Category Archives: Uncategorized

Esther Dyson: I own my own content


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.


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)

What Steve Mintz cannot imagine

Steve Mintz has millions of dollars at his disposal to shape the intersection of technology and higher education in the University of Texas System. If you do not know who he is, you can read the Wikipedia article about him, but beware: “A major contributor to [the] article appears to have a close connection with its subject.” It’s that way sometimes with people trying to become more important in social media.

photo of Mintz

Steve Mintz — a happy Texan who has become One with Capitalism, and wants you to be that way too

Mintz is a devoted capitalist. He cannot imagine any other future other than one involving decreased public support for higher education, and increased energies devoted to educators begging the private sector for help. In a way, it’s surprising we do not have a Kickstarter campaign out there already for the UT System. Mintz does not acknowledge any problem with the current state of affairs in which the state of Texas interferes 100% of the time in higher education, but provides less than 20% of its funding. For Mintz, that’s the way of capitalism, and he cannot imagine a world that is different. Mintz is one with other alleged tech gurus who hawk Coursera and edX while merging the discourse of “open education” and entrepreneurship. The goal of enterprises like Coursera and edX is profit. Have you met an administrator in public education whose goal is free and open education run only by faculty members with tech skills?

Yet, there are other ways to proceed.

The prevailing paradigms cannot explain why the economy with the highest level of workforce participation in its governance, the greatest degree of regulation of labourmarket entry through vocational enforcement and the most severe constraints on capital in its banking system should be the most competitive in Europe.

Do Hipsters Think of Themselves as Supreme Beings?

This is an etymological puzzle, probably a false one, maybe not an entertainingless one.  While preparing notes for a course, I dipped into Moses the Egyptian by Jan Assmann, and came across this sentence: “The belief in the ‘Supreme Being’ (Hypsistos) has a distinctly cosmopolitan character” (51).  Maybe it was the linking of Hypsistos and cosmopolitanism that caused me to think of hipsters.  The Urban Dictionary definition of “hipster” cites the cosmopolitan element.


Where Are the Penn State Philosophers?

Continental philosophy has a tradition of interest in ethics, and Penn State has its share of philosophers who claim ethics as a specialty or sub-specialty. The phrase in Philosophy departments is “area of competence.”  Someone might have expected some of these Penn State philosophers to have taken the lead on some ethical statement about what has been happening at their university (Robert Bernasconi, Dennis Schmidt, Jennifer Mensch, for example), but as far as I can tell, the response has been crickets. Some of the philosophers claim expertise in applied ethics, and what has taken place at Penn State would seem to call out, perhaps in a Heideggerian way (if that helps the Penn Staters) for application.  Have I missed the philosophers’ articles or op-ed pieces?  Some of the faculty members in the Philosophy Department there already have had to spend energies explaining their allegiances to the politics and ethics of Heidegger and Gadamer, and perhaps one or more could appeal to the title of one of Gadamer’s essays entitled “The Political Incompetence of Philosophy.”  The area of competence for some of the philosophers might indeed be incompetence of that sort, and then perhaps we should welcome crickets.


A Gift of Translation

Joe Paul Kroll is offering up translations of Hans Blumenberg’s works at another blog.  Translators are generally underappreciated, and here we have a translator who is not complaining, but offering up his labor to the public.  

Worship Me with Thine AmEx

Quote of the Day: “The liturgical act of placing an offering of money into the offertory plate is understood to be a form of worship.” This from the Rev. Laurel Johnston of the Episcopal Church, who reminds readers of The New York Times of those passages in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament in which God and/or Jesus urge other humans to offer worship by throwing money at God and/or Jesus.