Squinting at the Cave Wall

Before there was a Bazaar, there was a cave. Socrates, via Plato, said that what we call reality is only flickering shadows on the wall of a cave, cast by the true reality which is forever hidden from our gross senses. The only way to divine the truth is to understand more about how the shadows are cast rather than getting absorbed in the flickers.

We are not what we think we are, nor is anything else as it appears. Dave Winer says things are even worse than they appear.

Plato made a compelling point, lost in the mists of philosophy, and in our day popular media has made a business of literally casting shadows. The fact that most of our knowledge is now based on flickering patterns on screens is an irony beyond comprehension. We may know that the flicker rate is 75 Hz or 30 fps, but we don’t see what the shadows mean. Plato’s teacher, Socrates, was executed for describing his version of the truth to anyone who would listen. Today,David Touretsky finds himself hounded by elders as vengeful as the Greek Olgopoly.

Certainly nothing works the way it seems to – the more we know about anything, the more absurd are the news stories or gossip we hear about it.

So we’re wondering if our real lives have been eclipsed by our ‘productive lives’ – making a business of our lives as the media has made a business of casting shadows. This is an optimistic journal, even when it frets about the wrongs of our current system. Ours is the first system with enough insight to realize how hostile our economic surroundings always have been. Ours is the first economy that has evolved to the point that it’s worth criticizing (tip o’ the hat, Alan Kay).

So we’re all struggling with an economic Operating System (eOS) – one which we are obligated to use, but one which responds better to some than others – as C code does. The good news is that, like computer operating systems, the eOS is getting more user-friendly all the time, opening up possibilities to people who were put off last year by its complexity, but are now able to log on and do something useful, with even more to be empowered next year. Its metaphor is this weblog phenomenon[~]people empowered to build and manage complex websites that were impossible for them a year earlier.

The optimism is based on the inescapable fact that the economy[~]our productive lives[~]is impossible for most people to succeed at this year, but may be trivial to master and manage in a couple of more years. Most people’s economic angst is from feeling trapped by intractable structures requiring permission from harsh masters. Call it the Old Testament economic model. In truth, the economy is just technology mediating the needs of all of us. It’s ours to fix.

Or, we can just sit here gaping at the flickering shadows cast on the glass pane or silver screen in front of us.

The Problem

Now that many of us are accustomed to using a computer, we have a sense of how a computer operating system (the “OS”) can get between us and the application programs which are the real reason we use the machine. The OS is promoted as the bright landscape of promise and possibility, but we know that it’s the OS which often lets us down, encumbered as it is with the baggage of thousands of functions and millions of lines of programming. It’s all conceived and executed by bright kids who love computers, unlike the rest of us who may share neither of those traits.

So it is with our economy. The world seems to be filled with honest, hard-working people who want to be paid fairly by doing work for people just like them who really want the work done. But so much seems to get in the way. The current situation in U.S. medical care is one example of this frustration: most of us respect our doctors and their staffs, yet find ourselves estranged from them by the companies we or our employers have selected to protect us from ailments only the doctors can help with.

Tom Robbins, 1990:

During periods of so-called economic depression, societies suffer for want of all manner of essential goods, yet investigation almost invariably discloses that there are plenty of goods available. Plenty of coal in the ground, corn in the fields, wool on the sheep. What is missing is not materials but an abstract unit of measurement called ‘money.’ It is akin to a starving woman with a sweet tooth lamenting that she can’t bake a cake because she doesn’t have any ounces. She has butter, flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, she just doesn’t have any ounces, any pinches, any pints.(Skinny Legs and All)

What we have here is nothing more than a failure to communicate. Since the fields have corn and children need carbohydrates, why can’t something simple be worked out? In a small village, it often is.

Apparently their eOS is just better than ours.
12:11:54 AM    

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