”. Um, to whom do you think intellectual property rights should belong? The, er, collective? All the people who mash and “share”? Or the creator? The law is above the state, and the law recognizes that the copyright of the creation belongs to the creator. The state backs up that right of the individual and that property right. You seem to think that states backing up inherent rule of law is somehow suspect and makes that state some kind of coercive power. That’s silly. The state in a democratic society isn’t the coercive monster you pretend; its backing up of rights and property is at the will of the people, and first and foremost the will of the individual who is happy to have recognition of his rights. I can see, however, that this is a religious not a technical or even political system. You have a religious belief that states are evil and coercive and “the people” are marvels and “the group” is precious and loveable. I don’t. The state in a liberal democratic society is a good thing, and corrected by more liberal democracy from people, not by more autonomy for reckless and unaccountable groups that are uninterested in representative democracy but merely want to hijack power.

    You also have a religious belief, like others here, as Dr. Strangelove, that open source is “building open alternatives”. I don’t share that touching religious belief. I’ve come to see irrevocably that opensource projects=closed societies. They aren’t building any alternatives whatsoever. They are destroying the institutions that in fact create and preserve value for people, sucking the value out of networks and accruing that value only to a few oligarchs — which you supposed socialists should care more about (but you never do). In fact, there isn’t a choice when opensource comes to town and rips and shreds IP and makes up silly, shrill noxious nostrums like “the state is coercive if it backs up IP” and calls IP “a monopoly” when it is merely a recognition of property rights, which are a good thing, and the basis of civil society (as distinct from the anarcy or totalitarianism that we’d get with groups of coders hijacknig power.)

    I fail to see why I need to take seriously “volumes” of cultural criticism that essentially come down to a few French and British socialist intellectuals getting the vapours over what real people do in their real masses (which they should be caring about more) when they make or demand culture. It’s not the high and mighty thing of the upper private-school educated classes where these socialists thrive but it’s authentic enough. Mass culture always scares the bejesus out of the European socialists because it threatens their power, and always has. They are unable to persuade anyone about their doctrines.

    If there are “open systems” on the Internet, it isn’t thanks to “the opensource movement” which has been characterized by little authoritarian tribalist personalities everywhere who stop openness. If open source got used to make large parts of the Internet, it’s thanks to large proprietary capitalist companies that sucked up the free labour of volunteers and tacked the freebies on to their existing proprietary edifices — something again, you copyleftists and socialists should care about more than you do. And the “open system” of the Internet thrives to the extent that large companies like ebay or amazon got it to work *for pay* — something we most certainly DO NOT have opensource or Creative Communism to thank for. In fact, we’re at a juncture now as I’ve noted that Web 3.0 could actually avoid the terrible desert of the first two iterations of the Internet that celebrated the copyleftist “information wants to be free” by making sure that this time, information gets paid for because it takes work to gather and analyze.

    I’m all for open systems if they are real open systems, and not shills, covering up a sordid closedness, like many opensource projects, that tell you to go get a degree in computer engineering, or patch or GTFO, or begin diagnosing your alleged mental illness in the IRC and griefing your land in SL because you refuse to agree with their extremism. No thank you.

    I find it humorous that my statement “only free individuals freely collaborating can make genuine communities” which is patently self-evident and is really what the opensource “community” is supposed to be about engenders screeches of “anthropologically, utter nonsense(and highly parochial”. Nothing of the kind. In fact, it is the sordid little tribes of opensource that are the parochial creatures. There is nothing “anthropolitically nonsense” about freedom, free individuals, and free collaboration — that’s preposterous, and again, statements like that can come only from some deep sectarian well unexposed to other ideas.

    No, I don’t find any relationship between OS and expanded communicative freedom. Where? The largest worldwide free communications system for teenagers is…AOL’s AIM. Skype charges money, even if it is cheaper. The ubiquitous i-Phone is proprietary code, even if it enables hooks for APIS — which also get paid, as does Apple.

    Anyway, I’m done talking to anonymous coders like Dr. Strangelove while I give my RL name as well as my avatar/blogging name, and as a result, get hate mail and threats and harassment. When you’re ready to put your name and affiliation and website, perhaps I can respond further.

  10. Michel Bauwens Says:

    Dear Cathy,

    Dr. Strangelove is a real person, and that’s a real name, he’s not a coder, and not anonymous.

    Thanks for sharing your views, which I would consider ‘shrill’, and lacking in nuance. By the way, seeing IP as a state-enforced monopoly, is a free market view, there’s nothing leftist about it. When copyright is extended 70 years or beyond one creator’s death, whose interests exactly are being protected?

    Michel

  11. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    Michel,

    I’m glad to hear that “Dr. Strangelove” is a real name and not anonymous; one would never know it from the tone.

    My views are mainstream and normal, but in the hothouse of opensource sectarianism, you may have lost touch with that sense.

    Describing copyright as “state-enforced monopoly” contains three terms which are presented in a perjorative light, as if an “oppressive state” is using some kind of “illegitimate force” to maintain some kind of “illegitimate monopoly”. But it’s just the inherent right of the creator which is self-evident and recognized automatically by law, and has been for ages. To imply that every copyright is a “monopoly” is just plain ridiculous. Every copyright is merely a protection of an author’s rights. If some authors obtain monopoly with their creations in the market, I dunno, make your Linux better so it can compete with Miscrosoft?

    Often in these debates, an illegitimate tactic is used, which is to suddenly invoke a specious edge case of some “70-year copyright held long after the author’s death” — as if this is somehow the “norm” that all kinds of ancient white dudes have a hammerlock on content. Of course they don’t; many books are put online from these self-same ancient dead white dudes who in fact have no hammerlock on copyright whatsoever. Please cite an example of some “70-year-old copyright” from which you are suffering terribly and all your creativity as a writer or inventor is horribly cramped.

    The invocation of a fake “70 year” “hegemony” not at all backed up by fact then totally obscures the real issue — that many very young and very new and very alive and not even very white folks are in fact claiming copyright with their digital creations on the Internet, and they have every right to those creations, and those few cases of some 70-year-old copyright aren’t at all relevant and isn’t at all in their way — there’s only one thing hobbling them, which is the incitement of hatred and destruction of copyright implied by the fictitious “70-year-case”.

    In fact, I’d ask then “whose interests are being served” (such a Soviet question!) by using fake old cases to undermine the entire system of copyright itself (which is what Lessig always does). A 70-year-old case in the way of progress doesn’t undermine the entire system of copyright whatsoever; what *does* undermine it is the invocation of that case to try to tackle the entire problem of private property. If you believe in communism, just say so and don’t wrap it up in packaging about supposed hobbling old copyrights repressive freedom — that’s fake.

    And once again, I conclude that opensource=closed society because it undermines private property in the name of “openness,” and thereby undermines rights and the individual’s possessions, which re in fact the basis for a true open society, not oppressive by a collective.

  12. Chriswaterguy Says:

    Cathy,

    I don’t think you’ve answered a single point of mine. Note that my real identity is easy to find, if that’s relevant.

    your silly hard leftist sectarian notion of “state-enforced IP monopolies”.

    Do you try to be offensive, or does it come naturally? Many people other than “leftists” think that “death of the author plus 70 years” or whatever is ridiculous.

  13. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    This site is clearly a haven for OS advocates and as such will be a forum where they constantly defend their views and reject all criticism of their culture.

    Wikipedia isn’t achieving anything “far beyond” but the dumbing down of culture and the purveying of mediocre and unexamined content to millions of people. I’m surely not alone in this critique and you can read Nicholas Carr on the subject or Andrew Keen. This is hardly a “debate” on Internet collectivism if you can’t accept that there is a growing school of thought that seriously challenges Wikitarianism and wiki-culture — a culture that is brutally dismissive of dissent and is more arcane and occult than the Magisterium in its numerous little rules and procedures for clearing content.

    People should not be frog-marched into “constructive work” all the time — that’s another artifact of wiki-culture which is deadly to science and to art. Genuine feedback, even negative, and criticism, even if it is not “constructive” should be tolerated in any open system. Otherwise, it’s not an open system. If everybody has to go on Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood and be Happy People Eating Noodle Salads to work on a project, it’s a cult, not science or editorial work. When you work in the hard sciences, when you work with reason in the humanities, you can’t have the smug luxury of being only “constructive” and screening out anything that makes you feel threatened or bad or is “negative”. You have to look at all facts.

    The increasing encroachment of the opensource culture everywhere, even into to the U.S. government, with wikis and supposedly open opensource software increasingly being used on public web pages is of grave concern. No Congress got to decide whether this was a good thing or not, it was stealth-marched in. It is all controlled by a tiny and unaccountable cabal of coders, with a very tight network of digital Beltway consultants and big IT in Silicon Valley — is a serious threat to democracy. You have only to watch the social media-mediated “Tech President” fluffball news conferences that Obama has given lately, set up by a tiny group of insiders massaging prefabricated questions for “hundreds of thousands of Internet users” to understand the real threat here to free media and to democracy ultimately.

    Just like a typical OS forum or IRC convo, a group of concerted citizens expressing their will on an issue (in this case, marijuana legalization, something I myself don’t favour) are described as “trolls” and their questions removed and ridiculed. No serious questions of foreign policy were let through the tekkie filters. Only those “fitting the problem” come through as if it’s the Kremlin. These are truly serious matters, and the negative developments are happening at a frightening pace, and happening precisely because of the increasing blanketing nature of wiki culture, and the attitudes of supposed scientists on forums like this one. So indeed it *is* a problem of totalitarianism.

    Wikipedia and wikis like it are not free, they are not open, they are not what they claim to be. They are indeed a cult.

    Open source is a religion. You’re a religious believer in WordPress. You’re dismissive of the religion you don’t like, Drupal. Both are wonky and inconvenient for end users, and both or any should be able to be freely criticized. But your remarks here about Drupal would get you clobbered on some forums and in some offices.

    Er, I don’t need to comment at all or be “inciting” someone’s “back up” to make the point that any conscious reader can see from any opensource forums or indeed any beta-testing forums of any software anywhere — insular and cynical insiders, “code as law,” brutal rejection of dissent. Opensource pioneers themselves have written of this very phenomenon, it doesn’t take me to explicate it, look at Nikolai Bezroukov, for example:
    http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/708/618

    Freedom of choice is sometimes mouthed by OSS adherents, but usually repudiated along the way as you continue to debate them, because they are heavily ideological, selecting one social system (communism) over another (capitalism).

    It’s convenient to think that OSS totalitarianism is “a myth” because it’s a question of power, and it is about coders wishing to take power for their class and themselves; therefore, they are wilfully blind to all critiques of it.

  14. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    >death of the author plus 70 years

    Could you cite an actual work, that is “locked up under copyright” that is preventing you from, um, a glorious spurt of creative mash-up if you could “unlock” it?

  15. Chriswaterguy Says:

    >death of the author plus 70 years

    Could you cite an actual work, that is “locked up under copyright” that is preventing you from, um, a glorious spurt of creative mash-up if you could “unlock” it?

    Any work relating to human development – as for “a glorious spurt of creative mash-up”, those are your own facetious words.

    I’m bowing out of this conversation – these opinions are just not very interesting or (IMO) very relevant to anything that is actually being done in the world. Cathy Fitzpatrick, you can consider it a victory if you like. I’m more interested in building something than arguing – we will all have more perspective on this after a few more years of building.

  16. Dr. Strangelove Says:

    Cathy, against both common sense and substantial research you keep insisting, without a shred of proof and with only shrill opinion, that OS degrades instead of enhances, takes away instead of enables, and you even make the entirely unfounded claim that it is a threat to private property (when it can actually generate property if so desired, and enhances the value of online property(s), as is pretty well universally recognized by the business community).

    All you have tossed out here is name calling and gross overstatements. A tiresome display of punditry at best, one that hardly merits attention of serious consideration. Nonetheless, here is one of many bits of research that fly in the face of your largely baseless claims:

    “Digital technologies are profoundly transforming the production and consumption of culture products. We describe the emerging digital remix culture as an open source approach where content products in the arts and entertainment industries are increasingly rearranged, manipulated, and extended in the process of creating new works. We develop a first unified theoretical framework for open source culture that explains the process and the forces that promote or impede the reuse of previously recorded materials. Using multiple perspectives from economics, design sciences, and arts and culture, our theory suggests that “rip, mix, burn” strategies based on reuse and recombination of content components can create significant economic value, stimulate artistic innovation and spur creativity and growth in the culture industry.”

    Abstrat from Open Source Culture and Digital Remix: A Theoretical Framework by
    Jerald Hughes and Karl R. Lang, Department of Computer Information Systems, Zicklin School of Business.

    This is hardly socialism, dear. OS is sound economics and good social policy.

    Dr. Strangelove

  17. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    Dr. Strangelove,

    You’re the one defying common sense by continuing to use circular reasoning: “opensource is good because we say so”. That’s the tyranny of opensource — it’s illogic and self-referential cheerleading.

    There’s nothing demonstrably good about opensource. I can cite numerous examples of the negativy aspects of opensource around Second Life and OpenSimulator (theft, stalking, harassment, etc.). I don’t see a single opensource project that in fact created something new; I see only clones of existing proprietary software (Gimp); I see numerous ideologically-driven projects that brook no dissent and upon which millions are wasted in geek consulting fees to keep trying to “get it right” (Drupal); I see completely hobbling and stupid projects that are unusable but that keep inflicting themselves on the public as if they worked (OpenID) — there’s no good experience to site. We’re told — actually, harried and harrassed and bullied into believing — that “the Internet” supposedly “depends on” or “is made up of” opensource, and whatever the truths there, we quickly see they are exaggerated. The worst thing about opensource is that for all its infantile insistence on “openness,” it can’t tell the truth — the truth that is self-evident to those outside the magic circle.

    The biggest shill — the Big Lie, really — is that opensource somehow creates wealth despite fostering free giveaways, voluntary and exploited labour, and destruction of private property. It doesn’t. It is stone soup. Nothing “profoundly transforming” is happening when you destroy book stores, newspapers, and record companies and pretend by liberating and ripping and distributing content for free that you have created a model to sustain the businesses needed to support artists. Absolutely nothing. The destruction is visible everywhere, and yet still, the geeks keep claiming that somebody can even make a buck off this — but of course a very tiny handful of them can, by selling consulting services to be able to operate their obscure, wonky programs.

    As for mash-ups, that’s a total chimera. I challenged chris here to come up with a single work that was “locked up” by the evil 70-year-copyright that was preventing some, um, “profound” work of art. He couldn’t. Nor can you. You can only keep insisting in agitprop fashion that “transformation” has occurred and cite your own gurus.

    Socialism is when “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”. Socialism *is* the liberation of property and destruction of private property and nothing of value put in its place — actually, it’s called “communism,” and that’s why I call it technocommunism as it is accomplished with technical means, as if it can be done “better”.

    No one can really demonstrate anywhere that “rip, mix, burn strategies” (crime) in fact “creates economic value”. Where? How? Not a single model can be cited, except, again, tiny, tiny handfuls of one-off experiments that are mainly about paying lecture fees to gurus to lecture about this supposed “money-making” criminal act that in fact is merely agitprop to incite others to crime. Artistic innovation? Um, you’re going to cite the didactic and mediocre novels of Cory Doctorow?! Opensource is Lysenkosim and Zhdanovism and all the isms of the Soviet Union perpetuated online. Again, it is the Big Lie; it cannot stand.

  18. Chris Watkins Says:

    As for mash-ups, that’s a total chimera. I challenged chris here to come up with a single work that was “locked up” by the evil 70-year-copyright that was preventing some, um, “profound” work of art. He couldn’t. Nor can you.

    Not so – I was rejecting the question as silly. But if you insist I go along with it: Small is Beautiful by Schumacher, The Road to Serfdom by Hayek, and pretty much any of the many technical works by William J. Oswald on the subject of wastewater.

    It’s only partly about creating, remixing, etc. It’s also about:

    1. Recognizing that the work of an individual owes a debt to the society that gave them their start in understanding. While it makes sense to acknowledge their rights, it doesn’t make sense to extend those rights far beyond what will benefit the creative individual.

    2. ensuring access to knowledge to as many people as possible. Some of us are lucky enough to have access to a fantastic library – most of us are not, especially those born into poorer communities who cannot afford a good education. When there are past works in public health, sanitation etc, where the author is no longer alive, or is making a negligible amount from continued sales, there is an enormous potential benefit in releasing these works for use by the global community. This is very much inline with my own vision for what we’re doing at Appropedia – working with an online community to create a kind of free, online, Library of Alexandria for human development & sustainability – not just an encyclopedia, but collections of exhaustive textbook material and case-studies.

    No one can really demonstrate anywhere that “rip, mix, burn strategies” (crime) in fact “creates economic value”. Where? How? Not a single model can be cited, except, again, tiny, tiny handfuls of one-off experiments…

    We’re talking actual value, rather than money changing hands. They often occur together, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

    Again, it is the Big Lie; it cannot stand.

    Well, let us know when you’ve defeated it. Perhaps you can exchange strategies with Don Quixote – the brave fellow defending the land against invading giants (that were actually windmills).

  19. Cathy Fitzpatrick Says:

    Why would this question be “silly”? Authors need to be paid for their work. Copyright for a lifespan seems reasonable, and is the law of the land. Why can’t you make fair use of quotations from these works, and urge people to buy them from their copyright holders?

    An individual who creates a work owes a debt to a lot of things. His mom and dad and his fourth grade teacher Mrs. McGovern and his entire hockey team who saw him through. That’s the sort of nonsense that obscures the normal and lawful desire to couple copyright with commerce that your sect here seems so unwilling to acknowledge, although most people have no trouble whatsoever doing that.

    Furthermore, to charactize people as “not making actual value” is wrong, merely because they wish to enable authors to make a living, and the businesses that give them advances and help advertising and distribution and such a profit motive which is a totally normal thing in a free and democratic society. Of course they make value, and ascribe to it the metric that in part gives it value. You can natter on about eternal values and art and fine literature, but people need to get paid for their work, unless, of course, Big IT or Mom’s Basement or the Government are paying for their time hacking around with code.

    I’ve yet to see you cite *an actual work of value* made by the rip-off burn mix-up mashup method. Well?

    Er, I’ll try to contain my, um, rage about the works of William J. Oswald on wastewater being locked up behind evil copyright walls that have kept his wisdom from the masses.

  20. Chriswaterguy Says:

    Cathy originally asked: Could you cite an actual work, that is “locked up under copyright”

    and now complains that I’ve yet to see you cite *an actual work of value* made by the rip-off burn mix-up mashup method.

    Moving the goalposts Cathy – tsk, tsk. And not thinking too hard – one of the world’s top ten websites is Wikipedia – and others in the top ten include a lot of random and commercial fluff (e.g. Yahoo sites) so it’s fair to say that the largest and most widely read informative work in history is this open licensed work. Wikipedia early on used works in the public domain (including an old Britannica and a Catholic encyclopedia), and has been augmented at times by various sources of open data.

  21. Richard Dennis Bartlett Says:

    @Cathy a big part of your critique of the open-source movement seems to stem from bad experiences you’ve personally had with various open-source communities. Unfortunately those bad experiences are relatively common, especially if you happen to not be a straight white male coder. More unfortunately, when people raise their voices loud enough to talk about these bad experiences they tend to be labelled as shrill and ostracised.

    I would hope that the way to dismantle the ‘privileged and unaccountable and unelected’ cabals that run these communities is to diversify their membership and democratise their practices. Cabals with similar characteristics tend to wield the most power in all of society’s institutions, including the state and market that you seem to be advocating for. The comparative accessibility and transparency of the open-source cabals at least gives me reason to believe they’re a better bet than the capitalists and oligarchs :)

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