Tag Archives: Industrial Revolution

Big Brother, big data and the creator culture

News of secret courts being introduced in the world’s oldest democracy should scare any rational human. The right to a public trial has survived feudalism, Henry VIII and the industrial revolution, but couldn’t stand up to the forces of global capitalism. Secret courts could be an idea from Alan Moore’s polemic on Thatcher’s Britain, V for Vendetta (today enjoying a second life inspiring Occupy protestors and the Anonymous hacker group) or from Homeland, the latest novel from science-fiction author Cory Doctorow.

Doctorow’s 2007 young adult novel Little Brother introduced teenage readers to the writer’s outspoken ideas on technology and personal freedom. The novel’s title is of course a play on Big Brother, from the granddaddy of all dystopian SF, George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s devastating vision of totalitarian state rule remains chilling, but it has dated with the advance of technology. Orwell was writing at a time when governments, whether the totalitarian dictatorships of Russia and China, or the democracies of western Europe and America, ruled with near absolute power. Today national governments seem increasingly impotent in the face of global economic forces and technological change they cannot begin to keep pace with.

Read more @ Guardian Books

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Thoughts on economics

So. We’re facing the worst financial crisis ever. Don’t believe it for a second. This isn’t a crisis. It’s a collapse. The final and overdue collapse of a system that has been in a constant state of crisis, with brief periods of remission, for at least the last few decades.

The really sad, and I mean tear inducingly sad thing about the incredible pain and suffering many people are going through because of this collapse, is how utterly avoidable it all is. It requires only a shift in perception to cure the entire problem. But then, perception shifts, even tiny ones, are among the most difficult thing to achieve.

What would that shift be? Hmmm…let’s see.

Many, possibly most people, believe that you get wealth by taking something from somebody else. It’s a belief that people hold on many different levels, from people who think that its OK to invade another country and enslave their people, to those who think its OK to employ workers and drive down their pay over time to create your profit margin. In the last 30 years this belief has come to dominate our economic system. Consequentially, we now have an economy which is dominated by ever more complex ways for a few people to take stuff from everybody else.

Some people, maybe, on a good day, a slim majority of people, understand that wealth comes from trade. Which, in an idealised Sesame Street version of the world, is also called cooperation or sharing. The more humans cooperate, the more wealth we all end up with because our economy becomes more and more efficient. If I grow wheat, while you catch fish, and we trade / cooperate / share, then we both end up with wheat AND fish, for the same total amount of work. Scale that up to the modern post-industrial era and you have the one and only reason why our lives are so much nicer and comfier than they were back in the day.

Taking wealth can work in the short term. But in the long term, you destroy the actual trade and cooperation which is creating the wealth. Which is why all evil empires collapse. They grow too quickly on the wealth they take, then collapse when the source of that wealth is destroyed. Does that seem like a familiar picture to you? Even slightly?

Capitalism isn’t entirely evil. Much of a our modern wealth does come through trade and cooperation. That’s something we can all be proud and happy about. We’re argubly more cooperative than ever before. But. Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve all been party to the resurgence of the belief that it’s OK to get wealthy by taking something from somebody else. We’ve taken stuff from third world people by wearing the clothes and using the manufactured goods produced in their sweatshops. (Hardly surprising that they are now not very sympathetic about or plunging living standards…) We’ve taken stuff from poor people by driving down relative pay for people employed in ordinary jobs. We’ve taken stuff from our neighbours by selling worthless consumer products to each through forceful sales and advertising techniques. We’ve even taken stuff from our parents by forcing down spending on the elderly, sick and infirm. Oh, and now we’re taking stuff from our own children by forcing them to shoulder vast debt just to get a standard education. WELL DONE US! WOO HOO!

You can’t build a strong economy on the basis of fucking each other over. What we are watching now is the inevitable collapse of our attempt to do so. The response to this collapse has been for the richest to work ever harder at fucking over the poorest. And of course, this has set-up a positive feedback loop which has sent us spiralling ever quicker in to collapse. And thats the direction we will continue to go in, until we shift our perception, away from ever more strenuous attempts to fuck each other, and on to finding better ways to trade, share, and cooperate with the tremendous wealth we have made in the world, while we still have it.