Blogging With the Enemy

If you disagree vehemently with a blog’s point of view, why would you spend time there? Do you go there to get along a little better or to work yourself into a lather?

I thought of this when I came across Eric Norlin’s rant yesterday. Eric’s had it up to there with the whiners (lower case, with an “h”) who wish the world were better than it is and who think the Internet’s protocols contain the seeds of a fairer, more collective society:

There seems to be this highly vocal contingent of bloggers. Oh they’re nice enough—until you offend their smarmy, alan alda/gloria steinem/woodstockian sensibilities. That’s right—these folks (you know who you are) are inexorably stuck in either A)1968 or B)some bad new age seminar. So, just for the record, let’s review this little bugger we call the internet:

If, Larry Lessig is right (as he recently alleged), and the NET IS NEUTRAL, then it has absolutely no moral imperative to:

  1. increase the peace, love, harmony and economic and social justice on the planet
  2. help you “find yourself” (how hard is that?!)
  3. explore more deeply the beauty that is dialogue (i think i’m gonna throw up)
  4. fight the power/stick it to da man/whatever

Bottom Line: thinking the interent should be some tool for helping us all get along a little better amounts (at the end of the day) to the same kind of draconian thinking that the worst upholders of copyright expansion subscribe to. Its a tool for human society — which is ugly, messy, beautiful, offensive, disgusting, lovely, awe-inspiring and about making money (at least sometimes).

So. Eric’s bottom line is the bottom line. Fair enough—Xpertweb is intractably focused on its practitioners’ bottom lines. But I can think of no finer attribute for a business tool than that it helps us all get along a little better, so I’m not clear how that might be a negative.

The obvious lack of a “moral imperative” doesn’t mean that the Internet cannot function as if it has a pre-determined purpose. Richard Dawkin’s important book, The Blind Watchmaker, speaks directly to this effect, raised by “the 18th century theologian William Paley, who made one of the most famous creationist arguments: just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed.*” Where Reverend Paley divined (literally) a celestial Watchmaker, Darwin and Dawkins demonstrated that tiny changes to a species over eons of time can generate mechanisms of mind-numbing complexity and seeming purpose. Dawkins originated the notion of the gene’s cousin, the meme and, as Br’er Hussein might say, the Internet is the mother of all memes.

In other words, just because the Internet has no moral imperative doesn’t mean that it does not intrinsically support certain modalities of behavior. Anyone can observe that email drives an organization away from hierarchy. That force is true even if there is no moral imperative.

Eric’s rant seems to be directed as much at books as blogs, linking only to his buddy Chris “RageBoy” Locke, which cites his current reading, “Shoshana Zuboff’s latest recipe for overhauling capitalism,” The Support Economy, which sounds like an Xpertweb rant :

Zuboff and Maxmin would eliminate the “little murders” of customer service interaction by replacing the current transaction-based model with a form of “distributed capitalism” based on a customer-supplier relationship, so semi-anonymous customer service reps will be replaced by “advocates” fully emotionally involved in their clients’ needs. (Publisher’s Weekly)

My instant sense was that no one’s forcing Eric to submit himself to those blogs’ (or books’) intellectual pollution. When an attack is so vitriolic, ya gotta wonder why.

Doc’s House Call

Then I found Doc Searls response, pointing out that Eric seems to be describing Eric’s Internet, not others’, and that the Internet is what you want it to be—the summer of love or the simmer of cash flow:

About making money. Ever asked yourself what the business model of rocks is? Of dirt? Of trees? Of rotted plants? Of reproductive urges? Last I looked the building, concrete, lumber, oil and porn businesses were doing pretty well. The difference with the Net is: its resources are infinite. They don’t need to be renewed, because they’re not scarce. You mine and harvest them by processes like duplication. Take all you want; just don’t buy the illusion that you “own” any of it. You don’t, any more than you own the air you breathe or the jillion-ton wedge of rock and lava between your yard and the core of the Earth. Deep down, it’s a commie kinda place. Deal with it.
  Think of the Net as a laboratory for human nature, because it’s the first world entirely made by human beings. And as Craig Burton says, we’ve only begun to terraform it. It’s like we created a parallel planet, occupying the same space and time as the one we already inhabit. We’re there already and have to make the most of it. Including the fact that some of our founding dreams were wet.

[Later…] Eric pushes back, basically laying out exceptions to my descriptions of the Net’s character. More later. Meanwhile, re-read Britt Blaser’s Bloom on the Peach. It’s related.

Not To Scale

This sounds like a religious controversy, and economics often lies just beneath religious passion. That point supports Eric’s view that we bloggers need to be less touchy-feely and more about business that works.

The Internet can be irritating to managerial capitalists. Even while it supports huge reductions in communications expense (internally, or with vendors and customers), it also so distorts the playing field that the Old Boy Network seems like a childhood dream. And managerial capitalism doesn’t seem to scale well to the Internet. Organizations often spend far too much on sites that few customers visit or, conversely, their business model can’t meet the demands of too many customers who want their emails answered and to take delivery as promised. It seems like Amazon’s the only one who’s nailed it.

The genetics, anthropology and history I’ve
read, as suggested in my peachy essay, describe a relentless march from thuggery to “getting along a little better”. Clearly, this Xpertweb design study is about building protocols that let buyers and sellers get along a little better in the marketplace, not through draconian thinking, but by exposing every promise and every outcome to (dare I say it?) collective review. As Doc says, that’s a commie kinda place.

The Slippery Slope of Power Sharing

In the movie Stargate, a distant world was literally owned by a Pharaoh wizard-god with all the power and no one else with any. Sorta like our early monarchies. By 13th century England, the nobles, whom the monarchy relied upon to hold power (and who had therefore been granted some power) were able to wrest concessions from King John in 1215 by his execution of the Magna Carta.

Well, there went the neighborhood. Since then, the inevitable has progressed: those who control assets and work have been forced to grant concessions to those who actually perform the work, and we’re not done yet. I believe we’re at the cusp of recognizing what’s been hidden in plain sight for 5,000 years:

Assets are an accumulation of property rights based on organizing others’ toil.

Now, organizing work has been no mean trick, since managing workers is like herding cats. So it’s not surprising or even unfair that huge fortunes have been amassed by those who’ve organized work productively in the presence of raw materials, factories, distribution and accounting. The question on the Internet table is whether the self-organizing protocols we’re seeing and anticipating will be sufficient to interest the cats in herding themselves. This is precisely the point of this microeconomy design study.

Self-organizing workers are a death threat to managerial capitalism. If managers’ primary purpose is to do things that are more easily and elegantly accomplished by an incipient web application, they’re in deep doo-doo. In many ways they’re acting that way, and why not? Ask yourself: How many managers do I know who are replaceable by a reasonably programmed web application? Yeah. Me too.

If the cats can herd themselves, what is the purpose of the managerial class? When work must no longer be organized into jobs, what is the need for external organizers? The homes of people I know already have better Means of Production than their cubicles—faster CPUs, comparable broadband, chairs, desk space and coffee. Is management as we know it simply another intermediary whose franchise is questionable?

Those are economic and humanist questions. It’s premature to dismiss the humanists as inadequate because they’re not discussing economics. The Federalist Papers never discussed the Uniform Commercial Code because the UCC is just details. John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence boldly, so King George wouldn’t have to put on his spectacles to finger him. The important work done, he went back to work on his little insurance company.

As will we all.

12:21:08 AM    

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