Friday, August 14, 2015

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ulysses' Crewmen


I'm on the road with Ulysses' Crewmen right now. This show is in a way an experiment applying some of the ideas i've been pursuing on this blog. Its unlikely I'll post here while that's going on, but will be posting there frequently. Check it out

While on tour I'm reading a bunch of stuff, including Douglas Rushkoff's 'Life INC' and Schumpter, and some zines about insurrectionary anarchism and nihilist communism n shit. I'm also working on writing an essay that looks closely and thoroughly at Marxist theory and where i depart from it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Irony at the Courthouse

A while back i was given a citation for being in a public park after close. This was a fairly humourous story, which started with a maoist souvenier and happened while i was in the middle of reading SOFT COPS by Caryl Churchill, so it's already rife with irony, i'll tell it to you some time.

Anyway, today was the second (or perhaps third) chapter in this story. Tim and I went to the courtroom to contest the ticket. We continued our argument about whether or not No Country For Old Men is fascist propaganda (i've been convinced it is and won't relent until Tim agrees) and talked breifly about "From Riot to Insurrection" by Alfredo Bonanno, which I've just started reading (get your free copy at the CCC today!). Having such discussions in a courtroom is only a little ironic, but don't worry, there's more coming.

After twenty minutes of waiting while a line of people with petty infractions filtered into the room, the session got underway and we watched as nearly a dozen young people pleaded no contest to our same charge and had their citation cut in half. They walked out probably feeling like they'd gotten a bargain because the state only extorted $100 rather than the $200 it originally threatened to extort without just cause. Even the court commissioner was cracking jokes when a group of friends each took their turn approaching the bench. "Expensive party, eh? Hope it was fun!" Again, her playfulness is only a little ironic. Wait for it.

I, on the other hand chose to dispute the citation. I'm not about to pay even half of this thing without even having a chance to express either the technicality (inaccurate county website) the emotional appeal (a kid was shot dead a few blocks away while the cops wrote our citations) or the philosophical (constitutional, even) issues i have with this. I might regret this, because the second bureaucratic hoop will mess up some of my travel plans after tour, and i probably won't even be around to jump through the third, not to mention forth fifth and however many more there are. Tim took the path of least resistance, which is what brings us to the wonderfully ironic part of this chapter.

While Tim paid his citation, the cashier waxed nostalgic about times before this law was in place, how her family used to sleep on the beach on hot summer nights. "It's really too bad, we can't do that anymore. I guess things are just too crazy out there!" If i was a bit more quick-witted i would've said something along the lines of "yeah, things sure are crazy 'out there'. We were really taking a foolish risk, being in that park after dark, I mean, a man with a gun might have come and taken our money. I'm so glad you guys protected us from that craziness by... sending a man with a gun to take our money."

There it is you irony junkies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Alternative Economics

It's been a while since I posted, what can I say, too busy doing shit to write blog posts. But my pal Jeff sent me this super interesting article that I can't wait to share with others.

It's an interview with Douglas Rushkoff and Kurt Anderson about their new books and the economy. Rushkoff's comments intrigue me greatly, when he describes the current economy as primarily value-extraction rather than value-creation and compares it to the end of feudalism where similar value-extraction gave "failing monarchs (the dying aristocracy) a way to make money by owning money." Such comparisons provide compelling evidence that we nearing the end of the capitalist age.

Rushkoff also says that the basic market-driven political economy "can be slowly improved as we introduce alternative methods of investment and transactions" I can't wait to read more about his ideas of alternatives and to see if extends this thinking to alternative methods of production, because that's precisely what i've been experimenting with for the last 7 years.

His prescription is not "upend[ing] the market economy. Just lots of activity outside of it." Marx and Lenin's adage that the powerful will not give up power without a fight might prove that "lot's of activity outside" the system will not be possible without at least some serious upending of the system.

In this section Rushkoff also describes how government practices effectively shut down small businesses (not to mention radical alternatives).

You are right that the (rather unconsciously perpetrated) corporate-government alliance usually can't shut down things completely. But then I remember examples like the toy outsourcing scandal, where American toy corps distributed toys from China painted with lead. New regulations were developed by industry and government "working together," which now require toy manufacturers to test any toy being sold to an American child. The tests cost upwards of $50,000, and require a hundred or so units of the toy to be destroyed in the process. Because the regulation applies to all toys, it effectively puts small companies out of business. If the regulation isn't repealed by February, that's it. The mega-corporate practice leads to problems that in turn lead to regulations that favor mega-corporate practices.

He uses the phrase "rather unconsciously perpetrated" but when I think of all the examples like this (polyface farm's open air abbatoir, backyard gardens, etc etc) i find it hard to beleive that big business, their lobbiests, and the senators in their pockets remain "unconsious" of this advantage.

This sort of government protection of capitalism from alternative systems is the modern equivalent of the divine right of kings, which is what necessitated the capitalist revolutionary wars. Defending against such practices is where political action becomes a reasonable justified tactic. Political action (whether legitimate, extra-parliamentary, or violently revolutionary) as means to change the mode of production (see USSR, etc) is a doomed prospect. Political action to defend an alternative mode of production that is already being lived or attempted is another matter altogether.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What if freedom IS free?

Chris Anderson has a new book called "Free." I haven't read this. I also didn't read this article that summarizes the book, but you can if you want to. There's also a video, which i didn't watch. If I was an economist or getting really serious about working out these economic theories, i'd have to read both of Anderson's books (he also wrote "The Long Tail") but for now i've got the concepts behind them, and it's enough to go on.

What i did read is Malcolm Gladwell's review, which summarizes and critiques Anderson's idea well enough to get me started here.

Anderson is on to something, but he's also dead wrong for the reasons Gladwell goes into (read the Gladwell if you wanna be able to follow the rest of this post). The thing is: Free does happen. Anderson is only wrong because he doesn't realize that his iron law makes The New Economy a total hurns. Giving people what they want for free and then charging them for extras they don't want? Call me crazy, but that seems like a terrible hopeless business plan.

Gladwell gets this, but doesn't really respond. Like Gladwell, I recognize the cheap hopelessness of the New Economy and the New Media, that these New things are wiping out the Old Economy and Old Media only to replace them with insubstantial, unreliable, mediocre nothingness. Like Lear's daughters (to reference a recent Shakespeare project) The New Economy is poisoning the Old Economy and then killing itself. This economic process has an entropic effect: society (art, culture, politics, whatever) are heading toward the situation of the most even distribution of energy, turning everything into bland grey colored lukewarm mush. See the concept of "existential liberalism" found in the Call for the political ramifications of this, hint: there's violence, lots of it.

Gladwell offers no solutions, seems to think the old economy will somehow persevere. But, as unsustainable as it is, the (perhas sad) fact is, Free does happen. Going with the YouTube example, Anderson thinks YouTube is free because bandwith is almost free. Gladwell corrects him, that almost free X billions = really fucking expensive, and cites the losses YouTube is suffering as an example.

Right. But, what is YouTube supposed to do about it? Start charging? Pay for content to attract advertisers? Fold? If youtube starts costing money to use, or closes up shop, then people will simply start posting and watching videos elsewhere for free. Replacements already exist (vimeo, peer to peer, bit torrents, etc). Golly, you can even get that copyrighted content youtube is paying for, free! We live in a situation where anything digitally or virtually reproducable is or can easily be made available for free.

How can you make people pay for it? Enforcing intellectual property rights law is one option, one which Gladwell seems to advocate. Problem is, all libertarian or punk-rock anti-authority sentiment aside, enforcing laws costs money. Lobbying the government to prioritize these laws over all the other laws is expensive, especially when other laws lobbied for by special interests with more popular support than the RIAA are easier to enforce. The end result is still that TV and Hollywood movies will continue to cost more to produce while bringing in less profit. If Hollywood passes on these lobbying costs to consumers, more consumers will watch cheaper stuff, found stuff, or archived stuff, or stuff made by producers with less overhead and profit requirement.

So, what to do? Accept failure? Give up on art? No. There's something that'll exist on the other side of this, a post-new-economy situation is possible, and it's one i'm personally very excited about. How exchange and distribution in the post-new-economy will work is simple: producers will offer things for free, and people will pay for them anyway.

What? Why? HOW? It's a post-capitalist relation of distribution, which befits a post-capitalist relation of production. Start by looking at the social norm that makes the basics of capitalism work. It's called "civil society" and it's sort of like Kant's catagorical imperative. The reason most of us don't steal what we want from a store is because we know that if everyone stole everything they wanted from the store, the store would have to close, nobody would be able to get what we need, and it'd be a resounding hurns all around. Granted, there are laws and security gaurds and little magnetic beeping things, but those are for the deviants, the people who don't accept these social norms and decide not to participate in civil society. Such things could not work if everyone became a shoplifter.

When it comes to digital media, because it's so close to free, and because the RIAA are such bastards and Hollywood is so shallow and cheap, the rules of civil society no longer apply at all. Everyone is willing to be a pirate, some people pride themselves on it. Ripping the system is a political act for some: the celebratory destruction of an economy that alienates, exploits and worst of all bores them. Security systems effective against a whole population of shoplifters and pirates will cost more than it saves.

This isn't a matter of my preferences. I'm not a theif, and honestly pre-capitalist (ie mafia) economics scare the shit out of me (and should scare you too). This isn't what i want to see happening, it's what i do see happening. If someone has a reasonable alternative explanation or some way to show that this isn't happening, i'd love to hear about it. Maybe i should read more of Anderson's book, but if Malcolm Gladwell can't find anything in it, i probably won't either.

In the meantime, we should either start developing a taste for lukewarm flavorless grey mush, or start making some reverse entropy. Specifically we need a new social norm where people WANT to pay for something, not because they're afraid the store will close, but because they love and want to connect and support the person who created the something.

How do we get there? This is the point where we can talk about spirital awakenings, new moralities, advanced ethics, pantheism, post-dualistic conceptions of self, social alchemy and any number of other quasi-religious methods of social control. But you'll have to talk to other people about that stuff, cuz it makes my head spin, and i suspect it's been talked about beyond the point of the words meaning anything anymore already.

The question i'm more interested in answering is: what if we're already there? The fate of YouTube, facebook and Hollywood can't tell us this. There's no connection, no good reason to give those bastards our money. The only producers who can survive in this post-capitalist economy are ones that establish a direct connection with their consumers. A genuine direct connection, not facebook's mimicry of connection.

I see examples all the time. Last saturday two friends and I went to a show advertised as FREE and dropped $20 in a "donations please" jar. I hope we weren't the only ones. I don't think we were. We stood in a room with the entire production team, talked with them, saw their peformance, loved it, and gave them some money cuz we're anxiously awaiting their next show.

The upcoming Ulysses' Crewmen tour will be testing this hypothetical system. For many of our shows we will only succeed if a post-capitalist economy already exists, these shows are going to be free, with donations requested. The results of this experiment will be dutifully reported on this blog as the tour progresses. Because if we want people to give us money for no reason other than they think we're worth supporting, transparency is absolutely necessary. Maybe we're too early. Maybe we'll fail utterly. But we'll never make it over this grey lukewarm puddle of mush if we don't all start trying to jump sooner or later.