Esther Dyson: I own my own content

Dyson

Esther Dyson spoke this morning as the key note person for the “I Annotate 2017” conference (#ianno17) in San Franciso. It was time to kiss the Blarney Stone of Capitalism. She started off by telling the audience that as a “content creator” she owned her content, and she didn’t want others making a profit from her content. It’s all about the property and the money. In other words, it’s all about capitalism.

Dyson conjured up an image of the world from the 1960s that might be considered fake news now: “When the internet was created, everyone who was on it was nice.” Dyson seems to have forgotten that the internet began as a military project connected with the Department of Defense, formerly the War Department. Some nice people renamed the department in 1949, so that we wouldn’t have to be reminded that the DOD is about war, not about being nice.

When the internet was created, everyone who was on it was nice.

The current problems with trolls, people spreading hate speech, people driving “content creators” from the web in fear of their lives are real, and Dyson is a bright person seeking solutions. However, her solutions are rooted in typical capitalist rhetoric. She posits, for example, that niceness will be restored by letting “the market” work. Like most people who talk about letting markets work, they don’t mean letting things be. We need controls, rules, a grammar, as she called it.

We all want nice things, but out there in the real world are people who will take our nice things, seize our property, do harm to us. They must be controlled, regulated. Dyson is in favor of regulating the internet.

In the early days of the internet, Dyson held the opinion that anonymity was a good thing. She has changed her mind, and she told the audience that it is always interesting when people change their minds. Dyson’s new view is that anonymity needs regulation too. Anonymous people ought not to be free to say un-nice things on the internet. We could use some software to expunge un-niceness, for example, before it ever gets posted. Apparently, the market won’t fix un-nice people, and so un-nice people will need to be marginalized, or silenced, or forced into some other space in the ether where they will be rendered harmless. Dyson isn’t clear about how all of this could be made to come about, but she wants to help people who are working on such outcomes.

Dyson wants a kind of gated community for all of us, so that the Haves can have their property, their protections. They can have a space where entrances and exits are controlled, property is safe, and ownership valued. It’s the world of capitalism we already have, with many people intent on fashioning creative laws and regulations under the guise of the “free market” to keep certain people out of the game.

Luckily, some audience members objected during the Q & A. One person (Tom) suggested that the internet should allow even un-nice people the right to speak, and a librarian from Cal Tech said, in effect, that un-nice people are the cost of openness. As opposed to the seeming common sense opposition between crime and law, the law cannot be known outside of crime. The institution of law (capitalism) allows crime, opens up the possibility of further crime. Law cannot know itself without its exception (crime). This Hegelian reading of the situation is a bit too academic for the context of “I Annotate 2017,” but some audience members seemed to imply an understanding of the logic. Plug in “un-niceness” wherever “crime” appears earlier in this paragraph, and you have a taste of the logic as it fits into the context of Dyson’s presentation.

Dyson invoked Uber as a salutory example of a company that tries to be nice. That company tries to make sure that its drivers are not doing bad things, are not frauds, according to Dyson. Surely Dyson, in retrospect, would want to reconsider that capitalistic example. Uber is not working for the benefit of its own employees, and CEO Travis Kalanick told an Uber driver who complained to Kalanick about the driver’s growing debt: “You know what, some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.” Kalanick’s statement doesn’t seem so nice.

The premise that language belongs to us, that we own it, needs to be questioned. Dyson does not speak English because she chose that language. As James Baldwin, Jacques Lacan, and Valentin Voloshinov have explained, language does not belong to us. Language is always a social phenomenon. It could not possibly arise other than through communication among different individuals. In its original form it exists outside of the mind of any individual as sounds or as written words that were never the property of the person who learns a particular language. As a blogger, then, it seems odd to imagine you are a “content creator.” Who “owns” language? Its an idea only a capitalist could have.

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Upscale People’s Brains Can Be Stormy

For three years, Christy Coltrin — wife of renowned Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham — brainstormed a way to express one’s feeling when words fall short. The result is … a collection of 11 handmade antiqued … figures.
— from Papercity Magazine, Dallas                                                            (February 2015)

The door to freedom is on the left

Not since V for Vendetta has a message come across as well for popular culture. Why Snowpiercer is not in the same U.S. theaters with Edge of Tomorrow tells you something about the capitalism that meets its match in Bong Joon-ho’s hands. It’s no accident that the door to freedom is on the left.

 

More Lies about Education

The President of Arizona State University seems to be more interested in publicity than education or the truth.  Michael Crow landed media attention by forming a 21st-century Axis alliance with Starbucks.  The cover story consisted of this narrative: people who cannot afford a college education on the low salaries paid at Starbucks would be helped out by Starbucks and ASU, and they could obtain university degrees that might not have been available otherwise.  “It turns out Starbucks isn’t contributing any upfront scholarship money to an online college degree program it introduced this week.”

Let’s imagine what might have happened. Michael Crow, whose last name tells you a great deal, wanted to bolster ASU’s profile again.  The usual means of becoming, over the course of the years, a great university were rejected in favor of a quick hit, a parasitical publicity release that would gain immediate attention. Crow perhaps needed a name to attach to the scheme.  Maybe Google was busy or Gucci executives were focusing on the World Cup in Brazil.  Starbucks came through, offering its name recognition and global clout.  That’s what ASU needed, not the truth.  No one wanted to say that Crow had prostituted ASU in a deal where the partner did not even have to put out (a dime, i.e., the hourly wage of Starbucks’ employees).  Oh, wait — that last parenthetical statement is a lie, but now you are accustomed to those, thanks, according to the news report, to Michael Crow and Starbucks. At a great university, you would learn that “lying” is a synonym for “entrepreneurial.”

Creative Commons photo provided by Noel WorliThe genuine narrative (four paragraphs from the bottom of the AP story) uttered by Starbucks’ spokesperson Laurel Harper is that Starbucks would simply encourage employees interested in higher education to go into debt (Pell grants) to achieve their goal.

The Nate Silver Generation?

He said he wanted his attack to be more effective than Adam Lanza‘s shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary.

photo of Foster the People album

A Poverty of Possibilities among the Rich

photo of money - Creative Commons

With an Ivy League education, and years of association with some of the brightest people in Washington, D.C., Tim Geithner is still unable to think of any alternative to what happened in 2008.  He missed one of the lessons of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is that people’s money/labor is theirs, and that the bank is a place where collective wealth exists, and can be used for collective good.  In other words, the achievement of the James Stewart character in the film is to show the viewer how to live without banks and bankers, whose interests have little to do with Bedford Falls.  Geithner has convinced himself, in a grand gesture of rationalization, that no alternative existed, and still does not.

It’s like the power grid. You have to make sure the lights stay on, because if the lights go out, then you face the damage like what you saw in the Great Depression or It’s a Wonderful Life. More people lose their jobs, more people lose their businesses, lose their homes, their savings, and they’re devastated. There is not way to avoid those outcomes or protect people against those outcomes, unless you keep the lights on. That requires doing things that are terribly unfair and look deeply offensive. It looks like you are rewarding the arsonist or protecting people from their mistakes, but there is no alternative.
— Geithner in The Wall Street Journal‘s Money Issue (June 2014)

Slavoj Žižek indicates the same problem is at work with Thomas Piketty’s new book on capitalism. The capitalists don’t know how to do without capitalism.  They are incapable of Hegelian negation.  “[Piketty] accepts, as a good Keynesian, that capitalism is ultimately the only game in town; all alternatives ended up in fiasco, so we have to keep it.”

What’s worse about Geithner is that he knew what he did looked “like the opposite of what makes sense.”  It’s a Wonderful Life, on a most superficial reading, shows neighbors rescuing a neighbor, friends helping friends, townspeople pulling together for a person in trouble.  Those are alternatives that do not make sense to readers of The Wall Street Journal and to Tim Geithner. They cannot leave important financial decisions up to common people who cannot comprehend why anyone would say it’s utterly plausible to do what is “terribly unfair.”

 

Prestigious Institutions where Education is second to Revenue

You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that. You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.
—  Rashad McCants, former UNC – Chapel Hill basketball player

Yes, “they” will tell you that. “They” are the people at universities who will not acknowledge the truth that revenue drives decisions, not whether students receive an education.  I do not know where on the list education is, but it is unlikely in the top four or five. Prestige, as in the film by that title, is a magic show.  You think you are seeing education at public universities, but it’s a trick, sleight of hand, maybe mirrors, illusion. Prestige is like “The Mansion” section of The Wall Street Journal, where people define themselves, their success, by whether they have a private plane in their garage instead of a car. It looks like a tangible thing. Others see it. “They” tell you owning a private jet means you’ve made it.  They say you’re winning the game of life, as if the sayings of Charlie Sheen were part of a philosophical guidebook.

Eton College

Eton College

In Louie C.K.’s television show, he has written a scene between himself and his daughter. It’s a scene you won’t find mentioned in The Wall Street Journal or quoted by a public university president or chancellor.

Daughter (D): Why does she get one and not me? It’s not fair.

Louis (L): You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so you must learn that now, okay?
Listen — the only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.