Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Distinguished Tranarchist Eleanor Saitta on Politics & Technology

Distinguished tranarchist Eleanor Saitta and journalist Quinn Norton gave a talk a few weeks ago at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg. If you're not familiar with CCC, it's basically the Bilderberg Meetings for world's most elite site reliability engineers and system administrators.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?qqk4ItPjU5g&t=10h4m (Link maybe down?)

Why should you watch this 45 minute talk? Because these people are the governors of the new world and they're talking about human history, politics, and technology. If you want to gain insight into the mindset of the hacker elite, this is a good place to start. Ella is also an acquaintance of mine. So please give these ladies the respect attention they deserve.

Here's some of the topics covered:

  • The world is burning. You can't be neutral.
  • Since 2006, global protests are rising extremely rapidly.
  • Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  • Surveillance is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  • Governments are panicking and afraid.

My favorite part is around 10h39m when Quinn implores her listeners to adopt a greater sense of social responsibility. She reminds them that their technology has already replaced many of the old social institutions, trying to instill in them not only a sense of pride, but of duty to the people they rule.
Nobody became a geek because they wanted to become the center of political attention—that just happened! [...] Yet we're still in a community where we have to remind people to eat and bathe themselves. It is time for us to up our game. —Quinn Norton

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Occupy was ahead of its time

I think Occupy's politics were in many ways, ahead of its time. American politics is a spectator sport. We were the people who watched the American political theater from an early age, and decided that we didn't want anything to do with it. So when we saw that absolutely no one in the country was holding the banksters accountable, we decided we'd give them a good thrashing ourselves. We also wanted to build a community in Liberty Square. It was our shining oasis—a refuge from soul-crushing American politics—a simulacrum for a better society. Liberty Square was where we shared food, slept, and experimented with our visions for a better society.

But very few of the people who weren't participating understood that. So when the Liberal Elite™ came along, they didn't really try to understand us; they were just baffled we weren't playing their game. So they tried to make us elect a leader, a demand, and join CNN's debate club. When they realized we wouldn't cooperate, they tried co-opt us. And when they realized Occupy couldn't be co-opted, they decided to crush us. Except we as individuals didn't die. We crawled away and grew stronger.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

An Open Letter to Mister Justin Wedes

Dear Mr. Wedes,

Do you remember how you said at my apartment the other day that the users of Facebook are the ones who create all the value?

This is a very problematic argument to make because it dismisses the labour of software engineers such as myself. Tread carefully if you go there, because you'll be treading on my pride as a worker.

In the 19th century when the socialists said that workers created all the value, they were right. Let's say you've got a factory that makes doorknobs. It takes a fixed amount of material resources and human labour to create each doorknob. Once the shareholders fund the creation of the business buying the initial supplies and an engineer/inventor for a design, the workers do everything else. Workers make the actual doorknob from beginning to end. The shareholders hold the whip to extract surplus value forevermore. Then each doorknob gets sold and a family uses it for maybe 50-100 years.

In the “new economy”, things are different! The same 19th century logic no longer applies. Today you'll have a couple software engineers who require no startup capital other than what's needed to pay their rent and ramen. They invent, design, and produce all in one fell swoop. Then they have a product that can be used by the whole of humanity forevermore. The software engineers don't technically have to do anything once the software is built. The fixed labour then only depends on system administrators to run the service. So they're probably most closely analogous to the “workers” of the 19th century when you look at the new economy. (But even system administrators are starting to go away now thanks to the automation benefits of cloud hosting platforms like App Engine and Google Apps.) So the product is built once, and everyday people just use it. People keep using it over and over again. That's it. Just like the doorknob.

So if you say that the “users of facebook” create all the value in this 21st century economy… that's sort of like saying that people who lived in houses created doorknobs in the 19th century. It just doesn't make any sense.

Part of the social contract for using Facebook is that they reserve the right to put ads on the righthand side in order to pay for the system administrator salaries and buy hardware to keep the service running. But they've raised so much capital and expropriated so much ad money, that they kept the software engineers on as full-time workers who continually improve the software and automate more and more. They became so good at it that they ended up getting filthy rich. Why? Because they're creating products that are awesome and people want to use them.

It's a nonviolent revolution. Facebook didn't come into our communities with guns telling us that we have to work for them all day. It's much more like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in the sense that they created a product we genuinely crave and want to use. Something that makes life better.

So if Facebook is making your life better, why would you care if some geeks on the other side of the country are making a lot of money as a result? Why is it wrong that they have a bunch of dollars? They never hurt anyone. They just give away a cool product for free and somehow figured out a way to get rich doing it.

So I beseech you to reconsider your plans to demand a cut of that money. I think you've mistakenly used old theory in a new age where it no longer applies in a rational manner. I'm telling you as a friend, as a communist, and as a software engineer that if you demand Facebook give free money to all its users—you will absolutely infuriate tech workers. Like this is even worse than what right-wingers would call “entitled whining”, this is downright avaricious.

Now I understand that many people argue that content creators ought to be entitled to compensation or royalties when sharing their content on Facebook. That argument may seem reasonable. After all, Google gives us a cut of the ads on our YouTube videos. Everyone wants to be like Psy, who I'm sure got quite wealthy off his Gangnam Style hit video.

But this logic doesn't apply to Facebook, which is a community. It's not a tv channel like YouTube. Most content is just links to other websites.

For example, if I were to post a link to The Huffington Post and it goes viral, tens of thousands of Facebook users will visit The Huffington Post's website and see ads. The ad provider would then give money to The Huffington Post in exchange for your eyeballs. THEREFORE I believe it could be reasonably argued—within the context of a liberal capitalist framework—that The Huffington Post ought to be paying royalties to Facebook! Also why isn't The Huffington Post paying royalties to us? Liberals just sit around and share links to that site all day. Don't they deserve a cut too?

It's also important to take note of the fact that unlike YouTube, there is no clear way to correlate Facebook's ad revenue to the content submitted by individual users. When browsing Facebook at any given moment, there'll be like fifty pieces of content from fifty different individuals. It's a giant collage of STUFF. Ads just happen to appear on the side.

So it would be nearly impossible to pay Facebook users based on the quality of the content they produce. for example, you couldn't say, "oh Rebecca's status update about her boyfriend caused a bunch of people to click on an ad from modcloth and buy $2,000 worth of merchandise, so we're going to give Rebecca a cheque for $50 as her share of the sales. You absolutely cannot do that.

So the option is to give Facebook users money based on how much time they spend on the site. Chances are it'll be like a few cents an hour. But that's beneath minimum wage so using Facebook would become illegal and you lose.

So the only remaining option is to pay out dividends to every single American. That cheque will probably amount to $15 per year or some hilariously small amount. This is basic economics. When a pie gets divided between three hundred million people, each piece is going to turn out rather small. Everyone gets enough money to buy a subscription to The Economist.

Except now—since you've decided to only pay dividends to Americans—you've implemented a nationalistic policy which marginalizes the other seven billion humans and you lose again. Kids in Africa use Facebook too! It's an international product.

So what do we get when we divide the yearly profits eight billion times? No more Facebook, because the logistics alone of distributing that many pennies would bankrupt the company.

Giving people free money is quite problematic; because it'll just be a handout to the private sector. Let's say you wanted to end poverty in Brooklyn, so you handed a cheque for $10,000 to every man and woman so they could buy rent and food for the next 12 months. I guarantee you that for 90% of those people, that money is going straight into the pockets of the check cashers, bars, clubs, drug dealers, and casinos.

Now IF YOU'RE LUCKY and people use the money for what they should, then it goes in the pockets of the slumlords and fast food restaurants.

So you see, handing out free money doesn't actually solve any problems! You need to get yourself out of the liberal mindset. Engineering the economy is an indirect approach to change and it doesn't always work very well. Why solve a problem by guiding the slippery invisible hand, when we can just solve the problem?

So rather than demanding money, my personal recommendation (as I said when we met earlier) is to promote a happy positive message where you beseech the tech industry to provide the material necessities of human survival. Extra points if you gently poke fun at their internal contradiction, which is that they just want more blood for the blood god. (By ‘blood’ I mean ‘knowledge’; and by ‘god’ I allude to the burgeoning superintelligence.)

That's what we actually needed all along! We need digified housing, cafeterias to serve food, bicycles to get around, and medicine to keep us healthy. That's it.

Our current capitalist system fails so hard at providing these simple things. And it's so funny watching liberals try to solve it. For the past fifty years, neoliberals and the New Left have been playing hocus pocus with the markets. MEANWHILE: Our infrastructure has crumbled and the finance industry now owns all the land. We don't let people go to the doctor when they get cancer! And if you try to sleep in a park, the cops will beat the shit out of you. I know these things for a FACT, because they both happened to me.

But the U.S. Regime isn't just incompitent—they can't even keep themselves running! The recent government shutdown truly illuminated the fact that this tyrannical regime is clearly in its death throes. I say let it die!

So rather than continuing to take the social democracy approach of propping up the current shitty system, let's start setting higher standards. Rather than helping people make their unbelievably insanely expensive rents for their blighted dilapidated crumb factories, how about we build the best fucking housing imaginable with modern engineering? How about we strive for greatness. Do something that's actually exciting and makes life beautiful.

It'll be cheaper too. Like I honestly believe with modern technology, we can provide the basic necessities of human survival to each and every individual who will choose to accept them. That's much better than the current system which is basically: become a wage slave married to corporation (if you're lucky), wear a suit & tie, and work all day—or die!

I think together we can appeal to the tech industry's better nature and convince them to provide for material needs. rather than handing out free money, I think they'll respond if we ask them to end human suffering. I think the tech industry engineers are the greatest problem solvers in human history. I think that if we let them, they'd be able to design and build new cities from the ground up—from scratch—that are highly efficient, breathtakingly beautiful, and sustainable.

To be honest, I don't think the tech industry will have a choice! It's likely that they'll automate probably 90% of the workforce in the next 20 years. So if no one has jobs, no one will be able to sit around and hangout on Facebook all day. I hope my point is becoming clearer now.

This is the ultimate and most tragic contradiction of the tech industry. It's making all the people it depends on to generate knowledge for the knowledge graph—it's making them obsolete. When workers become obsolete, capitalism sends them "out to pasture". So the only solution to this contradiction is to overthrow capitalism. Otherwise this ancient and barbaric system of economics will kill us all.

I partially blame the foolish keynesian economists, who seem to think the best way to run an economy is by forcing everyone to be a busy little worker bee so they can have lots of money to buy lots of things. It's an incredibly naïve point of view since the necessity of work is becoming obsolete. The entire strategy liberal economists use to incentivize labour is killing our society.

This system is tyrannical and oppressive. It grants us no security and forces us to constantly struggle to sell ourselves survive. It forces every single man woman and child to be an expert in finance and law… just to live life as they please! The longer we make money a prerequisite for basic human survival, the longer we will struggle and be exploited.

I'm not even anti-money. I just want to see the cruelty end. I don't care if some people are a little richer and have luxury goods, so long as the material necessities for everyone else are being met without the constant fear of losing everything. If we can just take care of the bare minimum things you need to live a prosperous life without having to participate in markets, then as far as I'm concerned, people who are actually interested in money can go wild. Because then it's all just luxury and fun.

You see, the way you use money properly is sort of like how I fuck around with the Bitcoin market. I trade bitcoins on Mt.Gox regularly as a high-latency market maker. My net worth shifts by tens of thousands of dollars each day. But I'm rich so it's all fun money to me. I'm not emotionally invested. I know if I lose my fun money, I'm still going to have a roof over my head. That's what allows me to be rational and earn more pretend money. But if I were poor, under-educated, and struggling… there would be no way I'd be able to trade on Mt.Gox rationally! I'd panic, lose my cool, and get owned by the spread.

That's why I hate capitalism. Because I understand just enough about finance to realize that it's all just a game for people who are interested in finance. That's it.

Most people aren't interested in finance. Some people like art. Some people like computers. Some people like basket weaving. Whatever! They should be able to live freely. They should be able to do as they please without having to become a capitalist. But this tyrannical system would rather see them starve, just for being themselves.

Capitalism = conformity. It's the enemy of diversity and the bane of freedom.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An Open Letter to Margaret Flowers

Justine - what do you suggest? We are part of the 'us' of which you speak. I hope you realize that Occupy is not the whole movement. It is part of a wave that has been rising for decades.
No Margaret, you weren't one of us. You were a competitor to Occupy. I remember you. We worked together in the past. But that doesn't mean you were an Occupier. You weren't one of the scrappy anarchist kids sitting around in a park fighting the cops all day all week like me.

You're part of the professional left. You and your fellow organizers down in D.C. who were organizing Stop The Machine—you guys actually knew what you were doing! You guys did everything right, pulled all the proper moves in the left-wing playbook, and had a perfect pristine and respectable action. You had big names involved like Chris Hedges and the backing of the NLG, Food Not Bombs, etc. That's great. They made a rational choice in supporting you guys. The problem was that they dismissed us entirely and didn't take us seriously, because you were organizing your action at the same time.

But it doesn't matter because we won. We were a bunch of amateurs who had no idea what we were doing, but we still beat you at your own game. Because we had the right stuff. There was a certain magic to the original group that occupied Liberty Square. And as soon as we gained media attention, the liberal elite swooped in like vultures to take it from us.

So I advise you to tread lightly when you speak about who deserves credit, because you're treading on my pride. Occupy was a cultural phenomenon that no group or individual can rightfully claim as their own. It was not a result of the work that your "wave" had been doing for decades. No no no. To be quite honest, I think the only reason we were successful, is because we made it crystal clear that we weren't you!

That was the brilliance of our strategy. We were too scrappy to be part of the liberal elite, yet too professional to be written off as lifestyle anarchists. We were the new kids on the block. And our mystique of anonymity piqued the curiosity of the world press once it became clear we couldn't be ignored. Everyone was fascinated because they didn't have the slightest clue who the heck we were! And that is why we won. And we will continue to win. Because we still have that magic, except now we know what we're doing.

Perhaps the American Fall will come in 2014 now that Occupy is in it's terrible twos. Whatever happens, I imagine it'll be quite interesting.

This conversation originally took place on the AlterNet comments section.