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[ox-en] Re: Empire-discussions (was Re: [rox] Invitation / Einladung 2. Oekonux-Konferenz)

Dear Benni, Graham, Stefan (*2) and all you others whose paths I've yet to cross,

Sorry for the delay in answering these mails, but I thought in the end it better to wait until near the conference to reply. Here goes. 

On Empire: I agree the text is ugly, written at a high level of abstraction and is sometimes basically torturous. There are some great ideas in it which could probably have been expressed in a 100 pages, were this book not to be written for an academic market. Translating Negri from Italian is a nightmare which I've recently experienced personally, principally due to the ambiguity of its terms. Try Maurizio Lazzarato, he's much clearer in my view.

Graham, I absolutely agree with you about free software as the poison pill, or perhaps the poisoned petrol that keeps the machine free. But Lessig is well overdue for criticism, and i'm not going to miss the opportunity!

"The struggle against these changes is not the traditional struggle between left and right or between conservative and liberal. To question assumptions about the scope of "property" is no to question property. I am fanatically pro-market, in the market's proper sphere. I don't doubt the important and valuable role played by the market in most, maybe just about all, contexts. This is not an argument about commerce versus something else. The innovation that I defend is commercial and non-commercial alike,; the arguments that I draw upon to defend it are as strongly tied to the Right as to the Left."
at page 6, Future of Ideas 

"The future that I am describing is as important to commerce as to any other field of creativity. Though most distinguish innovation from creativity, or creativity from commerce, I do not". etc. 
at page 10, Future of Ideas. 

I disagreed with Jamie about James Boyle, and on multiple other points. So I'm much happier that you brought up Larry Lessig. No-one can question the inexhaustible energy that he has poured into opposing IP expansionism, the Microsft monopoly and defending freedom of speech amidst the unfolding saga of law and politics attempt to adjust to the novelties generated by technological advance. 

But then so have many rightwing libertarians, and many others whom I will not have any political association with. That didn't make their activiy any less welcome, just as their opposition to state intrusion on civil liberties and scepticism at bellicose foreign adventures is welcome. The question is to what degree and in what way do I (or we) wish to interact with them. This has (and has had) a determining impact upon the ripost (or lack therof) to the outrages tht have occurred relentlessly in the area of intellectual property in the last decade. 

Now given the collapse of politics, never mind 'the left', I can feel glad that someone did something, as those of a more social radical outlook have been either too up their own ass, too stuck in a certain ritualistic form of leftist militantism - both of action and thought - or just plain too dissociated to be able to act. 

The citations above underline two of the central problems that I encounter with Lessig's work. As list-members are aware, the historical discourse of the commons was not fueled by the desire to sustain entrepreneurialism. Rather it was to fight against the pauperisation of millions so as to swell the riches of the few. Furthermore, by removing the material basis for subsistence (land for culivation) the 17-18th century rulers were determined to create 'hands', a labour force, that would man the manufacturing centres that were flourishing in urban areas. The choice was between starvation and wage-labour. 

In modern western societies the impact of the IP enclosures is not a threat of starvation, although in the developing world it will is death through functional refusal of medication. 

Nonetheless, an emancipatory possibility hads arisen for cultural and communication workers due to the precipitous descent in the price of the productive equipment required and the distribution mechanism potentially available: a new cooperative mode of production. In this context, it is not surprising that the information aristocracy has targetted the primary matter, the creative or informational works, as the locus that must be fortified to perpetuate their domination. Otherwise media workers could simply work for themselves, as many attempt to do despite the the stranglehold exercised at licensing and distribution levels. 

Let's leave aside Larry's romanticisation of the entrepreneurial figure, which deserves attention in its own right, and examine his vision of innovation. At no point does the impact of innovation upon the distribution of wealth merit scrutiny. Does this mean that all change is positive, every technological novelty an occasion to incant the marvellous nature of our modern age? Growing up in the shadow of Windscale, Chernobyl and Bhopal, might we have one or two queries with regard to innvation's effect on the environment? Rather than continuing down that path, I merely want to point out that at no point is the dogma of 'all progress, all the time' challeged. Paging Walter Benjamin, Is Walter Benjamin in the house.... 

Now Lessig was in a position to address some of these points, even in a passing manner, and he didn't. A huge number of people with an interest in technology-politics listen to him, and what does say? He has explicitly rejected the proposition that in order to fight IP expansionism tech-activists should cross-polinate with social movements and direct actionists. Apparently even the mousish EFF lack the necessary moderation: 

"You are too extreme. You ought to be more mainstream." You know and I am with you. I think EFF is great. It's been the symbol. It's fought the battles. But you know, it's fought the battles in ways that sometimes need to be reformed. Help us. Don't help us by whining. Help us by writing on the check you send in, "Please be more mainstream." The check, right? This is the mentality you need to begin to adopt to change this battle. 1937218&mode=thread 

And that during a speech otherwise spent berating the audience for their failure to take poliical action? What's politics? Donating to Rick Boucher, delegating your struggles to the EFF (even if they are too militant!), writing to Congress etc. 

Now that is Lessig's position politically, and the supreme court appeal in Eldred this autumn represented the apex of his strategy. The US Constiution is to be the document to stop the copyright train, out of control and off the tracks, dead. I hope that they are successful but I'm not confident. And even if Sonny Bono is struck down, the communications conglomerates will find new mehods to shovel shit down our throats. 

I suppose that turned into a rant somewhere. Oh well, looking forward to a drink and discussion with you all. We arrive in Berlin tomorrow evening.


On Sun, 22 Sep 2002 alan wrote:

Secondly Jamie King has recently written an intersting essay that ties
parts of the debate around copyright enclosure and the italian
immaterial labour/general intellect debate together: Towards an Army of
Ideas - Oppositional Intellect and the Bad Frontier

I've been arguing with Stefan Mz over similar ideas to the ones in this
essay, so I might as well further my reputation of disagreeing with
everything and being the odd one out ;-)

I liked the use of Winstanley. But as well as his general ideas quoted
in the essay he also had ideas on what would now be called IP - starting
from the idea that 'Kingly power hath crushed the spirit of knowledge
and would not suffer it to rise up in its beauty and fulness' to a 
concrete program for education, science and an alternative to the patent
system (in The Law of Freedom).

So what are the equivalent concrete ideas in this essay? As I read it,
it says we need to drop defence of the 'information commons' (the
goal of 'left-liberal-lawyer lobbyists, NGO gonks, and wild-eyed info
egologists' - alas poor Lessig - 'necessarily failing and doomed'), and 
replace it by a more active strategy of 'constituting a shared community
of ideas that, expecting such co-option and acting in prescience, 
deliberately designs itself to appear, perhaps, palatable, but to be
in fact poisonous [to capital]'. And this poison pill is to be
'a return to Artaudian insanity via Burrough's 'language virus''.

Well, the first problem for me with this is just the language. Stefan
mentioned that the language of the German translation of Empire is 'ugly'.
I doubt if it's any uglier than the original; and I have real problems
reading or taking anything seriously that comes out of the whole
Deleuze/Guattari tradition just because of this. Winstanley had a much
better way of writing - clear, immediately understandable to everyone (ok,
he uses religious phraseology - but that was intelligible to everyone when
he wrote). I simply don't understand what a return to Artaudian insanity
is (reminds me of the old Beatle's song 'all you need to do is change your
head', but I hope it isn't..)

More importantly, the whole idea here seems to be wrong. The 'poison pill'
already exists: it's free software, and everything associated with it.
People defending the 'information commons' are part of the defence of that
too; Lessig and others are allies, not 'wild-eyed gonks' or whatever.
The article is asking us to desert our allies, when we need to be helping 
them. Free software is still something that can potentially be destroyed;
every ally we can get to stop that is a plus.

So how do two people defending the same basic set of ideas arrive at
such opposite conclusions (he asks, rhetorically...). This is the bit
that repeats my argument with Stefan Mz:

Jamie quotes in apparent agreement 'the intellectual activity of mass
culture, [is] no longer reducible to simple labor, to the pure expenditure
of time and energy', which I would also agree with. But then how can it be
that: 'The expected huge increase in the value of intellectual labour is
occurring'? I think the two statements contradict one another.
Intellectual labour has no more value than it ever had; an economy based
on it is not one based on value. It can only be forced into the mould of
value by the most extreme contortions, arbitrary laws, etc. 

When Marx wrote about the 'general intellect' it was in exactly this
context - trying to guess how the contradictions of value would eventually
drive capitalism to a point where it could no longer reproduce itself
successfully. As it happens his preferred solution was a very roundabout
one via fall in profit and terminal crisis, rather than the direct one
that is actually happening - but in either case the point is that value is
not eternal, nor is capitalism a self-perpetuating system (an Althusserian
orrery) but a finite one. One the one hand mass piracy is a sign of that
end from within, on the other free software is the sign of an alternative.
Not a magic alternative appearing from nothing, but one produced from the
system itself. So it can't be co-opted.   

That's quite enough for now - hope that wasn't too rude a welcome to the 
list-en mailing list! looks an interesting site; I didn't
know it... :-)


collaborative authorship : collective memory: mass intellectuality
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