New Economies

Brenda Cooper @ 08-02-2012

Last month I pondered the extent to which the Arab Spring and Occupy Everything are socially-driven acts of creative destruction. Creative destruction is defined as a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” The mutation, in this case, is reactionary responses to established interests, mostly driven by or assisted by social media. Governments and power structures are falling, but the replacements aren’t immediately ready in the wings. Continue reading “New Economies”


Douglas Adams on representative democracy

Paul Raven @ 11-05-2011

I doubt I need to explain who Douglas Adams was to many readers here, nor that he died a decade ago today. I’m not big on having heroes, but I do hold a special place in my heart for people who made me think in new ways; Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books will never win prizes on their purely literary merits, but even moreso than some of the most performatively profound science fiction writers, he managed to smuggle a whole lot of philosophy into his work, and a tacit acknowledgement of (and coming to terms with) the absurdity of the universe, and the human condition as a function thereof.

Shorter version: Adams helped shape the way I look at the world, for better or for worse. What follows* is a passage I paraphrase all the time… indeed, with increasing frequency and urgency in recent years. Enjoy.

[An extraterrestrial robot and spaceship has just landed on earth. The robot steps out of the spaceship...]

“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like to straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

“What?”

“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”

“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”

Ford shrugged again.

“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”

[ * I'm reprinting this here under Fair Use terms in the understanding that copyright remains very much with the late Mister Adams himself, and that I offer it as a tribute to and reminder of a much-loved cultural icon. If a take-down is required, please drop me a line using the contact form for immediate results... though I'd point out that I've blatantly ganked it from the copy found here, because I'm too damned lazy to type it out, and my copy of the book is still in a box in my mother's house in Yorkshire at the moment. ]


Jaron Lanier on Wikileaks

Paul Raven @ 22-12-2010

The Wikileaks story just keeps on rolling, but in defiance of the cliché it’s picking up a fair bit of moss as it goes. At the risk of repeating arguments made, well, pretty much everywhere (and to reiterate a point I made before), it’s quite possible to be supportive or generally approving of Wikileaks as a principle and as an organisation at the same time as thinking Julian Assange to be a serious douchebag who’s responding to the limelight like weeds to the springtime sun… though the caveat there is that most of what we’re hearing of Assange’s public statements is being filtered through other news organisations whose fondness for Wikileaks is less than complete. The truth remains obscure, in other words.

That said, it’s been interesting – and heartening – to watch the results of genuine grassroots action as regards the #MooreAndMe rape apologism campaigns; it’s a horrible way for it to have happened (and a horrible that it should even be necessary), but I can’t help but feel that there’s a good side to the way that discussion and criticism of mainstream cultural attitudes to rape have been brought out from the marginalised sidelines of feminism into highly visible layers of public discourse. Granted, it’s been rather like overturning a rotten log in a gloomy forest, but that’s the price of progress, I suppose; a societal problem can’t be fixed until society becomes conscious of it. Sunlight, disinfectant, you know the drill.

So to the tireless folk behind the #MooreAndMe hashtag, my utmost respect. As hard as it might be to believe for a regular reader of this site, there are times when I realise that the most helpful thing I can do is shut up and let people who really know what they’re talking about do their thing. Perhaps stepping back from the fight isn’t as useful as pitching in, but personal experience dictates that the greatest of harm can result from the best of intentions, and that one learns much more from listening than flapping one’s own uninformed lips.

But there’s one commentary link-out that needs to be made, and it’s to Jaron Lanier’s Wikileaks piece at The Atlantic. I’m by no means in complete agreement with it on a number of points, and there’s a slightly patronising “yeah, I was once naive enough to believe all that stuff, too, but I done growed up” undertone to it that grates somewhat… but of all the negative responses to Wikileaks I’ve read so far, it’s by far the most cognisant of the playing field it discusses, and the first that has really made me think hard about my own stance on the matter. It’s a long one, and not easy to yank quotes from while maintaining context, so just go read the whole thing… whether you’re for or against.


Placebo buttons

Paul Raven @ 09-11-2010

Powerful thing, the placebo effect; it doesn’t just work (with increasing efficacy) with sugar pills for all your ills, but with the “close door” buttons in elevators, the “I want to cross the road” buttons at pedestrian crossings, the thermostats of office climate control systems

… makes you wonder what else we’re being placebo’d with, doesn’t it? The anarchist in me can’t resist pulling out the first comment from the SlashDot thread where I found the above links:

I keep voting and nothing new happens.

Uh-huh.


World of Statecraft

Paul Raven @ 09-08-2010

I try to avoid reusing the headlines of articles I link to, but in this case I just had to let The Guardian‘s choice carry through, because it’s just too good to improve upon. The story: there’s an MMORPG in the pipeline that essentially models and recreates the European Parliament.

The game will allow players to gain points and move up levels by proposing legislation, amending laws, writing articles for an online newspaper and other tasks. The developers are in discussions with journalism schools and secondary school teachers to incorporate the game into teaching modules.

The game will allow for fictional pieces of legislation to be crafted and track real bills making their way through the European legislative machine. The game’s developers, the European Service Network, a Brussels communications agency that until now has mostly been responsible for producing EU brochures and websites, saw the popularity of online games such as World of Warcraft and thought they could make a sort of legislative Middle Earth out of the European parliament.

“It’s completely out of the box. It’s an experiment as a means of bringing together the best trends in the internet to stimulate discussion about Europe,” said ESN’s manager of the project, Ahmed ElAmin.

“World of Warcraft was one of the inspirations. It’s the biggest online role-playing game there is. It shows there is a huge audience for 3D online worlds.”

Well, yes, there is a huge audience for online 3D RPGs… but most of them involve goals and rewards of a more visceral kind than ramming through (or blocking) some obscure but important chunk of legislature. And I’m docking you ten points, Mr ElAmin, for your use of “out of the box”. Tsk..

Snark aside, it’s an interesting attempt to open up the mechanics of European democracy to the layman, and I think I’ll be giving it a look at some point (time permitting, natch). But it rather begs the question: once we reach a point where we can simulate a large-scale consensus democracy online, why the hell don’t we abandon the pretense of simulation and let it run that way for real?


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