Jun 162012

It is an oft-commented truism that the virtual world reflects the real world at every opportunity.  In, for example, the real world’s well-honed ability to obfuscate and confuse.

I was Skyping with a family member this afternoon on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday and we briefly touched on the subject of music piracy and its economic implications.  It seems that some of the arguments being bandied about by copyright supporters would suggest that if illegal music downloads hadn’t taken place, the US music industry would now be larger than the entire US economy.  Hardly realistic, I’m sure you would agree.  Certainly, the figures which have been used in the recent past – which even continue to be peddled – are suspect to say the least.

This wouldn’t be the first time lobbyists tried to blind us with the farmyard science of pulling the wool over our eyes.

But the virtual world reflects our own in more ways than one.  Even as our populations grow towards a veritable plague of physical obesity and eating disorders, so our online corporations do the same.  This is what I think is happening – quoting, and slightly adapted, from something I’ve just posted on a Facebook conversation*:

The thesis? Via the example of the bridge of open source, which offered payment in kind for its freely offered labour, owners of proprietorial social networking software have continued to dumb down the contributions of its data-inputters (its unpaid worker bees) to the point that no one can reasonably demand payment for authorship of such discretely trivial activities as a like or a photo post or a comment on one’s drunken state.

The software, however, becomes the author of a far more complex stream of product, so replacing any claim to human authorship – and therefore remuneration – with that of algorithms and maths. The knowledge society, instead of consisting of educated people doing clever things and getting just rewards, involves educated people doing primitive things – whilst even giving up DOBs and post codes in exchange for the right to be the drones in question! – and all the time receiving absolutely no reward at all; except perhaps the dubious one of an all-too-public notoriety.

Question is – and here I am currently stuck – is how to recover the promise of the knowledge society as once posited in those wonderfully forward-looking – and radically mistaken – 90s. Ideas? You’ll tell me, I guess, the living is to be made in other areas. But just think of this: 1 billion active users who spend hours every day on this beast. Imagine what a truly productive society we could have if 1 billion active users were actually producing stuff of real value and reach. Solving external problems, real world issues, practical challenges. We need social networking software which achieves the latter, surely; not the former. The former is there simply to concentrate the wealth in the pockets of the few. Dead wealth. Inactive wealth. A wealth of the societally disconnected. And, precisely, in a society where connections of these kinds could serve to resolve so many pressing problems.

And so you see it: the obesities of Facebook, Google, Apple and Samsung – and how they exactly mirror our own.  Sedentary citizens versus sedentary wealth.

Two debilitating curses for our times.


* Some of the content of this post is, incidentally, part of something I’m preparing for a PhD submission; comments and advice from interested parties – either online or offline – would be very welcome and would, of course, be duly referenced if I achieved funding for the proposal.

Jun 162012

Alex provides the data, if data was still needed, about the IMF and the Greeks. All I am minded to remark is that whilst billions of euros have been withdrawn from Greece in the first half of the year by private investors, escape from the country’s miseries isn’t so easy for the workers who might wish to emigrate out of them.  Capital versus labour – it’s always the same story: freedom of movement for the former (with all the traumatic implications for ordinary people’s economies which such freedoms lead to); all kinds of practical barriers, including media prejudice in host countries, for the latter.

This is perhaps one excellent reason why Greeks should leave the euro but stay in the European Union.  Get that competitive edge back which Europe’s denied varying velocities lost – but hang on any which way you can to the right to work wherever you want.  Beat the capitalist investors at their own game perhaps?

Meanwhile, here’s another piece of evidence about how the world we live in is unfair: in this case, how the fall in trades union membership mirrors exactly the rise in wealth inequality (graph here).  Our intuition might have told us that trades unions battling against amorphous and various employer organisations would help, in an imperfect civilisation, to create less unfair societies – but this post goes much further than massage our prejudices.  This post confirms a reality with immediately understandable data.

From the Facebook page "Connect The Dots USA"

Finally, an image I published not long ago from a Facebook page I’m subscribed to called “Connect The Dots USA”.  It clearly indicates how difficult providing social and welfare services will become in the future, especially as the real levels of tax American corporations pay are so far below the nominal 35 percent.  Remember, these are the same bodies which use public roads, pollute public land, sell junk food to schoolchildren and sign overblown contracts for the provision of public health services – as well as make money out of publicly funded armaments and IT projects (so many of which curiously tend to run dramatically over budget).

All examples, in fact, of the ways they have chosen to take advantage of federal and state infrastructures which they no longer see the need to contribute to.

And I am sure – as well as fear – that the situation in the UK is becoming evermore analogous.

Of course, it goes without saying that those of us on the left have often been accused – perhaps accurately – of class envy.  This argument would have us believe that we don’t act out of a pragmatic understanding and acceptance of the world as it is.  Rather, we refuse to accept that life is unfair and that such injustices are a given for those who have the good or bad fortune to be born into this universe.

After fifty years on this planet – yes, I share my birthday with that literary-fest that is Bloomsday! –  I can’t argue with the partial truth of that assertion.  But where I do disagree with the Darwinian capitalists is in their implicit understanding that life – and the world in general – is only as unfair as it must be.

Today’s three examples give those of us who believe in social, economic and cultural justice the right to sustain the position that this world is an unnecessarily unfair world – and from that moment onwards, fight to eliminate any unfairness which escapes the necessary injustices of an often incomprehensible universe.

If those of us on the left are looking for a pragmatic way of channelling the manifest – and long-predicted collapse – of capitalism, we could do far worse than to argue that in that point which lies between an unfair and an unnecessarily unfair existence we can usefully pursue a popular and realistic revolution.

A popular and realistic revolution we could use to revalidate the latterday left.